The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
(Release Date: December 22, 2004)
(Premiere Date: December 9, 2004 [Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya])

Four Point Five Stars... I can't believe it either!Four Point Five Stars... I can't believe it either!Four Point Five Stars... I can't believe it either!Four Point Five Stars... I can't believe it either!1/2

They did it, they ACTUALLY did it!

J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

It was my Senior year in High School and I was starring in Story Theatre when I mentioned to my friend Susan that I had a new "reason for Living". She asked what it was, and I replied "Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera!" She replied that this was a very good reason for living, completely ignoring one crucial fact:

It was the gayest thing I'd ever said!

Be that as it may, six years later I took my girlfriend to see that very show in New Orleans, and soon after that we were married. Who couldn't love the shocking triangle of affection, the strange new world of music and darkness and the cacophonous sounds and textures of the rich and suave Andrew Lloyd Webber score? The Deep Bass Lines, the rich stage show, the lyrics that told the story with almost no speaking required?

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Six years hence, the long wait ended and the play is now a movie, produced and co-written by the man himself, ALW... That's the good news. The horrid news is that Lloyd Webber hand-picked the one director in Whoreywood sure to ruin the translation, one Joel Schumacher, the man who killed Batman!

How much of a Travesty is it? I've never been so happy to be wrong, because The Phantom of the Opera is an amazing movie, and a beautiful translation leaving almost everything just as it should be. It's hard to say how much I loved this movie, but I've scarcely come out of a film quite this satisfied.

For those unfamiliar with this version of Phantom, Christine Daaé (the beautiful Emmy Rossum) is an aspiring vocal lead in a 19th Century Opera House in France. While she's incredible, no one realizes that she's so good because she's been tutored by an unseen force she calls her "Angel of Music".

What everyone does know is that the Theatre is haunted by the "Opera Ghost", AKA Le Fantôme de L'Opéra (Gerard Butler), the dark spirit who dictates how "his theatre" is to be run, demands a "Salary" from the managers, and terrorizes the cast when he doesn't get what he wants.

It doesn't take a Descartes to discover that the Phantom and the Angel of Music are one and the same, but it does take the appearance Patrick Wilson's Raoul, a jealousy-inspiring childhood friend of Christine's to force the seductive and menacing Phantom out into the open and reveal his distorted features. What follows is a romantic, scary and musical journey back and forth through hell with some of the best sights and sounds possible for a stage adaptation.

My complaints here are mainly nitpicks. First, this is as stage adaptation, and much of the Melodrama that marks a good stage show has translated here. That's not a Con, though, that's a Pro in the Authenticity column! I mention this because those unfamiliar with the theatre might find parts of this a little silly, when they really are close matches to the stage. However, with such care there, one wonders why some of the more inspiring and memorable lines from Phantom are spoken here, and not sung. Specifically Jennifer Ellison's Meg Giry repeats the line "He's Here! The Phantom of the Opera!" without eeriness or menace, but with a much more matter-of-fact feel, as if she were really saying "It's here, the catering truck, let's eat!"

This also doesn't stand up all too well versus the classic Cast Recording featuring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. "Of course it won't!" you say... but I'm not talking about the voices here. The vocals are all around great. The music feels slightly flatter, and less enriched by Rock and Roll than the stage production here. Call me a Headbanger, but the title number was practically made by that driving, Roger Waters-esque bassline!

But no one would tell you that this fully replaces a stage production, and before one starts longing for that Broadway Taping of Cats, have a look and listen to Schumacher's Phantom! The sets are Opulent, and (sometimes quite literally) come to life as the fine actors grace them in action. Rossum and Wilson are excellent as the frightened lovers, and Rossum especially shows her confusion between safety and lust. It's Gerard Butler who is particularly noteworthy as the Phantom, perfectly balancing the menacing fear the Opera Ghost inspires, and the Romantic Seduction he offers. While he plays the villain for all its worth here, it's nearly impossible not to also feel sympathy for the man as Butler plays him!

This is quite a well-cast picture, and aside from Rossum, Butler and Wilson, the presence of Minnie Driver and Miranda Richardson never hurt any movie! Once the singing really gets started, it actually becomes an Opera (or is it the Opera?) and takes flight almost as if you were watching this on a 360 degree stage set.

The New Song by Lloyd Webber adds a new feel to the character of Christine (albeit an Oedipal and slightly creepy one), and gives us a more rich vision of the locales involved. There is also a new side-story (continuing from the "auction" opener) that laces the whole thing together. It's easy to nitpick, but hard not to appreciate.

The real shortcomings here are those added later by Lloyd Webber and Schumacher in their new screenplay. Aside from the strengthened latter-day subplot, there is a lot less left to the imagination here than in the stage show. The effect is that the ambiguity of the play is gone, and one certain "truth" is affirmed. This is great for clarity, but maybe not so great for those making their own ideas from what they saw on the stage. With Lloyd Webber involved, producing and writing, it's hard to nitpick all too much, though. This might not be Gaston Leroux, but it is Lloyd Webber, and it still has to be seen!

Fans will be the first to nitpick, and non-fans might not get this film much at all, and while there are some of the pitfalls of latter-day Schumacher here, so much of the skill that made him a star 20 years ago is here. It's Lloyd Webber's play, though, and it's here intact, believe it or not! If you're interested in an exciting and beautifully done film with great music and performances, this is your ticket, step inside and look and listen. It was all I could do to keep from singing along and clapping after each number!

After this film and Veronica Guerin I'm actually more angry at Schumacher. It's clear he's still quite, quite capable of making a great movie, but in cases like Batman and Robin he just doesn't care! It's not quite as good as seeing a great stage show (though it comes damned close), and there are flaws here, but "Few" is the operable word. This is a Four and One Half Star Must-See! Here's a Toast to remembering what makes a great play great! This is what it's like to truly love a musical, and appreciate its many evolving forms when guided by the master that made it what it is... and that, my friends, is the gayest thing I've ever said!

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Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
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