Film Review: The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

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(source: tmdb.org)

Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel, The Phantom of the Opera, was originally combination of gothic horror and detective fiction, but, thanks to Lon Chaney Sr. and his famous role in 1925 silent Hollywood adaptation, became one of the most iconic works of horror genre. However, today's audience is more likely to know The Phantom of the Opera through Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical, which was adapted into an eponymous film in 2004, directed by Joel Schumacher.

The plot of the film, set in 1870 Paris, follows the new owners of the Opera Populaire as they introduce their new production to their wealthy patron, young aristocrat Viscount Raoul de Chagny (played by Patrick Wilson). The opera house is haunted by a mysterious masked figure, the Phantom (played by Gerard Butler), who hides in the tunnels below and makes various demands on the establishment. One of these demands is for Christine Daaé (played by Emmy Rossum), a talented dancer who was secretly tutored as a singer by the "Angel of Music." Christine falls in love with her childhood sweetheart, Raoul, but when it is revealed that the "Angel of Music" is actually the Phantom, his rage is ignited, leading to a tragic confrontation.

Webber, who originally wrote the musical for his then-wife Sarah Brightman, had planned to adapt it to the big screen almost from the start. He even personally chose Joel Schumacher as the director, impressed by his 1987 cult horror film, Near Dark. However, the collapse of Webber’s marriage to Brightman and Schumacher's other commitments delayed the film's production. While Webber had luck with two of his screen adaptations – Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita – the luck ran out with The Phantom of the Opera. Despite decent box office, the film received mixed or scathing reviews and is generally considered a failure.

Visually, the film appears to be a large-scale, old-school musical, with a large budget and meticulous recreations of 19th-century Paris in Pinewood Studios. However, Schumacher's direction, which was bombastic, operatic, and reminiscent of his disastrous Batman & Robin, detracts from the overall experience. The film's saving grace is Webber's source material, which provides audiences with memorable musical numbers.

Webber insisted on casting young and relatively unknown actors for the three main roles. While this proved unfortunate for some, Emmy Rossum's ingenue image and looks made her a suitable Christine Daaé. However, Patrick Wilson, who played Raoul, was much older than the character he portrayed, making his performance less convincing. Gerard Butler, the Scottish actor who played the Phantom, lacked singing experience and had to be specifically trained for the role. While commendable, his performance was one of the least convincing and memorable in his career.

One of the film's most egregious flaws, although probably not noticeable for most audience, is its disregard for historical accuracy, setting the story in 1870. If set year earlier or later, plot wouldn’t have to coincide with Franco-Prussian War, thus avoiding characters failing to notice German siege of Paris, arguably one of the most traumatic events in the history of that great city. This oversight represents another example of Hollywood utter disregard for non-US history and one of the worst cinematic atrocities for history buffs.

The Phantom of the Opera is a disappointment for fans of the musical, failing to capture the emotional depth and gothic grandeur of the source material. While it may be tolerable for die-hard Webber enthusiasts, the film ultimately falls short as a cinematic adaptation, lacking the power and resonance of the stage production.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

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