Phantom of the Opera, The (2004)

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 01/06/05 01:53:58

"A haunting musical for all the wrong reasons."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

I'm not one to jump on the 'hate Joel Schumacher!' bandwagon. The guy's done a good handful of quality flicks and I'm always going to have time for 'Falling Down' or 'The Lost Boys'. But sometimes a director should know his limitations. Just when Hollywood seemed to ready to embrace the musical again with the hyper-kinetic glitz of 'Moulin Rouge' and the sleazy tongue-in-cheek of 'Chicago' along comes Joel to drive a big, hard wooden stake right through the heart of the current musical revival. Yup, this is 'The Phantom of the Opera' directed by the guy behind 'Batman and Robin' alright.

In a black-and-white prologue we see an auction taking place in early Paris. The purpose of the auction is to sell off the remnants of the opera house fallen into disrepair and rubble. Suddenly, a cloth is dramatically swept off the wrecked chandelier, the film blazes into colour and the theme of the Phantom starts up. Yikes. A hell of a hair-raising start. However, abandon all hope ye who enter here, because unfortunately this is as good as it gets.

The familiar story starts off then with the masked and mysterious Phantom of the opera (Gerard Butler) giving singing lessons to the chorus girl Christine (Emily Rossum), whom he wants to replace the diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver) as the main attraction. His twisted love is threatened however by the arrival of young backer Raoul (Patrick Wilson), which starts off a campaign of terror and obsession.

I'm not going to bother even justifying my review with a qualification of whether or not I like the original stage musical. Because this site is called Hollywoodbitchslap, not Broadwaybitchslap right? We're concerned with films here, and as a film 'The Phantom of the Opera downright sucks. Or, to phrase it as it would be in the film, "It suuuu-uuuuu-CKKKS!". Quite why a film adaptation still has to have practically every line of dialogue sung in a really annoying fashion is a question neither justified or answered. So instead of characters saying "What is it?" "It's a letter", we have "Wha-tttttt is itttt?" "It's a lett-ahhhhh!".

I'm sure this works fine on stage where the over-the-top extravagance is vital but here it annoys no end. And for a musical there's two curious things lacking: 1) tunes and 2) singers. Trust me you won't be coming out of this humming away for days afterwards. The only vaguely memorable tunes are the Phantom's theme and 'The Music of the Night'. But we already knew those tunes going in didn't we? They already had a power of their own.

And Schumacher is absolutely the wrong man for the job here. He has no idea how to stage a musical number. There's no passion, no joy, no rapture. He films it like a teacher filming the end of year school play. Yes, the swirling mist and candles no doubt work brilliantly on stage, but Schumacher turns them into a bad 80's music video here. It would seem more appropriate for Meat Loaf to play the Phantom, the way Schumacher lays the film out. Where's the period sense or the smell of greasepaint? Nowhere, instead Schumacher can't decide whether this is a grand, epic opera house or a rundown shack. It seemingly varies in size from beginning to end.

Even 'Chicago' which I wasn't massively entranced by, knew how to have a sense of fun with the numbers and how to shoot them aside from endless close-ups of stationary singers looking stricken and pained. This all adds up to a film both a mess and endlessly dull. You know you're onto a loser when Schumacher even fudges the 'spectacular' chandelier crash. And the 'terrifying' moment when the Phantom reveals his scarred face is lost when it's revealed to be nothing more than a particularly bad case of acne.

And Schumacher is given no help at all by his actors. Butler convinces on no level at all as the Phantom. He has no sense of tragedy, no sense of loneliness and no sense of obsessed passion. He (or Schumacher) never give any clues as to why he behaves like he does, we're just supposed to accept it. Butler can't sing for toffee either, which you would have thought would have been a bit of a stumbling block for him. Rossum is painfully dull and has no expression other than open-mouthed shock. Again, it's a struggle to see just why anyone would obsess over such a dull girl. And she can't sing either. She can make a loud noise in tune yes, but that's not quite the same. She has no passion to what she sings and we can never tell what she's singing anyway. It all becomes a lot of wailing with no tune.

But then there's Patrick Wilson, wafting through the film with the presence of a fading fart. I defy anyone to show me a less interesting and compelling presence and once again, we have no clues as to why Christine would fall instantly in love with him. Hell, they're so dull they deserve each other. Wilson doesn't so much act or perform as...turn up. And just kind of stays there until the scene ends. A further sign of trouble is when an over-the-top Minnie Driver with a terrible Italian accent (I want-a some-a spaghetti right now-a!) is the best person in your cast.

As a musical it's a deadening flop. As a romance it's so lightweight it evaporates into nothing. As a horror it sinks without a trace. Let's be kind and just say the musical revival has probably stopped here eh?

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