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★★★☆☆

“I've never actually seen a stage production of Andrew...”

Written on: 09/08/2005 by Timix1 (33 reviews written)

Good Points
Beautiful sets and costumes, those memorable A.L. Webber songs.

Bad Points
A Phantom that can't sing his way out of a paper bag.

General Comments
I've never actually seen a stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (I've never read the Gaston Leroux novel on which it's based or seen earlier film adaptations, for that matter), but many years ago "The Music Of The Night" caught my ear, and I've been a fan of the score ever since. The story itself - that of a brilliant but tormented misfit toiling away in the bowels of a Paris opera house writing music for his unrequited love - always struck a cord with me, and Webber's often over-the-top song writing is well-suited for the material. So it was with considerable interest that I heard news of a big-screen adaptation making its way to the cinema. Even having director Joel Schumacher at the helm (the man who almost single-handedly buried the BATMAN film franchise for almost a decade) wasn't too worrisome for me; I mean, at least this guy has a visual flair that would lend itself well to the melodrama inherent in both the story and Webber's music.

And make no mistake: PHANTOM looks great. Sumptuous art direction, lush cinematography and beautiful costumes abound. For the most part, it even sounds pretty good. Relative newcomer Emmy Rossum is winning as Christine (the object of the Phantom's dangerous affections), Patrick Wilson (recently seen in the superb television miniseries ANGELS IN AMERICA) is in fine voice as her suitor Raoul, and Minnie Driver provides welcome comic relief as the tempestuous diva Carlotta. The movie's Achilles' heel? Gerard Butler as the Phantom. Why Schumacher chose to cast such a flat-out terrible singer in the titular role is quite beyond me. Lord knows, the character spends most of the film behind a mask, so it's not like it required a recognizable actor in the role (and no offence to Butler, but his isn't exactly a household name). Any reasonably talented actor with musical theatre experience could have pulled it off, but instead we're distracted by a toothless Phantom who can barely hold a note, making his scenes with Christine fall flat when they should be soaring on the strength of Webber's score. I suppose I'll have to make the effort the see THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on the stage someday because this film version, although not without its pleasures, only left me longing for the real thing.

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