THE BELOVED successfully debuts on the opera stage, singing to the awe of a theater-filling audience, while the mentor and silent admirer struggles to catch the sound from a drain five stories underground.

Thus goes one of the more powerful scenes depicting the doomed love between the Phantom and Christine in Joel Schumacher’s film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

To the more appreciative, this particular part is heart-rending, but aside from flashes of brilliance in the cinematography, the movie may very well fail in the eyes of moviegoers uneducated in the Phantom lore.

First off, it IS a musical, so anyone who was expecting something like Bille August’s Les Miserables (1998, starring Liam Neeson as Valjean) may now weep. Except don’t. There is more to musicals, you know.

But on that note, this writer cannot categorically say that the movie succeeds. Moulin Rouge and Chicago were far better. The entirety of Phantom contains very obvious indications that the actors are lipsynching to a pre-recording. That is bane enough for the entire movie.

Expectations cannot but be high, as this has been the biggest movie production of Phantom to date. And what’s more, we are talking about the Andrew Lloyd Webber version, which has been a huge success on Broadway since its debut in 1986.

The story

The Paris opera house is preparing for a grand performance after a change of management. Lead soprano Carlotta (Minnie Driver) is at her usual attention-seeking self, and the new managers indulge her. Here, we first meet Raoul (Patrick Wilson), the Vicomte de Chagny, the opera’s new benefactor. Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum), one of the dancers, sees Raoul and recognizes her childhood sweetheart, but stays quiet.

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As Carlotta is called upon to sing a few lines before the Vicomteher terrible singing is interrupted by a stage prop falling which almost pins her. When an enraged Carlotta stomps off the stage, Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson) suggests that Christine be given Carlotta’s role. Christine is an instant success. Raoul recognizes her, and promptly seeks her dressing room.

Soon after Christine’s performance we hear for the first time the Phantom’s voice as he rains praise on his protégé. But the Phantom is strict with Christine’s routine, and forbids her to meet with Raoul. Here we sense the tension that is to brew between the three.

Insanely jealous, the Phantom spirits Christine away to his lair deep in the bowels of the opera house. Christine is awed by the home of the musical genius, but in an ill-pondered move removes the Phantom’s mask, enraging him.

Back aboveground, a commotion ensues as the star of the show is nowhere to be found. When Christine returns, a temporary relief is had. She tells Raoul of the Phantom, and he vows to protect her. In the rooftop scene, Raoul and Christine make their vows of love, as they sing the hit love song, All I Ask of You, not knowing that the Phantom is nearby listening, his heart breaking at every line.

The Phantom’s revenge starts at the masquerade ball, where he appears in public to offer the managers an opera that he wrote. Again the Phantom attempts to steal Christine as she goes to visit her father’s tomb, but the plan is foiled by Raoul.

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Determined to put a stop to the terror, Raoul and the management hatch a plan to capture the Phantom when they stage his opera. But he sets fire to the theater and escapes underground, Christine in his arms, and Raoul in hot pursuit.

In these ending scenes, Christine stands up to the Phantom even when he captures Raoul and makes her choose between Raoul’s death or his love. She realizes the cruel past the Phantom must have had, and melts his frozen heart with a taste of something he had been taught to not ever to expect: human touch in its most passionate form—a kiss.

Promising cast, powerless delivery

The two-and-a-half-hour-long movie, sadly, has little to offer expectant audiences. While it did catch the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (for cinematography, original song, and art direction), the actors could have delivered better portrayals.

The pre-recorded soundtrack carries the movie from beginning to end, and it seemed as if the actors are at times dragged along as they fail to keep apace. The terrible lipsynching has already been mentioned. What’s more, the actors could have exerted more effort at the pretense of singing. The act is very obvious; just catch the actors hitting extremely high notes without so much a strain in their necks, a stretch on their mouths, or a fold in their foreheads.

A consolation: you do not notice the time, as the continuous music makes it seem like the movie is flowing and fast-paced (although there have been not-so-good reviews as to the repetitiveness of the music).

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The quality of the singing also could have been better. Rossum was well-cast, but was there no one else but Butler for the title role? The audience might not notice, but this writer did: he misses his tempo, and let’s face it—his voice is not that good.

The theater-lover in you, however, as well as that part which is a sucker for a good love story, should be able to excuse these hitches. You’ll see Phantom as a relatively successful screening of the immensely successful stage play, and enjoy it for the fantasy that it inspires: that there is for each and every one of us a person we so admire but are not able to reach either because of circumstance or choice. The Phantom had a bit of both.

All in all, Schumacher and Webber could have done much better had they taken their time. Even the Phantom’s deformity seemed hurried. There was no horror in the makeup at all. But what do I know about the era?

A shaky thumbs-up for this parade of parodies. Eldric Paul A. Peredo

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