Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera

After nearly twenty years, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera makes the jump from stage to screen, courtesy of director Joel Schumacher. Fans of the opera, which has been playing around the world non-stop for nearly two decades, should be happy with the result, aside from the small but vocal contingent who still wanted Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford to reprise their roles on the big screen. This was unlikely given the split between Webber and Brightman and the fact that Crawford is nearing retirement age. Instead, Schumacher (Veronica Guerin, Phone Booth) went the other route. Once he cast Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow, Mystic River) as Christine, he made all the characters younger. Rossum, who sang at the Met when she was a child and made her film debut in Songcatcher, wasn't even eighteen when Phantom was filmed. The younger stars actually make the story work better, given some of its naïve and cheesy character arcs.

Nobody has ever accused Schumacher of restraint, and he goes all out visually in the film. The look of the film is probably the best aspect of the entire movie. The sets are opulent, ornate, even gaudy to the point of excess. The entryway into the Paris Opera Populaire, with its sweeping staircase is magnificent. He vividly stages the dance numbers with dozens of people, all costumed elaborately. The singing is decent, with Rossum's good vocals offset by amateurish turns by Gerard Butler (who has no classical training) and Patrick Wilson. It's too bad that there is no sense of life given all the production value. The dancing is often reminiscent of a Vogue-era Madonna, and the story remains as it is, a tad on the cheesy side. Again, Schumacher bases the film primarily on Webber's musical, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. Webber even wrote some original music for the film.

Christine grew up in the Opera, tutored by the Phantom (Butler, Timeline, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life), who desires her. When reigning diva Carlotta (a hammy Minnie Driver, Ella Enchanted, Owning Mahowny) storms out, Madame Giry (Natasha Richardson, The Hours, Spider) suggests that Christine take her place. The audience loves her, as does the new owner, Raoul (Patrick Wilson, The Alamo, My Sister's Wedding), who was also a childhood friend. Much to the Phantom's dismay, Christine and Raoul fall in love. At its heart, Phantom is a love triangle between Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom, but it never works.

It's hard to believe that Raoul and Christine can fall in love so quickly (there is no chemistry between them), or that the Phantom seems so, well, dumb. Christine's young age explains her naivete, but otherwise, as a film, Phantom of the Opera does not work that well. The scale is grander and Schumacher takes advantage of a larger canvas, but he does not adapt the story well enough to the different genre. A bit of melodrama is fine on stage, but on screen it looks silly. Instead, Schumacher overcompensates by pouring forth a lot of energy into the settings and costumes, giving the movie an empty feeling.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 23 minutes, Rated PG-13 for brief violent images.

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