Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera Movie Review
Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals are garish, puerile melodramas with all the elegance and sincerity of a Super Bowl halftime show -- and his brash, brassy songs have the depth and nuance of action-movie explosions.
When this pair teamed up to bring Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" to the big screen, it was a match made in hell.
A film of gross overacting and overproduced grandeur, yet one without a scrap of digestible character, "Phantom" opens with young and lovely understudy soprano Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum, "The Day After Tomorrow") already under the spell of an obsessed, half-handsome, half-disfigured psycho who lives underneath the most grandiose opera house in 1889 Paris.
Although she's never seen the Phantom (Gerard Butler), over the years she's been in the chorus he has secretly taught her, night after night in the bowels of the building, to "Sing my angel! Sing for meeeeee!" So when the joint's conspicuously talentless, tantrum-throwing Italian diva (Minnie Driver) refuses to perform one night, Christine takes her place, setting in motion a string of events that lead to the girl's star rising and the Phantom's jealousy boiling.
With no story arc to speak of, the characters are left to wander in and out of loosely connected set pieces: Christine gets engaged to a vanilla viscount (Patrick Wilson) with the expressionless stage presence of a rag doll. The theater's matron (Miranda Richardson) is revealed to be in cahoots with the Phantom for no explored reason. Meanwhile, the scenery-chewing titular stalker rages around his incredibly lush, immaculately gaudy underground lair, singing some of the most ungainly exposition-crammed lyrics in musical history.
"You have come here for one purpose and one alone," Butler thunders to the cheap seats as the period-incongruous, ear-splitting, organ-versus-drum-set, rock-opera orchestrations swell. "Since I first heard you sing/I have needed you to serve me/to sing for my music!"
The songs are so vociferous and beyond campy that if Beavis and Butthead were theater fans, they'd have the T-shirt and would head-bang along to the soundtrack. The acting is so painfully histrionic that the closing credits surely could have run with out-takes of the cast cracking themselves up.
Yet pretty, hairy-chested Butler -- who was picked for the title role after Schumacher saw him in the schlocky "Dracula 2000" -- has no weight or portent. What he does have is a scarred face that seems to change disfigurements depending on which stylish mask he's in the mood to wear while terrorizing theater patrons.
Not a single paper-thin character is sympathetic. (Wide-eyed Rossum does her best with Christine, but who can care about a girl so easily entranced and manipulated by the men in her life?) Schumacher's aimless storytelling fails to find a direction until 90 minutes into the film's two-and-a-quarter hours. (The silent 1925 "Phantom" starring Lon Cheney was only 93 minutes, and too long at that.) And Webber's plot is often nonsensical, even the parts that aren't full of narrative holes. Why do the theater owners refuse to let Christine sing their show's lead again, despite threats from the Phantom and even though she's a bigger hit than their star?
But even if "Phantom of the Opera" weren't a sensory assault of cinematic excess, it would still be missing one of the primary draws of the stage hit: the audience's own role in the production, most notably when the theater's grand chandelier is sent crashing down by the enraged Phantom. Here Schumacher must provide a surrogate audience in an on-screen theater, which diminishes the impact of everything that takes place on the opera stage.
Feel free to take this review with a grain of salt if you're someone who doesn't have a pre-determined loathing for Webber's inflated theatrics, inharmonious melodies and unsophisticated libretto. But even if "Phantom" worked for you on stage, just remember this picture is made with hell-bent gusto by the guy who put nipples on Batman's superhero costume. So consider yourself warned.