Original US release date: December 22, 2004
Production budget: $70,000,000
Worldwide gross: $154,648,887
I’ve been a fan of Charles Hart and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music from The Phantom of the Opera since middle school chorus, when one of the selections for our spring concert was a medley of songs from the play. I never forgot those songs, but I also never managed to see the actual play. My first exposure to the story of the Phantom was actually this film, upon its release in 2004. I have since read the original Gaston Leroux novel, but before Joel Schumacher released this theatrical adaptation of Webber’s play, I had only a vague familiarity with the story.
There was quite a bit of excitement surrounding this release in my town. I remember going to the theater to catch it on opening night (it formally opened in December of 2004 but that was a limited release. It made it to the ever-ambiguous Theater Near Me the following January), but a snowstorm had shut the theater down, so I walked away disappointed. (Snow never stops me from going out the movies. I braved the Snowpocalypse of 2009 to catch Avatar on opening night. Despite being a much bigger storm than the one in early 2005, the same theater remained open on that night. Go figure.) So, I returned to the theater, the next afternoon, to try again only to be told that the print hadn’t been delivered, yet, due to the storm from the day before! Arrrrgh! So, again, on that Sunday, I drive to the theater and am finally able to secure my ticket to see The Phantom of the Opera. Finally, I’ll know the whole story!
The delays in receiving the film, that weekend, caused some pent up demand; it was a sold out show and people were happy to finally be able to watch the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it, that day. The songs were as excellent, powerful, and memorable as ever and Emmy Rossum dazzled in the lead role of Christine Daae.
This re-watch went about as well, though there are a few issues that can’t go without a mention if I want to maintain any credibility (even if said credibility is only in my own head). I’ll get to those. First, without question, Emmy Rossum – as I mentioned – is the standout of the film. She earned a Golden Globe nomination (alas, no Oscar nom) for the role and it was well-deserved. She commands the attention of the viewer anytime she’s on the screen. And what a voice! She sings effortlessly, clearly, and with humanity; there’s no sense of trying to be overly technical or mechanical with her enunciation or her pitch. She sings with her heart, first, and that’s the best kind of singing. Don’t get me wrong, though – her mechanics are perfect, as well. Rossum just delivers on every level and I simply don’t understand why this didn’t lead to huge things for her in the film world (she was a star of television’s “Shameless”, though).
The set design, costuming, and cinematography are all pristine and lavish, as is appropriate. The film feels exactly as it should and as one would expect it to. Schumacher and his team knew their audience and gave them what they wanted (which, after Batman & Robin was the best thing Schumacher could have done, here. Come on, you knew I had to mention it, right?). The whole film has a very gothic feel to it, and jarringly (by design) jumps from the high-society sector of 19th century France to the seedy underbelly of the Phantom’s lair. It’s all beautiful in its own way and it simply works.
Most of the remainder of the cast delivers, as well, whether their part is big or small. Patrick Wilson is well-cast as Raoul, Christine’s love interest. He has a nice, smooth tone to his voice and an impressive range and power. He has gone on to do rather well for himself in the years since and he may even be nearly unrecognizable in this film to some who might not be looking for him. Minnie Driver has a notable role, as well, that’s short on screen time but memorable, nonetheless.
And then there’s Gerard Butler as the Phantom. Look, I like Gerard Butler just fine. But he is simply a mediocre singer, at best. Technically, he hits all the notes. But it’s not easy. His voice strains. His vibrato is forced and unnatural. His tone is rough. His falsetto is cringe-worthy and nearly induces laughter. The Phantom is supposed to be menacing. And that, Butler can do and he can do it well. And he does in this film. But he’s also supposed to be Christine’s secretive vocal coach. And it’s just impossible to buy. When hearing the two of them, my immediate thought was that if he’s her trainer, then the pupil far surpassed the teacher right from day one. A similar situation happened in the recent film adaptation of Les Misérables. A big deal was made of Russell Crowe’s talk-singing in that film. I noticed it, as everyone did, and he wasn’t great, but at least his character wasn’t purported to be some sort of master vocalist. Butler was painfully miscast as the Phantom. This is not Sparta.
Outside of that, the other problems are small and innocuous. Why – and even how? – does the Phantom have a horse in his underground lair? And was the chandelier falling really such a huge deal that it should be remembered so long after it happened, especially since nobody died? And, as is almost always the case, the lyrics in the choral singing performances are often difficult to distinguish. In addition, personally, I get a little annoyed with dialogue being sung outside of the context of an actual song, though that’s probably just me.
These issues are present and notable but – for me – they aren’t overwhelming enough to affect my enjoyment of everything else. Not even Butler drags the film down all that much, as his acting is fine, even if his singing is woefully underwhelming. Schumacher earned such a bad reputation for himself after Batman & Robin (one more mention, sorry! That’s the last one! And, yes, he definitely earned it.) but he has proven that he’s not an inherently bad filmmaker; he has just made some poor creative choices. This, overall, wasn’t one of them. I wish someone else had played the eponymous Phantom, but Rossum and Wilson more than compensate, as do the songs themselves and the overall design of the film. I honestly have no idea how the diehard fans of the play reacted to the movie, but I would imagine they found some fault with it, yet also plenty to love (I do remember hearing someone whine that there was little operatic singing. The film isn’t an actual opera, it’s about an opera! Come on, people, turn your light switches on, okay?). And that’s where I sit. But frankly, the good is so very good that it’s hard to walk away from the film feeling badly about the time spent watching it. As an experience, The Phantom of the Opera is a fun, exuberant time at the movies (or on your couch, as the case may be, over twelve years later).
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