Inside Your Mind
"The Pha-a-a-a-antom of the Opera is he-e-ere, inside your mind!"
Boy, is he ever. It's been a few days since I've seen the movie, but those tunes are still stuck in my head. It's a good thing I don't mind them so much -- Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage show music may not be the stuff of genius, but it's catchy and fun to hum. And now this famous production, critically scoffed at but popular with and beloved by the mainstream, has become a movie that delivers the Music of the Night to audiences of the silver screen.
From what I heard before I saw the movie, reactions correlated strongly to what any given viewer happened to think of the stage musical. In other words, if you loved the show, you'll likely love the movie; if you detest the show, you'll hate the movie. Personally, I fall closer to the middle -- I enjoyed the show, but didn't really think much of it, preferring other shows I had seen, such as Chicago or Rent. Now, after seeing the movie, I can say the theory is proven, at least for me. I enjoyed the movie, but I don't think that much of it.
Such reactions reveal the movie's literal-mindedness. As a fellow critic and, as it happens, a big Phantom fan put it, the movie is practically a filmed document of the stage show. There's one major change in terms of sequence of events, and several minor tweaks here and there that a casual fan won't likely notice, but otherwise everything looks and sounds very much like the show. It's at once a daring move and not-so-daring move. On the one hand, casual movie audiences who don't take well to stage musical conventions -- like the gaudy sets or having mostly sung, instead of spoken, dialogue -- might be scared off. On the other hand, these elements will likely please the die-hard musical fans who didn't want to see too many changes to The Phantom.
So it's really kind of a mixed result. The movie retains a lot of what makes the musical stand out -- its ornate sets, its big-voiced numbers, and its generous helping of melodrama. However, its filming is too straightforward for these big elements, as if it's trying too hard to play things safe, making sure to record facial performances and stage elements instead of giving the whole thing a more artistic spin. A production of such, well, big-ness deserves more cinematic flourish. There are touches here and there of this -- for instance, the opening is a grabber, and I had hoped more of the movie would be like it. Instead, once it's in its stride, it too easily settles for unimaginative cut-to-the-person-who's-singing editing, letting the props support the visuals.
The music, however, is fun stuff; if nothing else, this core essence of the show -- its reliance on the constant churning of simple, widely appealing melodic themes -- stays intact and therefore ultimately dictates its success with an audience. Much of the music is delivered with surprising verve by the non-A-List cast of Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, and Miranda Richardson. Rossum really takes a chance here to make a bid for leading lady status by singing her way through it, and, good for her, she stands up strong. She's actually better than Butler, which leads to a little concern of mine -- The Phantom doesn't quite match up to Christine.
Minnie Driver is also around to steal her scenes as Carlotta, although, understandably, she doesn't do her own singing. Since she's mainly there for comic relief anyway, her songs need not be the ones that stick in your head. There wouldn't be room for them anyway, once you've got the other major tunes trapped in there. So be warned with what I've already said -- if you hate the show, you could be cursing the songs that resound long after the movie's over. But if you don't mind a good dose of melodies from the Angel of Music, go enjoy the movie and, for perhaps a few days, let The Phantom of the Opera live inside your mind.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for brief violent images.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.