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Joel Schumacher takes the gruesome out of the Phantom to tell a romantic tale of genius, isolation, and hyper-chivalry.

The Phantom of the Opera

Dir. Joel Schumacher; writ. Schumacher, Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux; feat. Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Ciarán Hinds, Simon Callow, Victor McGuire, Jennifer Elison (PG-13)

The new The Phantom of the Opera is a full-blown musical that harkens back to the days of yore in which singing in every situation is the norm and lavish production value is on the screen for everyone to see. It is captivating and beautiful and unfolds with an amazingly effortless style.

Based on Le Fantome de l'Opera, Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera replaces Lon Chaney's grotesque and frightening 1925 interpretation of the character with a brooding, cold, yet sensitive loner who has a wonderful singing voice. The story goes that in late 19th-century Paris, after much suffering as a child due to physical deformity, the "Phantom" is transplanted to an opera house where he grows to adulthood, a musical genius who still feels shunned by society and clings to the shadows. He mentors and falls in love with a young understudy with the hopes of making her the opera house's star. The owners of the troupe have other designs on her, however, and the "opera-ghost" Phantom, being quite the madman, wreaks murderous havoc on nearly all involved.

With the recent success of Moulin Rouge and Chicago, it's not surprising that Hollywood was finally able to bring this Broadway gem to the screen. Sharing in the film's limelight are Gerard Butler (Reign of Fire, Tomb Raider 2) as the Phantom, Emmy Rossum (Mystic River, The Day After Tomorrow) as his obsession, Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game, The Hours), and Minnie Driver (Grosse Pointe Blank, Good Will Hunting) all of whom are directed by the man who gave Batman his nipples, Joel Schumacher.

Fortunately Schumacher was able to retain the style and class of the Broadway play without succumbing to Baz Luhrman gaudiness, or "re-imagining" Phantom numbers as cover songs by today's leading musical artists. The musical score creates an atmosphere as thick and lustrous as the fog in some of the scenes. Although some of the musical exposition could be a tad shorter, the score tends to be as imaginative as it is clever, almost demanding the applause it would receive in a live production. Certain musical cues are reminiscent of film-composer Giorgio Moroder who scored such classics as Midnight Express, American Gigolo, Cat People, and Electric Dreams, briefly making Phantom feel like some sort of cool, retro '80s time capsule.

With stylistic beauty The Phantom of the Opera makes it easy to "open up your mind, and let your fantasies unwind" as commands one of the lyrics, even though no opera glasses are needed. J. Michael Owen


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