2005-02-11 / Columnists

MovieScope

By Robert Snyder


In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s film, “The Phantom of the Opera,” the supposedly filthy sewer/catacombs where the misunderstood villain dwells resemble an eccentric celebrity’s home in “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

This is hardly the rat-infested lair under the Paris Opera House that evoked chills from audience’s first witnessing Lon Chaney horror classic in 1925.

But, then, Webber’s film version is neither horror nor a classic. Directed by Joel Schumacher (“Batman Forever”), “Phantom” has two things in its favor: Sumptuous sets and 18-year-old wunderkind Emmy Rossum, who steals the show as chorus girl/Phantom obsession Christine Daae.

The visuals are beautiful, but decidedly un-scary. The same can be said of Scottish stud Gerard Butler in the plum role of the Phantom — a part that was snatched away from the formidable Michael Crawford, the great actor who created it onstage.

The problem with Butler is that he’s too young and good looking, whereas the Phantom of the Gaston Leroux novel is a “loathsome gargoyle,” disfigured and aging, “living in hell, but dreaming of heaven” … heaven in the form of the wondrous Christine, whom he secretly tutored to diva-hood when she was a child. This is why he can’t be close to her in age or to the age of his romantic rival for Christine, the eternally boring Raoul (Patrick Wilson).

As for the songs?

Yes, they are intact, though somehow lacking the magic that resounded from the stage. Maybe, we’ve heard them so much that they attained the repetitious quality of music on TV commercials.

Nonetheless, Ms. Rossum’s renditions are worth the price of admission.

Those seeking extravagant sets, costumes and a sensational new singing star should submit to the two hours and twenty minutes of the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” But new Phantom Gerard Butler doesn’t have a ghost of chance against the great Michael Crawford.

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