Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera
*½/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras A
starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson
screenplay by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Joel Schumacher
directed by Joel Schumacher
by Walter Chaw At last, the moment where the stars align and professional bad filmmaker Joel Schumacher teams up with ace bad musical spectacle maven Andrew Lloyd Webber to create something that looks for all the world like Batman meets Liberace. There's never been a swooping crane shot Schumacher didn't like and there's never been a scale sung in falsetto to simulate ardour that Webber hasn't massaged; together, the two men give us a guided funhouse tour through a gaudy musical so bereft of real feeling and musicality that its inspiration has obviously run on Broadway for sixteen years now. (Offer a little hosanna that Sarah Brightman isn't in the film.) It's extraordinarily condescending to say so, but Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is the perfect bracer for fans of "The Phantom of the Opera"--no button goes un-popped, no corset goes un-strained, and but for Minnie Driver as jilted diva Carlotta, not a one of the nicely-outfitted cast seems clued-in to the fact that there but for the grace of John Waters does the whole damned thing become The Rocky Horror Picture Show Redux. In fact, the only thing that could save this shambling monstrosity would be a few transvestites mirroring the action at the front of the cinema to the choral approval of the raincoat brigade.
Envy her blissful unawareness, as the film is an over-decorated Christmas tree sick with meaningless CGI camera plummets from the upper balcony into an orchestra's spittoon, shots of Rossum so overlit that she looks like the Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars, and descents through mirrors into mist-shrouded hinter-worlds. It's as though Jean Cocteau directed Krull, although the film to which Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera bears the closest resemblance is Disney's Beauty and the Beast (with Rossum a dead ringer for Belle): show tunes served up with a kind of overwhelming and bland opulence that approximates the sensation of chugging a rhinestone-studded quart of honey. Still, it's that plodding, simpleminded overkill that's made Webber's awful stuff among the most lucrative musical theatre productions in history--the same way that Michael Bay films gross into the billions, the same way that Taco Bell is the favourite restaurant of the United States. It's not about quality, it's about convenience, and while the film is busy shoving its decadent sets and costumes down your throat, you'll hardly notice the 141 minutes of life it's sucking out of your look-holes. At least this way it doesn't cost you eighty bucks for the privilege. Originally published: December 22, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Warner shepherds Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera to DVD in three separate editions, the most expensive of which--the 2-Disc Special Widescreen Edition, reviewed herein--lists for just two dollars more than the alternative single-disc release(s), which comes in widescreen and pan-and-scan flavours. The second platter is the only variable between the lot, and since its content is arguably more fulfilling than the movie it supports, if you must own Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, permission to splurge granted. These bonus incentives include two lengthy UK TV specials and a deleted song (or at least a deleted snippet of a song). In "Behind the Mask: The Story of 'The Phantom of the Opera'" (65 mins.), interviewees like the eponymous Webber, lyricist Richard Stilgore, and others involved in the hit musical walk us through not only the inception of their phenomenon, but also the origin of the Gaston Leroux novel on which it's based. Surprisingly, Webber casually credits Ken Hill, who in the past has been threatened with lawsuits for advertising his "The Phantom of the Opera: A Musical Play" as "the original stage musical," with inspiring him to have a go at the concept, and we learn that Hill wanted to cast Webber's then-wife Sarah Brightman in the role of Christine long before Webber had the same notion. Perhaps even more unexpectedly, the participants don't shy away from dissent, with the absence of Brightman implying as much as less than diplomatic remarks from Steve Harley, evidently nursing a 20-year grudge against Webber for replacing him with Michael Crawford only a few weeks before the premiere. All this plus footage from the Sydmonton Court preview of "Music of the Night" with alternate lyrics; theatre geeks will be in hog heaven.
With this and "The Making of The Phantom of the Opera" (45 mins.), Really Useful Films (the prodco also behind the feature film) lives up to its flamboyant name. The latter, focused exclusively on the big-screen adaptation, is segmented into featurettes (indexed in a sub-menu), probably to keep SAG at bay. (That being said, there is a "play all" option.) Unfortunately for us, the shoot was a cakewalk compared to getting the stage show up and running, making for a documentary that lacks in the human interest of its companion piece. Still, prepare to learn everything you always wanted to know about Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera but were afraid to ask, from Schumacher's reluctance to cast a 'name' in the lead to the unusual process by which the actors pre-recorded songs to be lip-synched on screen. Presented in stereo and anamorphic widescreen, a 2-minute clip of the Phantom singing "No One Would Listen" rounds out the second platter along with a superfluous page of "web info." The first platter contains the movie proper in a glorious 2.38:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer; you could scarcely ask anything else of the image, though colour reproduction stands out as the highlight of this presentation. Complementary Dolby Digital 5.1 audio supercharges the "Toccata and Fugue"-like riff that announces the end of the auction prologue, in addition to providing the near-constant stream of music a nice, wide berth. Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera's trailer finishes off the first disc and, as it happens, the set, too. Originally published: June 2, 2005.
141 minutes; PG-13; 2.38:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; 2 DVD-9s; Region One; Warner