The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Rating: B

Dir: Joel Schumacher
Star: Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson

I kinda wonder why it took the gayest director in Hollywood 25 years to get round to making a musical. Yet, I can’t argue that the material here is phenomenally strong: the story (which I won’t even bother to detail) has lasted a hundred years, and the musical is also among the most popular of all-time. Both have endured with reason, though this version is ruthlessly cleansed of almost all horror elements: the Phantom here (Butler) is less hideous monster, than a hunk with slightly bad skin, defusing the heroine’s dilemma to something requiring little more than soothing lotion.

Gone is the agony of choosing between a conventional suitor and the monster with the soul of an angel – here, the Phantom wins on all angles, except his front-right profile. The songs are, however, great, and the soundtrack (Broadway cast, anyway: Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman) has been in heavy rotation here since seeing this. The entire house now has them stuck in their head, something of a feat given our widely disparate tastes. The cast almost all sing their own songs (save Minnie Driver – ironically, she had most singing experience), and the fantastic elements make it a good candidate for cinematic adaptation. Schumacher has an eye for this, most notably the opening, where raising the chandelier transforms a dilapidated opera house back into the pristine version of its heyday.

As a horror film…well, actually, it’s no more horror than The Sound of Music or My Fair Lady. As a lush romance with tunes more infectious than Ebola, on the other hand, it’s on the money; Schumacher’s (much-criticized, in some quarters) decision to go with a younger, more photogenic cast works fairly well, though the third side of the love triangle (Wilson) is all but sidelined, dramatically. While not as emotionally effective as the live version [which we saw last week, triggering the movie viewing], it remains very entertaining and makes good use of the benefits cinema can offer over stage. And – no small point – it’s also about 1/10 of the cost of a theater ticket.