Director Joel Schumacher treats Andrew Lloyd Webber's monumental coup de theatre, whose lavish design and crashing chandelier helped distract theatergoers from the breathtaking banality of the score, as though it were the jewel in the crown of contemporary musical theater. But beneath the bombast it's pure paste and tinsel and, robbed of the thrill of live performance, the show's deficiencies are glaringly apparent. Schumacher shuffles the play's chronology, adds flashbacks to flesh out the main characters and bookends Webber's story, based on Gaston Leroux's much-adapted 1911 novel, with black-and-white sequences set in 1919. The contents of the dilapidated Opera Populaire theater are being sold at auction, and as bidding opens on a dusty, shattered chandelier, color seeps into the image, the chandelier rises, whole and glittering, and we're transported to the theater's 1870 heyday. Orphaned, impoverished Christine Daae (17-year-old Emmy Rossum), who's lived at the opera since her father's death, has been receiving voice lessons from a mysterious voice — an "angel of music" — she naively believes is her father's spirit. But Christine's mentor is actually the mysterious "Opera Ghost" (Gerard Butler) who haunts the theater. Only ballet mistress Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson) knows that the "ghost" is a brilliant but disfigured composer who was hidden in the theater's recesses as a child and has grown into a lonely, tormented man who channels his anguish into music. The Phantom launches a campaign to scare off vain, talentless diva La Carlotta (Minnie Driver) so Christine can take her place in the limelight, but his protege's betrayal — a tentative romance with the Opera's new patron, Raoul (Patrick Wilson) — sends the lovesick Phantom into a lethal rage. The film's costumes and production design are gorgeous, but the casting — the subject of much preproduction speculation and contention — is surprisingly weak. Schumacher deliberately cast actors who could sing but, ironically, the least-accomplished vocalist among the leads — Butler — has the most magnetism, even though he's easily a decade too young for the role. Talented ingenue Rossum is as blandly dewy as cake-topper swaddled in froufrou, and Wilson's stage charisma is nowhere in evidence. Driver's shrill Carlotta speaks with a community-theater accent and sings with another actress' voice (Margaret Preece, a four-year veteran of the show's original London production). Nuanced supporting performances by Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds as the parvenus who've just bought the Opera and, especially, Richardson as the sly Giry, can't compensate for the vacuum at the top.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Director Joel Schumacher treats Andrew Lloyd Webber's monumental coup de theatre, whose lavish design and crashing chandelier helped distract theatergoers from the breathtaking banality of the score, as though it were the jewel in the crown of contemporary… (more)