Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Love me - that's all I ask of you..."

The Phantom of the Opera | rel. 2004 | dir. Joel Schumacher

Director Joel Schumacher is no stranger to campy filmmaking. He did direct Batman & Robin, right?

Well, the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous stage musical, The Phantom of the Opera, despite of its glorious sets, delicious costumes, and beautiful melodies, is a fine example of how all elegance and beauty can also equate to pure camp.

I have never seen Webber's musical, although I do own the musical's soundtrack with all the songs performed by the original London cast. I worship the soundtrack and listen to it quite frequently in the car, much to my mom's dismay. The songs, although they have lyrics that resemble wedding vows or Hallmark cards, are passionate and haunting. Even though Webber knows how to make his songs soar, those melodies would be nothing without the extraordinary voice talents of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, who played the Phantom and Christine Daae on stage, respectively.

Afters years in development, the film version of the musical, The Phantom of the Opera was finally released in 2004. I will boldly say that Schumacher certainly made one of the most aesthetically-pleasing films ever. Unfortunately, it is also shamelessly over-the-top.

The film begins in black-and-white in early twentieth century Paris. An once-magnificent opera house was burned several years ago and all the opera house's contents are being auctioned off. The Viscomte de Chagny (Patrick Wilson) and Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson), bids for a music box with a monkey on top of it, and acknoweldge each other with a spark of recognition in their eyes.

Soon enough, the chandelliers come up and the old opera house magically transforms back into new. This has to be one of the most wonderful ways to unfold a flashback scene ever.

It is late nineteenth-century Paris in a popular opera house. A young singer, Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) has been trained well by the masked and mysterious Phantom (Gerard Butler). Christine naively believing that the Phantom was the "angel of music" her deceased father promised. The Phantom, a brilliant man who constantly haunts and threatens the opera house, is determined to replace the opera house's big star Carlotta (Minnie Driver) with his young, aspiring protege. The Phantom gets his wish, through scare tactics and clever menace.

After witnessing Christine on stage, Raoul, the Viscomte de Chagny, Christine's childhood friend, falls deeply in love with the young woman. Little does Raoul know, the Phantom has developed strong affections for the young woman as well.

The relationship escalates into a dangerous game of the forces between love and lust, passion and mischievousness. The problem is, the film never plays it that way. Schumacher chisels the film into a mindless buffet of commercialism and pretty images. The film fails to be emotionally compelling or thoroughly romantic, although there are several successful moments that eventually drowns in the film's own visual vanity. The "Point of No Return" scene is a fine example: Rossum and Butler are electrifying in the scene, but those silly dancers in the background are not.

The performances by the actors are not very good, considering that their roles require fantastical singing abilities and some emotional range. Rossum, although sometimes a skilled vocal performer, does not have the allure of Brightman's soaring soprano voice. When Rossum is not singing, she makes Christine seem like an unapologetically passive and bland female character. Should weak female characters that act purely as a damsel-in-distress even be allowed in the twenty-first century?

Wilson's Raoul is an unbelievable bore; he is neither charismatic or charming. No wonder Christine is so fascinated by the Phantom, despite the fact that he may be a sociopathic creep. The filmmakers made a huge mistake by casting Butler, who is obviously more dashing and handsome than Wilson. The Phantom is supposed to have a frightening demeanor, not sporting a perfectly-cut opal mask as some kind of--to quote Roger Ebert--fashion accessory. When the mask is removed, Butler still doesn't look too hideous. Plus, I don't think he can even sing that well; his rendition of "The Music of the Night" is terrible. I don't care if Butler's voice fulfills Webber's dreams of a rock-heavy Phantom--Crawford still has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard.

But what am I talking about? The flaws are what makes this movie entertaining. The supporting cast is fabulous with everyone giving reliable performances. Richardson and Driver are underused but serves their part in the story. Plus, Ciaran Hinds, Simon Callow, and Jennifer Ellison proves they are true show-stealers, even in their minimal roles.

Again, this movie is a wonder to behold. Some minor flaws are apparent in the somewhat sloppy and abrupt editing. I never liked fade-in scenes either, but they were done somewhat appropriately in this film. But fade-in still kind of sucks.

When I rate a film like The Phantom of the Opera, the score becomes entirely subjective. The film is a guilty pleasure, joining the ranks of films like Spider-Man 3, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and even Schumacher's own Batman & Robin. At the end of the day, the thin storyline and mediocre acting in The Phantom of the Opera will not matter to anyone who genuinely enjoys Schumacher's interpretation of Webber's stage musical. They are just there for the gorgeous sets and beautiful songs because that is what seems to matter most. And I can't blame them.

Rating: 8/10


  1. I am afraid to say that I did not like this film, at all really,but loved the performances of the cast, especially Emmy Rossum's. It is a pretty film, and that counts for something.

  2. Good review as always. I havent seen this film yet, but I did hear good things about it.

  3. Well, that's... different.

    I love this movie, and I'm not entirely sure why. It's just so attractive to me, and I can't fight it. It's so PRETTY.

    Alexandra Byrne is like a God to me.

  4. I just happened to catch part of this on TV the other night and came in on the part when Gerard Butler sings "Music of the Night." Needless to say, it was totally atrocious. Michael Crawford sang it more fluidly in the stage version and David Cook's version on American Idol was so sexy that I melt everytime I hear it.

    I liked this movie when I first saw it in theaters, although even back then I thought they could have cut about 20 minutes from the middle. The transformation of the theater was so beautiful to see and Minnie Driver's performance as La Carlotta kicked my obsession with divas into full-gear (and was clearly robbed of an Oscar nomination).

  5. - Nick, cinematic prettiness always counts for something.

    - Farzan, I didn't hear anything but negative things about the movie before I saw it, haha.

    - J.D., I'm kind of puzzled why I liked the movie as much as I did too. It's just so pretty and the costumes by Byrne are gorgeous.

    - James, I like Cook's version of "Music of the Night," but Crawford's version is a hard one to beat. Driver is excellent, but I wished they did more with her character.

  6. Alexandra Byrne IS a God, fullstop.

  7. It's sad, though, that the one time she didn't completely deserve the Oscar she won it. *sigh*

    Jackie Durran and your green dress of wonder, I'm sorry on her behalf. :(