Thursday, December 30, 2004

Phantom of the Opera 

This film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber's successful theater production is spectacular, beautiful, lush, grand, full of beautiful people, sights and sounds. And sometimes it even works.

Sadly, at other times it's just too much. Of everything. There's a fine line between really cool execution of a really cool concept and just showing off all your neat toys, and unfortunately director Joel Schumacher jumps back and forth over that line throughout the show. When it works, it's fabulous. When it doesn't, I just really couldn't wait for the scene to end so they could move on.

Emmy Rossum has been nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress: Musical or Comedy, and received the National Board of Review award for Breakthrough Performance by an Actress, and she does put forth a great performance. I wouldn't look for her at Oscar nomination time, but one of the nice features of the Golden Globes is that they have separate categories for "Drama" and "Musical or Comedy," which allows a wider variety of performances to be recognized. Rossum seems to glow from within through much of the film, and many of her expressions reminded me of Jennifer Beals in a combination of Flashdance and The Bride ("You didn't tell me about cats. I thought it was a tiny lion." BWAH!) - that sort of wide-eyed innocence combined with deer in the headlights look. But too much of that can be, well, too much. During the latter part of the movie Rossum's Christine becomes a little darker, a bit more jaded, and it's in these scenes that Schumacher allows Rossum to dig deeper and bring some power and layers to the show. Here we get a glimpse of what I hope we'll see develop in her future projects.

The first time I felt that Schumacher had gone astray was when Christine first comes face to face with the man who is the Phantom (up until that night he had stayed hidden, contacting her as a disembodied voice). It turned into one of those trippy, camera spinning, Vaseline on the lens while our heroine stares glassy-eyed into the camera kind of things, and it was more distracting than anything.

The final instance of directorial missteps for me was the swordfight scene towards the end. The shots alternated between distance and way too close, artsy and action, and it just didn't work. It would be like trying to combine the Uma Thurman - Lucy Liu swordfight in the snowy zen garden (Kill Bill, Vol. 1) with the Uma Thurman - Darryl Hannah swordfight in the dingy trailer (Kill Bill, Vol. 2). Both good scenes, but not compatible.

But when it worked it gave me goosebumps. The rooftop scene at the end of Act I, the underground sing-off among the Phantom, Raoul and Christine, the Phantom's Don Juan performance between the Phantom and Christine, and of course the chandelier-induced transition from the "present" to the "past" of the opera house, which was just spectacular (in a good way). Ironically, the "present" is shot in grainy black and white, while the "past" appears in full color and looks more modern. This was a nice choice, as it imbues the characters in their later settings with a sense of loss, longing, and thoughts of better times, while the "past" is full of the brightness and vigor of youth and the beginning of life's journey.

Speaking of vigor, Patrick Wilson was quite manly as Raoul, but he rather reminded me of the post-curse Beast in Beauty and the Beast - all chest, muscles and blonde mane. Then the contrast with the porcelain-skinned and soft glowy Christine made the comparison all the more pressing. To cap it off, the stained glass window in the Chapelle was quite reminiscent of the stained glass of the young pre-curse prince in the Disney show.

I've seen some mention that Minnie Driver overacted in her role of Carlotta, and I agree. But I also feel that it was entirely appropriate for the part. She was the most prima donna of them all, and the performance felt perfect for the part. She was one of the best things in the show, and usually came along just when the extravaganza was becoming a little overly extra.

Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry and of course Gerald Butler as the Phantom were marvelous.

Now if I could only get "The Music of the Night" out of my head, where it's been lodged since yesterday afternoon...

Reality Check: The Girl didn't see it, and I didn't press her to. She's a fan of neither opera, musicals nor period pieces, and this is all those rolled into one. Much of the dialogue is sung rather than spoken, and it just would have been way too much to ask of her.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 1:45 PM