Master of the house

Joel Schumacher finally finds a property worthy of his special touch in “Phantom of the Opera”

by Katrina Wilber

For a film that features sword fights, sopranos and subterranean intrigue, “The Phantom of the Opera” is surprisingly humdrum.

Director Joel Schumaker (“Phone Booth,” “Batman Forever”) has brought Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage sensation to the big screen with a good, but not great, film.

Scottish actor Gerard Butler portrays the horribly disfigured title character, a tortured genius who lives beneath the Paris Opera House and secretly gives voice lessons to a young woman he’s madly in love with.

Emmy Rossum co-stars as Christine Daae, the Phantom-trained girl who rises from the chorus to become a celebrated soprano. Patrick Wilson, who’s spent a good deal of time on Broadway, is Raoul, Christine’s childhood sweetheart, the opera’s new patron and the last segment of the love triangle.

As Carlotta, a diva if ever there was one, Minnie Driver is the only comic relief in this dark and morbid love story. She never travels anywhere without her little dog or bevy of servants, and her ridiculous accent – she rolls each “r” about seven times – is perhaps the most entertaining part of the film.

Lloyd Webber’s score is a mixture of classical-style and typical Broadway music. The ominous undertones of the overture and “The Phantom of the Opera” are jarring next to the softer, lighter feel of “All I Ask of You” and “Think of Me.”

An actor cast as the Phantom needs a broad singing range to help him tackle Lloyd Webber’s challenging repertoire, and Butler’s voice is extraordinarily well-suited for the part. The highest notes seem almost unreachable, but Butler does it almost effortlessly.

This cinematized version of “The Phantom of the Opera” occasionally feels lethargic, simply because it’s a movie musical. The energy that comes from live performances often elevates the show to a new level that then gets lost in film adaptations. Numerous actions seem contrived, and Rossum sometimes relies solely on her wide-eyed ingenue look and heaving chest to convey emotion.

It’s safe to say that the movie won’t get the same reviews the stage version did. Schumaker sticks to his storyline, but the straightforwardness of the film is one of the downfalls. He missed an opportunity to enhance an already popular musical and turn it into a masterpiece.

Some parts, though, are purely and wonderfully spectacular. The opening scene turns from a grainy old-time film into a glorious whirlwind of lights, color and music; the cemetery that holds Christine’s father is full of lavish monuments and mausoleums.

Without the fanatically devoted audiences Lloyd Webber’s stage productions draw, this “Phantom’s” magic fades as quickly as the music of the night.