The Phantom of the Opera—fabulous, opulant, guilty pleasure.
Starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver.

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This 2004 film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is a guilty pleasure for me—only I don't feel so guilty! By "guilty pleasure" I mean, I can find plenty of things to criticize about the music and the movie, but I still love it and will wholeheartedly recommend it to others.

Emmy Rossum, Jennifer Ellison  Gerard Butler - Phantom
Peter Wilson, Raoul  Minnie Driver, Ciarán Hinds, Ciaran,
L-R: Christine and Meg (Emmy Rossum and Jennifer Ellison), The Phantom (Gerard Butler), Raoul (Patrick Wilson), Firmin and Carlotta (Ciarán Hinds and Minnie Driver) sing in a crowd.

This review page is graphics-heavy, because I could not resist making lots and lots (and lots!) of screenshots of this absolutely gorgeous film. The things that most entranced me about this movie are the exciting and lush visuals, the music (which, while somewhat repetitive, was catchy and enjoyable), and the over-the-top melodramatic story.

Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Phantom of the Opera  Gerard Butler, Phantom of the Opera
Emma Rossum, Miranda Richardson, Phantom of the Opera   Emmy Rossum and Peter Wilson  
L-R: The mysterious Phantom (Gerard Butler) leads Christine (Emmy Rossum) to his underground hideaway, a traumatized Christine hands the mask back to the Phantom, Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson) looks on as Christine holds a rose given to her by her mysterious "Angel of Music," Christine and her sweetheart, Raoul (Peter Wilson).

The story, but with a new angle: This version retains the love triangle between the innocent singer Christine, her childhood sweetheart Raoul, and the enigmatic Phantom. The Phantom has been secretly (and anonymously) giving the pretty young Christine vocal lessons. Christine thinks that this mysterious person is her special "Angel of Music," when in fact he's a disfigured genius with some anger management problems.

In this incarnation of the classic story, the Phantom is a 30-something hunk who hides not-too-horrific facial disfigurements under a mask. That's where the "love triangle" dynamic is different than in older versions—with or without his mask, the Phantom is not that unappealing. Christine is drawn to him, and the audience finds themselves hoping that she'll pick him over the mild Raoul. (In contrast, other Phantom movies present the character as older, and with a far more repulsive face under the mask.)

Minnie Driver - Carlotta  Ciaran Hinds and Minnie Driver - Kissing up to the Diva
Ciaran Hinds, Simon Callow  
L-R: Carlotta (Minnie Driver), Firmin (Ciarán Hinds) and Carlotta, Firmin and Andre (Simon Callow).

Sense of humor: The temperamental diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver) and the Opera house's two new owners (Ciarán Hinds and Simon Callow) bring much humor to the movie. Minnie Driver is especially exquisite. Her performance must be seen to be believed—absolutely perfect as the hysterical, spoiled Italian prima donna. The two middle-aged owners of the opera are also very funny as they try to keep the opera afloat and cater to the selfish diva's whims.

Gerard Butler - curse  Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler - Phantom of the Opera
Gerard Butler - Phantom of the Opera  Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler - Phantom of the Opera
L-R: The Phantom (Gerard Butler) and Christine (Emmy Rossum) in various scenes from the film.

The gothic romance and melodrama: In not too many other films could you have a grown man wearing a mask, breaking out into song, crying over red roses dropped in the snow, and swishing his oversized cape around for dramatic effect. Director Joel Schumacher really plays it up to the hilt with the gothic sets and moody setting, while Andrew Lloyd Webber's music and story are just . . . what is the word . . . overbaked. But often in a good way. The romance and premise are so over-the-top with grand gestures and gothic touches, yet it still addresses a familiar theme—yearning love and loneliness.

Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Music of the Night  Miranda Richardson Gerard Butler - Phantom, the party crasher  Peter Wilson - raoul  
L-R: Christine (Emmy Rossum) and the Phantom, Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson), The Phantom (Gerard Butler) crashes a party, ever-amiable Raoul (Peter Wilson).

Attractive cast of relative unknowns: Most of the lead parts are played by "unknowns," or rather, actors who were not "big names" when the film was released. I'd never heard of any of these people, with the exception of Gerard Butler (who had barely registered on my radar). Supporting characters Minnie Driver (Carlotta), Ciarán Hinds (Firmin) and Miranda Richardson (Madame Giry) are better known, however.

Gerard Butler causes some controversy as the Phantom, since many say that his voice isn't up to snuff. I thought that he made up for his technical vocal shortcomings by singing with great passion, but it could never be said that he is a great singer. Others complained that he was too young and good-looking to play the ugly and aging Phantom, but the rationale is made that the filmmakers were looking to appeal to a more contemporary crowd. I had no preconceived notions of who should play The Phantom, and so quite liked Butler's vibrancy and appearance.

Emmy Rossum plays the young Christine, and indeed, Rossum herself was still a teenager when she worked in this movie. She has a marvelous singing voice and her acting is more than sufficient for the role. She is physically well-suited for the part—extraordinarily pretty, in a innocent, untouched way.

The part of Raoul is rather thankless, since he can't compete with more dynamic and interesting Phantom, but Peter Wilson does a great job—I only wish they'd given him a different haircut. I hate his hair in this film. But he can act and he has a great singing voice; so, with the exception of the horrible hair, he's great.

Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Phantom of the Opera  Music of the Night - Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler
Poor Raoul - Peter Wilson  Gerard Butler - Phantom of the Opera
L-R: Christine (Emmy Rossum) sings to the Phantom, The Phantom (Gerard Butler) sings to Christine, poor Raoul (Peter Wilson) sings in distress, The Phantom expresses his anguish through song.

The Music: Well, it's high time I got around to discussing Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, isn't it, since it is the core part to this whole movie experience! While viewing this film for the first time, I started to think to myself, "Haven't they used this melody before?" Yes, there's a lot of what might be charitably called "recycling" of tunes here. I didn't find that the recurrent use of certain themes grated too much (and all the songs are catchy and memorable), but I admit that after a while, I really began to notice it.

Some of the song lyrics are . . . I'll use that word again . . . overbaked. I guess I have no poetic soul, but I can take only so much purple prose, and this musical has more than its share. But hey—this is a gothic, overly dramatic romance, so I guess overbaked and purple prose come with the territory.

Phantom down in the caves  Phantom of the Opera - graveyard
Phantom of the Opera - fabulous sculpture  Stained glass - Phantom of the Opera
L-R: The Phantom navigates in a boat underneath the Opera, Christine at a graveyard, fabulous sculpture in the Opera house, Raoul and Christine in front of a stained glass window.

Breathtaking visuals: Watching this movie is a little like going on a Disneyland ride—particularly "Pirates of the Caribbean." (The "Pirates" ride takes place on a boat, which is a teensy bit reminiscent of the one that the Phantom and Christine have near the beginning of the film). Each shot is a visual feast, and it appears as if a healthy portion of the budget went into sets and props.

My criticisms: The story was a mite thin. I wish I had more of an explanation about what makes the Phantom tick. The love story between Christine and Raoul is very skimpy—they meet, and a few scenes later, they're in love. Ho hum.

Some of the lyrics were much too absurd—even for my forgiving tastes. And the way some lines were delivered occasionally made me cringe (when the Phantom booms out, "Sing to me, my Angel of Music! Sing to me!" during the song "Phantom of the Opera," I simultaneously twitter and wince—it's that bad).

It's a guilty pleasure . . . I'm never going to be one of these "fangirls" who weeps over the fate of any of these characters, or works hard to find "hidden meanings" in any of the plot details. But even when I shake my head and say to myself, "Oh please" at certain scenes or lines, I still cannot help but love it. It's the whole package—the entire spectacle of the thing—that makes it work for me.

Phantom of the Opera DVDThe Phantom of the Opera on DVD.

The picture and sound quality on the DVD are excellent. There is an extra DVD with plenty of additional material (including a deleted song) that make this a worthy purchase for anyone who enjoyed the movie.

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