Warner Bros. // 2004 // 141 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // May 9th, 2008
Her voice became his passion. Her love became his obsession. Her refusal became his rage.
His heavy handedness came close to screwing up yet another classic film icon.
Joel Schumacher has been suffering a bad rap in recent years, but it's not entirely undeserved. His screenplay for The Wiz was ill conceived and poorly executed; and he openly admits mistakes were made with the post-Burton Batman franchise. So it was with great trepidation that I approached his take on Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. I've been a fan of Gaston Leroux's dark love story since seeing Lon Chaney in the title role. In fact, my first exposure to the musical was in Vienna with the show done completely in German. And despite my limited access to the language, I was completely mesmerized by Webber's score and Hal Prince/Gillian Lynne's staging. So, one might surmise, with a bigger sandbox to play in, the film could exceed its stage predecessor in fantastic ways. Which, unfortunately, brings us back to Schumacher's track record and the mixed success director Alan Parker had attempting the same with Evita. The outlook was not very promising...but (surprise surprise) low expectations sometimes yield unexpected fruit.
Schumacher's The Phantom of the Opera is far from brilliant. However, the film does have a great deal going for it. Schumacher's natural gifts for visual design pay off in spades with a lush canvas upon which these characters jubilantly play. Gone are the stark limited confines of the stage, replaced by a rich, detailed opera house and a matte painted/CG Paris -- both above and below ground.
Webber's score also gets the opportunity to breathe, bolstered by full orchestral arrangements and a robust 5.1 audio track. Placing the two soundtracks side-by-side you'll find they couldn't be more different...in both positive and negative respects. The downside here are the vocals. When you set bar incredibly high with the talents of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, you're already at a disadvantage. Emmy Rossum as Christine, while possessing a lovely voice, does not have anywhere near the chops Ms. Brightman. She's beautiful to behold and has no problem expressing both the bewitched artist and conflicted young lover. But her performance lacks the punch that would have made it complete. Gerard Butler, on the hand, has plenty of punch, so much so that it overwhelms the otherwise complex emotional psyche of our Opera Ghost. Orchestrator David Cullen, who modified Webber's original score to fit the skill level of Antonio Banderas for Evita, finds yet another challenge in revoicing the Phantom to a range that works for Butler. What results is a guttural anti-hero, more brawn than brains, which takes something away from the power of the character itself. That void is filled by a more fleshed out backstory, but it's not enough to make this tormented soul complete. What surprised me most was Patrick Wilson, who -- while an accomplished Broadway actor -- makes Raoul (Christine's rediscovered soul mate) feel extremely flat. At first I thought it was the distracting hair extensions, but there's something truly lacking from this character. What should be an enthralling exchange of energy within this love triangle fails to sizzle and spark. In fact, the real attention grabbing performances come from the supporting cast in the form of Minnie Driver as Carlotta (the resident Opera diva), Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry (the troupe's den mother), and Simon Callow and Ciarin Hinds as the troupe's newest owners.
Presented in 2.40:1, 1080p native widescreen, this Blu-ray presentation is beautiful. The production design relies heavily on a lush color palate, mood lighting, and phenomenal costume design, all of which explode off the screen in high definition. The audio, while not the top of the line digital encoding, will give your system a workout by immersing you in both music and atmosphere.
In terms of bonus material, nothing really to write home about, as it contains the same exact features found on both the Two-Disc standard DVD and HD DVD releases. First up is "Behind the Mask," a historical look at the evolution of the character from book to screen to stage to screen, a treat for Webber fans. Next is the obligatory "Making of" documentary, broken down into pre-production, Joel Schumacher's world, and principal photography. In all honesty, it's fairly middle of the road for production documentaries. There is one excised musical number included, and watching it you'll know exactly why it was left on the cutting room floor. The set is rounded out by a sing-along (Please, what is this? A Disney release?) and the original theatrical trailer.
As adaptations go, it's always difficult to deliver something that will please fans of the original source material. Schumacher and his team are to be commended for tackling something this iconic and coming within spitting distance of their target. This Phantom of the Opera is not the definitive version Warner Bros. had hoped for, but it is a ride well worth taking, and a soundtrack well worth owning, if only for the score.
Review content copyright © 2008 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Behind the Mask"
* "The Making of The Phantom of the Opera"
* Deleted Scene
* Theatrical Trailer
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* DVD Verdict Review - The Phantom of the Opera (HD DVD)
* DVD Verdict Review - Phantom of the Opera (1943)
* DVD Verdict Review - Phantom of the Opera (1989)
* DVD Verdict Review - Phantom of the Paradise