Joel Schumacher ruined the Batman movies.
But he hasn’t really left Batman behind completely. Now he seeks our forgiveness by bringing us the story of another dark, brilliant, dangerously obsessed masked man who lurks in shadows and lives in deep dark depths.

The Phantom of the Opera is Schumacher’s film version of the classic and extremely popular Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical. Now, I’ve never seen the stage show, nor have I ever read the original novel by Gaston Leroux, so all I really have to go by is the very grainy, classic silent movie scene (yes, scene…I’ve never seen that movie version either) where Christine rips Lon Chaney’s mask off, and we see his rather unattractive face. I have of course heard the Michael Crawford / Sarah Brightman versions of the more famous songs from the Broadway musical (and being Mr Metal Guy, I’ve also heard the very cool Nightwish version of the title track, and the Iced Earth song about the story). So I walked into the theater a relatively blank slate.

The first thing I have to admit is, I didn’t know this was a musical. Wait, let me elaborate. I knew it was a musical, duh, but I didn’t realize this movie had very little spoken dialogue. I’d say 95 percent of the dialogue comes through song.
This can be very tricky. When it works, it’s pretty cool, even awesome. But when it isn’t so good, it could be bad. I have to say there were a few moments when the latter was the case here, but when it did work, it was very good indeed.

Probably the biggest name in this film is Minnie Driver. I like Minnie Driver, but damn, she plays a really, really annoying character. I understand that her being such an ear and eye sore made the leading lady seem that much better, but sheesh, she really was grating.
Patrick Wilson plays the “love interest” to the leading lady (whom I’ll get to in a moment), and he does OK. I mean, I thought his “acting” was kind of stiff, but his singing voice was very good.

Emmy Rossum plays Christine, and here is the one perfect note in this film. She’s a beautiful young lady, and she truly sings like an angel. Her face is very emotive, and she conveys an innocence that melts your heart. Sure, I’m easy, and it’s the second time this week I fall for a leading lady (SPANGLISH), but she’s just that good in the role. Very talented, this one. She was Sean Penn’s ill-fated daughter in MYSTIC RIVER, and just recently on cable (IFC specifically) I caught a small film hardly anybody ever saw called Songcatcher about mountain folk who had their own kind of haunting songs, and sure enough, there was an even younger Ms Rossum singing herself silly. I would definitely expect great things from Emmy Rossum.

Back when I saw DRACULA 2000, one of my problems with the movie was that while I had nothing against Gerard Butler, I just didn’t see him as the ultimate vampire. Well, with apologies to Mr Butler, for a good portion of the movie, I was having a problem with him here. But by the time the movie was over, I not only accepted his voice, but actually came to admire it. The man’s got obvious talent…and obviously a lot of backbone. I mean he does mostly action movies, and suddenly he’s a romantic lead anti-hero in a musical!
Part of my problem with him at first was probably the look of “The Phantom” himself. He basically looked like a Bela Lugosi Dracula clone: fancy black suit, slicked back hair. Only the mask differentiated him. Personally I think he should have looked a bit more like an old school rocker, with long hair and stuff. And his regular mask is nothing compared to his Masquerade mask. That one rocked!

Visually, Shumacher does a great job. Sort of a vibrant – Goth look, if you forgive the oxymoron. The haunting winter wonderland cemetery scene is a feast for the eyes, as is the first descent into the Phantom’s lair. Just a beautiful movie to look at. So despite a few flaws with the musical itself, The Phantom of the Opera is a very good movie.

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