Phantom of the Opera
In Paris, a few years before World War I, there is an auction at the Paris Opera House. An old man and woman arrive separately to place their bids. When the auctioneer comes to the old chandelier, we are transported to another time, in the 1850’s, when the opera house was in its prime, and a masked ghost (Gerard Butler) was said to haunt the building. He was a musical genius and at night would sing to young Christine (Emmy Rosum), an orphan being raised by Madam Giry (Miranda Richardson) and trained for the opera. Christine thought he was the spirit of her deceased father, sent back to care for her.
But there are new “producers” for the opera, Firmin (Ciaran Hinds) and Andre (Simon Callow) and they irritate just about everyone, including the Phantom. There is also a new benefactor for the Opera, Raoul (Patrick Wilson). Christine recognizes him as a childhood friend, and their friendship is soon rekindled. The temperamental prima donna Carlotta (Minnie Driver) is not pleased and quits. Christine takes her place, pleasing the Phantom. When Carlotta stages a comeback in the Phantom’s new opera, the Phantom is displeased, and kills a man. And so on and so forth, until his story is told, and his love for Christine professed.
This is a very synthesized version of the story.
I think the film version of Andre Lloyd Weber’s musical, The Phantom of the Opera, is wonderful – for several reasons. The theatrics are spellbinding; I couldn’t take my eyes of the screen for a moment. Joel Schumacher is a production expert, and his work here is a feast for the eyes. Another reason is the story itself. I saw the musical twice in the 1990’s, once on Broadway (the mother of one of the nuns got us tickets and incredible seats), and once in London (where the cast seemed to have been very, very tired.) I could never empathize with the Phantom, he never seemed to deserve redemption in the dramatic sense. Thinking about it now, I would say that the stage versions were so brilliant that I was too busy experiencing the production than understanding the characters. In this film, it is finally clear that the story belongs to Christine, and that she does her best to redeem this hapless, cruel, injured human being.
In a couple of places the high notes were a little strained, but this didn’t work against the film’s emotional force because the Phantom’s actions are “off” as well – unnatural. Minnie Driver deserves a “best supporting actress” nomination – she is deliciously comic and annoying as the opera company’s prima donna. Emmy Rossum is excellent as Christine, a lovely screen presence. The two producers are lackluster and don’t add as much here as they do to the stage version. Visually, my only disappointment was that the figure of the Phantom in red during the masquerade ball didn’t match the stage version. Perhaps just as well, but my eyes were waiting for that deep red, passionate color to match the passion of his song. The film should get a nod for the cinematography and editing as well. And if you never understood what art direction meant before, well, you can practically taste it here.
They say nothing can surpass live theater, but The Phantom comes very close. This is the grand Hollywood production I have been waiting for all year. Just enjoy.
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