‘Phantom’ DVD not quite as haunting as stage show

Robert Taylor

Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum travel merrily down the stream in Joel Schumacher’s big-screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.

Credit: Beth Rankin

For the first two-thirds of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera (as if that wasn’t long enough, the actual title should be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Version Of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, but who’s counting?) I was convinced I was watching a masterpiece unfold.

There was only one slow spot up until that point (that would be “Music of the Night”) and the amazing “Masquerade” presented me with the high point of the film. But then something went off the rails: the pace went wacky, characters I cared about disappeared and the directing suddenly went from polished to something a drunk man might do with a digital camera while trying to piss in an alley.

The film begins in black and white with an auction at the long-closed Paris Opera House, where things like monkeys, skulls and chandeliers are being sold for next to nothing. Cue (dare I say) the six most famous notes in Broadway history, the chandelier is raised and the Opera returns to its glorious majesty.

We travel back to learn the tragic romance (probably the thing farthest from Leroux’s mind when he churned out the original potboiler) between an upstart singer named Christine (Emmy Rossum) and the masked Phantom (Gerard Butler). Before you know it Minnie Driver is lip-synching and that chandelier is falling.

Let’s face it: you either love Phantom or loathe it. I love the musical, own the CD and even have a Phantom mask. This Phantom won’t convert anyone who doesn’t like the play, but I doubt it will drive anyone away from the music either. Since I loved the play I loved the music.

Director Joel Schumacher makes it through the first two-thirds of the film doing an excellent job of turning the musical into a movie. He uses sweeping camera shots that begin in the opera and descend all the way into the bowels of the opera, allowing the choreography in the film to transcend anything offered in the theater.

The high points are the “Overture,” in which the broken chandelier returns to its place as the opera around it is transformed and “Masquerade,” a musical number so ingenious and gorgeous you immediately want to rewind and watch it over and over.

However, most of the “second act” becomes stagy, gloomy and terribly directed. Schumacher just throws in random shots for no reason. Musical numbers that should have been cut down or deleted completely (notably “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and “Point of No Return”) are sung in their entirety. Characters who stole most of the first half (Minnie Driver’s Carlotta) disappear almost entirely. Even the chandelier’s deadly drop is too brief to enjoy.

Events of the film’s bottom third aside, the Academy should be slapped for overlooking Emmy Rossum’s starmaking turn as Christine. Rossum is perfect in the role, gorgeous and made my heart go a’flutter. Butler and costar Patrick Wilson (as Raoul) were under fire for their acting, but both did fine in their roles.

The production is gorgeous and the cinematography, for the most part, is fantastic. The movie as a whole is excellent, but unlike Chicago, it didn’t make me forget about the play that inspired it. This Phantom may be fun to watch if you can’t see the show, but I doubt anything will ever replace actually being in the audience and watching that chandelier come down on top of you.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Robert Taylor at [email protected].