I despise opera singing, and I detest chick-flicks. But I love phantomly films and am a fan of The Phantom of the Opera — from the eerie 1925 silent version starring Lon Chaney to the bloody slasher 1989 version featuring Robert Englund, I’ve always been at least somewhat entertained by the story.
It’s an undeniably ageless, engrossing screen story, one filled with drama, suspense, romance, and horror. It’s always been that way . . . until now. In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, based squarely on the stage play (which I have not seen, by the way), you can subtract the suspense and horror and add a whole lot of glass-breaking high notes. Most horror fans will get their first clue by the words “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s” in the title, but for those who have watched Attack of the Killer Tomatoes one too many times and have thereby sizzled more than a few brain cells, consider this review a word of warning: It ain’t horror, not even a little.
The setting is Paris, 1870, in the Opera Populaire. The title character, a disfigured musical genius (Gerard Butler, whom you may remember as the Fanged One in Dracula 2000) who haunts the catacombs beneath the opera house, is more handsome than horrible this time around. He wears a cute little mask and sweeps his swirly cape dramatically while he ardently pursues the object of his affection: a young, shapely soprano named Christine (Emmy Rossum, who played the doomed daughter in Mystic River). Standing in the way of their peculiar affair is the shrilly demanding diva (a typecast Minne Driver) and Christine’s former flame, Raoul (a petulant Patrick Wilson).
This version of The Phantom of the Opera is undeniably beautiful in the visual sense. The sets are sumptuous, the costumes are lavish, and the cinematography is glorious. All the pomp, plumage, and pizzazz of the opulent bygone era is shown to overblown excess in the most pleasing way possible. Unfortunately, as you’re looking at all this glitz and glamour, you must also endure the ear-wrenching ballads and hearts-aflutter over-acting (which is, of course, in keeping with the feel of a stage production). The signature song, “The Phantom of the Opera,” is reduced to a soft rock tune timed to a collage of images showing Christine and the Phantom floating and canoodling through some sort of tunnel of love.
If you haven’t lost your lunch yet and you are still reading this review, then maybe you are curious to know how this movie works as just a film, not specifically a horror film. It’s OK. As I said, it’s very pretty looking, and it does have a lot of production value. It is a decent romance, if somewhat sappy and static. The acting is good, but none of the actors really stand out as the larger than life characters they play.
Unless you are a diehard romantic, an opera fanatic, or a lifelong fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, you’re probably better off with a previous version of The Phantom of the Opera.
This edition of Phantom is stingy on extras. It only includes the movie’s trailer. A two-DVD version comes with a symphony of supplements (listed below), but Warner Bros chose not to send that edition out to reviewers. If you’re a fan of the film, you might want to pay the extra $2 more than it costs to buy the single-disc, no-frills package.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
(Warner Home Video)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, and Minnie Driver
Special Features of Double-Disc Edition (not reviewed here)
Behind the Mask: The Story of the Phantom of the Opera
Three making-of featurettes: Preproduction, the director, production
Additional scene: No One Would Listen
Easter egg: Cast & crew singalong
1 1/2 out of 5