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Warner Home Video presents
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

"A collector's piece indeed. Every detail, exactly as she said. Will you still play, when all the rest of us are dead?"
- Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (voiced by Patrick Wilson)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: June 14, 2005

Stars: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson
Other Stars: Minnie Driver, Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow, Ciaran Hinds
Director: Joel Schumacher

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, adult themes
Run Time: 02:21:00
Release Date: May 03, 2005
UPC: 012569702998
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B-AB+ A-

DVD Review

I chose the quote above not because it illuminates the film's story or applies to one of its characters, but more because of its inadvertent relation to the film/musical itself. Debuting in 1986 in London, where it still runs, and on Broadway in 1988, where it also continues to run, The Phantom of the Opera is one of the great success stories of the musical theater, a popular and financial success composer Andrew Lloyd Webber will likely never be able to top (Cats may have run longer so far, but it inspires less audience affection and emotional involvement). A film version has been struggled over for more than a decade, before Lloyd Webber finally decided to produce it through his Really Useful Company. So, nearly 20 years after its debut, Phantom moved to the silver screen, and in many ways, it is the collector's piece of the quote above. It's an old property in movie terms. Not as old as Chicago was when it finally debuted, but old nonetheless. That will explain, at least in part, its tepid box-office performance, as the film ended up failing to make back its $60 million budget. Worldwide, the film will presumably have made some profit when DVD sales are added in, but it was no doubt disappointing for Lloyd Webber and company, given the musical's ongoing stage success. The question then becomes why did it fail, and was it due to the movie itself, or outside considerations?

The film, while not a masterpiece, is not a disaster either, and consequently, I don't think its relative failure can be attributed to quality issues. The more likely culprit is the relative ubiquitousness of the musical in performance terms; it has toured just about every city big enough to support it, and many times on multiple occasions. It isn't consequently a unique presence onscreen. Chicago was a decent success in its late '90s Broadway revival, but it had not achieved the mainstream success of Phantom and was thus a fresher experience onscreen. Chicago also had stars in its main roles, something Phantom does not. That was probably a mistake, though no fault of the performers who did star. Part of Chicago's appeal was seeing big name stars sing and dance. This is a movie, after all, and stars are part of the equation, especially in a performance-driven vehicle like a musical. They might as well have just filmed one of the stage productions if they didn't want big names. The upcoming film version of Rent will use most of the original Broadway cast instead of unknowns, and it will be interesting to see how it performs minus big names. Finally, Chicago was altered to make it work better as a movie, while Phantom went through very few changes in its translation to the screen. Lloyd Webber wanted a faithful adaptation, but a more daring outlook might have yielded fresher results.

The story of the musical is familiar by now. Set in 1870, Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) is a member of the corps du ballet at the Opera Populaire of Paris, which is supposedly haunted. When the company's diva, Carlotta (Minnie Driver), walks out before the debut of the company's new production, Christine steps in to great acclaim. She has been taking lessons from what she describes as her "angel of music," believing it the spirit of her dead father. Her tutor is the Phantom (Gerard Butler), a deformed musical genius who lives in the catacombs beneath the opera house. When the Opera Populaire's new patron, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (Patrick Wilson), realizes that the opera's new star is his childhood sweetheart Christine, a dangerous love triangle ensues.

Pretty much everything from the stage musical is included in the film. The tone is similar, and diehard fans of the show should not have been too upset at the few changes that were made, like moving the famous chandelier drop from the middle to the end, and the addition of a sword fight between the Phantom and Raoul. The other major change was the extension of the flashback structure, which wasn't especially necessary. Otherwise, all the big numbers are here, performed much like in the stage production. How well are they performed? For the most part, competently enough, though each fan of the show will have individual quibbles, given the attachment that develops to a favorite prior performance. Here, Emmy Rossum is the major star; I found her preferable to the original Christine, Sarah Brightman, and she does a fine job acting the role as well. Patrick Wilson's Raoul is fine as well; the character is fairly bland, but Wilson does what's required of him, and he has a strong singing voice. The major question was Gerard Butler as the Phantom. He has an untrained voice, but he comes off decently enough. He occasionally slides into notes and struggles with some of the material, but brings a younger, more vigorous presence than is allowed in the stage version, albeit to the slight detriment of the story.

Schumacher was earmarked by Lloyd Webber to direct since the composer saw his work in The Lost Boys, of all things. Frankly, that Lloyd Webber didn't look elsewhere is hard to explain. Schumacher does what he can, but when much of the film is simply shots of people singing, he finds it hard to do much that is visually interesting with it. And choosing to make the Phantom younger was a mistake; part of the dynamic of the show is the initial belief Christine has that the Phantom is her father, and replacing the father-daughter aspect of their relationship with a solely sexual one renders some of the lyrics pointless. In the end, whether you like the film or not will (obviously, I suppose) depend on how you feel about the show and the music, given the otherwise undistinguished direction. I always thought the final "showdown" between the three leads in the Phantom's lair dramatically awkward and musically boring, for example, and that didn't change after seeing it translated to the screen. Further, Lloyd Webber's music remains fairly divisive to this day. Many love it, many hate it. A definite thumbs down to the film rendition of the title song, though; laden with cringingly bad disco claps and electric guitar, it's totally out of character with everything else in the show. I am aware this is how the song was originally recorded before the show even debuted, but it simply sounds dumb in the context of the film.

The move from stage to screen does result in some plusses though; the art direction is lush and detailed, and the film allows the opera theater to become more fully realized than it ever could onstage. The costumes are similarly beautiful. Finally, the music benefits from the use of a full orchestra to perform it, as opposed to the comparatively thin sounding pit orchestra of the stage production.

The movie is rife with plot contrivances and questionable characters galore and sits waiting to be picked apart. For example, why, in Paris, does only Madame Giry speak with a French accent? Why doesn't her daughter have a similar accent? How does the Phantom keep a horse stabled in the catacombs? Where did he find self-lighting underwater candles in such great quantity? Who were his contractors? And so on and so on. The film is an unabashed melodrama, with all the ludicrousness the form can entail. If you want the vaguest scintilla of realism, I'd advise staying far, far away. But, if you enjoy old-fashioned high romantic stories, you may find this to be just your cup of tea.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Presented in anamorphic widescreen, this transfer is lovely to look at. The rich colors of the set and costuming come through beautifully, and I noticed only a brief instance of haloing during the scene at the cemetery. Not much to be displeased about here.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: This should be where the disc fairly shines, given the emphasis on the music, but I was left feeling a trifle let down by the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. It has some oomph, but not as much as I would have liked. At least one overseas DVD has a DTS track, which I would be curious to compare this to. Overall, it's not a bad track by any means, I just expected something more of it.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 0 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: :01:17:

Extras Review: Some fairly substantial material is here; of primary interest to musical fans is the documentary Behind the Mask: The Story of The Phantom of the Opera (65m:08s), which covers the conception and development of the stage production of Phantom. Most of the main participants are interviewed, including Lloyd Webber, lyricists Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart, director Hal Prince, producer Cameron Macintosh, choreographer Gillian Lynne, and several others. The only missing interviewees are unfortunately major ones: original cast members Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. Crawford is appearing in Lloyd Webber's current show The Woman in White, so I'm not sure why he didn't particiapte, and Brightman has toured in anthology productions of Lloyd Webber's music for quite some time, so it's unclear why she isn't here. That aside, it's a well-made documentary that covers all the bases, and throws in some nice footage as well, such as the footage of the then-current cast in London, videos made of a handful of numbers, and clips from the workshop versions of the musical performed at Lloyd Webber's yearly arts festival. The tone occasionally descends into paid-advertisement hyperbole, but fans with eat it up. Diehards will have seen this material before (and the complete videos are available on the Korean R3 release, for those who want them), but it provides a nice look at the development of the show.

The other documentary on the disc, The Making of The Phantom of the Opera (45m:50s), looks at the development of the film in three stages: Preproduction, The Director, and Production. Interviews with the major personnel cover the various stages of the film's production, as Schumacher, Lloyd Webber, the three leads and several supporting cast members, and various crew comment on the stages of the film's production. Schumacher comes off as kind of smarmy, and everyone else has nothing but praise for the work that has gone on. It's as interesting as it can be given the self-congratulatory tone, and more from the technical side of things than performance-wise, but it's worth watching.

One deleted scene is presented, which includes the newly composed song No One Would Listen (02m:24s), performed by the Phantom. This scene was dropped from the film for pacing reasons and sung, with new lyrics, by Minnie Driver over the end credits (Learn to Be Lonely). It's just as well, as the song doesn't add anything vital to the film and was in the end just an attempt to include a new song for Academy Award considerations, since the rest of the score was not eligible.

All the extras are in anamorphic widescreen and look excellent, though the 1980s Phantom stage footage looks as good as it can given its origins.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Fans of the show will probably find much to like here, and as many others will probably find as much to dislike. This is a handsome film, but one without a much-needed spark of life. The DVD has two quality documentaries and a solid presentation of the film iself.

 


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