Joel Schumacher’s retelling of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera is less magnificent than its on-stage counterpart. Many elements of the stage production that thrive because of their simplicity are overindulged in the film.
The movie, which emulates the storyline and score of Webber’s original masterpiece, begins with a black-and-white sequence during the auction of old opera house items. When the chandelier is introduced, the blacks and whites of the prologue melt into the vibrant colors of the opera house during its heyday. Schumacher’s cinematography here is fabulous, grabbing the audience’s attention while the dusty, decrepit opera house magically turns into a beautiful, bustling theater full of life.
Emmy Rossum, both professionally trained in opera and with on-screen acting experience, shines in the role of Christine. (Rossum played Sean Penn’s daughter in Mystic River). Her beautiful voice perfectly conveys the innocence of the girl who ultimately becomes the object of the Phantom’s obsession.
The movie starts to fall apart when the sexy, not sinister, Gerald Butler appears as the Phantom. Butler had big shoes to fill appearing in the role so well-defined by Michael Crawford from 1986-1991.
Though he’s no Crawford, Butler does just fine. However, it’s hard to feel pity for the disfigured, socially unacceptable monster when Butler doesn’t look the part. Butler’s brooding eyes shine through the mask, making the audience wonder why Christine would fend him off in the first place. Additionally, the shape of the Phantom’s mask changes three times throughout the movie, covering a span of skin from eyebrow to cheekbone at its minimum. In addition to his GQ-quality good looks, Butler’s rich, hearty voice easily towers over that of Raoul, Christine’s love.
Patrick Wilson plays the unfortunate role of Raoul, whose wussy, mama’s boy personality easily translates to the big screen. In the stage production, Raoul always comes across as a whiner, who?#34;looks being a trivial issue?#34;couldn’t hold a candle to the Phantom. In an effort to bring some masculinity to an otherwise very tame role, Schumacher concocts a sword fight between Raoul and the Phantom in front of Christine’s father’s tomb. However, rather than the fight making Raoul seem like the great prince Christine thinks he is?#34;he even arrives on a white horse?#34;it makes the audience even more aware of Raoul’s inadequacies.
The two biggest drawbacks to the movie version are the lack of danger involving the Phantom and the far-away feeling of the opera singers.
When Butler takes Christine into his lair beneath the opera house, it feels more like he’s trying to seduce her than capture her. And the Phantom’s lair of darkness isn’t even quite that. Immaculate lighting structures illuminate the pathway so well, the audience easily forgets Christine is venturing into the heart of darkness.
Finally, it’s hard to ignore the feeling of distance between the actors on screen and the songs they’re supposedly singing. It looks like they have dubs-disease.
In the end, efforts to translate the production to the big screen make for a lackluster performance, leaving seasoned theatergoers wanting more and those inexperienced with the stage production wondering what the hubbub has been all about.