Sunday, March 24, 2013

Movie Review: The Phantom of the Opera

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Stunning to look at, great performances, memorable songs
Cons: Phantom made out to be a hero
The Bottom Line:
Beautiful music
Brought to life wonderfully
Acting, visuals

The Dark Angel of Music

For years, movie musicals seemed to be a dying breed. There has been a recent upsurge in them, however. This movie version of the smash Broadway hit The Phantom of the Opera is one of them, and it will please fans of the genre.

When new owners purchase the opera house in Paris, they dismiss the rumors of a creature living downstairs (Gerald Butler). Even when they receive his demands, they don't take him seriously. Why should they pay him rent? And they absolutely refuse to star his protegee Christine (Emmy Rossum) when they have a proven star under contract.

The Phantom has been secretly training Christine for a while and finally shows himself to her. But Christine is falling for Raoul (Patrick Wilson), an old childhood friend. Being a jealous sort, the Phantom doesn't take this news well. Between Christine's lack of devotion and the new owners refusing to follow his every demand, the Phantom decides to take action, resulting in everyone seeing his true nature. What will the outcome be?

I've only seen the stage version of this musical once, so I didn't go into it with exacting expectations or baggage. I did notice some of the changes they made to it, but they are minor. The heart and emotional impact of the story remains the same.

This movie looks incredible. From the opening moments when the movie dramatically switches from black and white to color, it is a feast for the eyes. The costumes and sets are fantastic. It's hard to take everything in. They bring things to life in a way not possible on stage.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is famous for his "rock operas" and no where is that more evidenced then in this musical. Since the setting is an opera house, there is more of an opera feel to the music, but there is still plenty of rock to it. And it is absolutely beautiful to listen to. There are several powerful and memorable songs in the soundtrack and will stay with you for a long time after the film.

Since it is more of an opera then a traditional musical, there is very little talking. Almost everything is sung. Yet the songs really do advance the story. And the choreography is brilliant at telling the story and keeping your interest through the entire thing.

Since the soundtrack is recorded before the movie is filmed, the actors basically have to perform everything twice. And they do a great job with it both times. Some have complained about Patrick Wilson's Raoul, but I like him. Then again, he's my favorite character in the story, so that may help. It's hard to believe that Emmy Rossum was only 16 when she filmed it. She is amazing as the lead. I will agree that Gerald Butler is a little too young to play the Phantom, but I am willing to grant musicals a bit more license in matters like that. After all, people don't regularly break out into song, do they?

Despite all this praise, I do have one serious complaint, something that cuts to the heart of the story itself. The Phantom is made out to be sympathetic. This is even truer here then in the play as we see his past as a little boy. The problem is he's an evil man whose true nature comes out the more people stand up to him. If the story was content to let him be the villain, I'd be fine with it. But since it tries to make him the hero or at least the anti-hero, this sympathy really bothers me. At the same time, I do appreciate his own realization of the monster he has become. It's just too little too late.

Overall, this is a wonderful musical brought to life beautifully on screen. Purists of the Broadway version won't like The Phantom of the Opera, but the rest of us will be able to enjoy this outstanding musical.

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