November 8, 2008

REVIEW: Phantom of the Opera (2004 film)

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler (pre-300)
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Joel Schumacher

This is going to be ugly.

First off, I have to say that I like Andrew Lloyd Webber songs and that I hold the Andrew Lloyd Webber with high regard. The songs in Phantom of the Opera are especially (and arguably) his most memorable to date, but the movie adaptation that follows the musical isn't.

And now, some quick history. Gaston Leroux first wrote the novel, then it was adapted into the silent horror flick. Later, Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the story and turned the whole affair into a romantic musical which received tremendous fame (with Webber even working on a sequel, which isn't required) and is the longest-running Broadway musical in history.

In 2004 together with Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, Joel Schumacher made a movie based on the timeless musical, and that is the one I'm gonna review.

So what's the story? Well, it's about an orphaned girl named Christine Daae. When her father dies, the "Angel of Music", aka the titular character, takes her under his wing and teaches her how to sing. Later, when the Opera House's biggest primma donna walks out of the La Carlotta show, Christine gets her big break. Conveniently, her childhood friend Raoul becomes the Opera House's patron, and like all these kinds of romances, they recognize each other and fall in love once again. However, the Phantom doesn't like this new development, and obsessively wants Christine for himself, thus the troubling series of events that follow.

I have to be frank: I love the stylishness of it all. The sets are gorgeous and the film has some nice color grading. OK, maybe I didn't like the cemetary (the cemetary in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is more realistic) as well as the fact that there were candles going up and down the water without the fire being lit out, which was downright silly, the first time we see the Phantom's lair, but overall, the art direction deserves to be commended here. Oh, and did you notice that both have an abundance of fog machines?

I need not talk about the songs, as I have already in the paragraphs above, but the thing is that the voices of the musical aren't strong enough to justify the power needed to sing them. And while we're on the subject of voices, I suspected lipsyncing from at least one of the actors, and it turns out to be from Carlotta's and not Christine's.

Why did I suspect Emmy Rossum (who plays Christine) to be lipsyncing? That's because her face hardly moves at all, and only her voice expresses emotion, not her face. But perhaps I was expecting some hammed-up performances, since this is after all a musical, but I'm still bothered by her (and the rest of the cast's) inability to move their faces, especially in the first half. It's the second half that got my attention, also because it was the climax, but the end result didn't turn out as dramatic as I wanted it to be, partly because of some plotholes and said lackluster performances.

Let me elaborate more on "but the end result didn't turn out as dramatic as I wanted it to be". The mystique is all gone and the thrill of guessing which character actually survives this ordeal goes pfft because of the black-and-white parts which represent the "present-day" happening of it all. And while the transitions between them are almost seamless and appropriate, it doesn't exactly do much benefit to the film's so-called mystery. From the beginning you already know that Raoul survives, so the action scenes between the Phatom and Raoul trying to fight each other to the death fall down, down, down into nothing.

That, and the fact that Joel Schumacher altered the Phantom's backstory, doesn't do much good either. I mean, if that was how the Phantom came to the Opera House, doesn't that mean that it would probably be more appropriate (not to mention generic and... less awkward in hindsight) to see Madame Giry and the Phantom being the ones in love? This becomes a bit like those May-December affairs instead, which I don't really like watching very much, because those affairs typically don't captivate the audience, and also because it makes the love triangle's resolution all the more predictable as well.

Plus, the movie's pace is too inconsistent. Sometimes, the scenes drag out to the point of boring, and sometimes, the film becomes a bit too fast-paced to the point of annoying. The scene involving Raoul going down somewhere whilst the Opera House's managers preparing Carlotta for a play (in song, of course) is an example not because it's confusing, but because the parties involved are singing two different tunes simultaneously!

So while we're in the topic of tunes, do the characters really have to sing almost every line? Can't they talk like normal human beings? Sometimes, a person needs a break from extravagant musical numbers, but this movie doesn't let up with the succession of musical numbers until the climactic (?) kissing scene, which you know will ensue, happens. Frankly, that part did not make me swoon because I had to pant for a while from all that singing!

Most important of all, the film lacks that sparkle of chemistry within the ensemble, and the Phantom doesn't exude that strong, intimidating aura at all. Perhaps, with that backstory, you could've stuck with Antonio Banderas (who sung "The Phantom of the Opera" in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th birthday concert) who exudes, well, something better than Gerard Butler. Plus, because once again of those black-and-white present day sequences, the sense of danger also wanes. And does the romance make girls giggle and swoon? I don't know, but I found that aspect to be extremely lacking if you ask my opinion.

Overall, the film is just OK. It's extremely stylish, and it features some nice songs, but... no dice. I don't think it deserves the Golden Globe nomination (for best Musical) at all, but I guess you can borrow and not buy the DVD from someone if you're interested to see if you like it or not. On the bright side, at least Joel Schumacher didn't put nipples on the costumes like in Batman and Robin. -shudder-

Rating: 6/10

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