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The Phantom of the Opera (12A)

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 'The Making of The Phantom of the Opera' documentary (45 mins). Alex Bailey’s production stills. 6 production featurettes. 'Behind the Mask: The Story of The Phantom of the Opera documentary. The Music of The Phantom of the Opera featurette. The History. 4 promo videos: 'The Phantom of the Opera' - Steve Harley and Sarah Brightman, 'All I Ask of You' - Cliff Richard and Sarah Brightman, 'The Music of the Night' - Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, 'Wishing you Were Somehow Here Again' - Sarah Brightman.

FIFTEEN years from conception to fruition is a long time, so is Joel Schumacher's highly anticipated screen adaption of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, worth the wait? As an incurable romantic who loved the original, the answer has to be a resounding yes.

Adapted from Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel, The Phantom of the Opera is first and foremost a love story. Set in 1870's Paris, it centres upon a disfigured musical genius (the Phantom/Gerard Butler) whose reign of terror at the Opera Populaire is set to reach new heights when he falls in love with his young protege, Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum).

He devotes himself to her in the only way he knows how, by nurturing her extraordinary talent as a soprano - much to the very obvious annoyance of resident diva, Carlotta (Minnie Driver) - and is, ultimately, instrumental in her meteoric rise to stardom.

What he doesn't bargain for is the reappearance of the young and dashing Raoul, Vicompte de Chagny (Patrick Wilson), Christine's childhood sweetheart.

Gerard Butler as the Phantom is magnificent. Charismatic and physically alluring, attributes that do, in fact, belie an underlying menace, it's only when the full extent of his disfigurement is revealed that we see him for the 'pitiful creature of darkness' that he really is.

And Butler's on-screen chemistry with leading lady, Rossum, is remarkable. The sexual energy in their chillingly fiery duet, The Point of No Return, is almost palpable.

As for Rossum, just 16 when she auditioned for the part, she exudes beauty and innocence in equal measure and, for someone so young, manages to convey a very real sense of compassion simply by an expression or a gesture.

Wilson's Raoul is an altogether more dynamic version of the character - a transformation to archetypal swashbuckling, romantic hero - and as such, he becomes more appealing to Christine and an even greater threat to the Phantom.

And Minnie Driver, as the volatile Italian soprano, is superb. Playing it completely over-the-top, she infuriates as much as she amuses and although her part was voiced by professional opera singer, Margaret Preece, she did, in fact, record the song specially written for the end credits, Learn To Be Lonely.

Other notable performances come from Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds, as Messieurs Andre and Firmin, the eager new managers of the opera house; Miranda Richardson, as Madame Giry, the ballet mistress, whose character was expanded in order to provide further insight into the Phantom's past and, thereby, confirm that he really is 'nothing but a man'; and lastly but by no means least, Jennifer Ellison, whose portrayal of Meg Giry is a delight.

The Phantom of the Opera is a lavish production in every sense of the word and with the freedom of film, takes audiences far beyond the confines of theatre. There are a few changes from the original - the famous chandelier scene, for instance, has been moved - but none are detrimental to the film's overall impact.

I was, however, reminded of other notable films on two quite separate occasions. The opening sequence, filmed in subtle shades of grey and white, sees the ruined opera house restored to all its former glory, in much the same way as Titanic rose from the ocean floor. And in the second sequence, a single red rose bud stands out in the greyness, reminiscent of the young child in the red coat of Schindler's List.

But as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and when it's put to such effective use, what possible harm can it do?

On the negative side, however, with a running time of two and a half hours, The Phantom of the Opera is long. And it is, of course, a musical, lyrics replacing dialogue much of the time, which may not be to everyone's taste.

It is, though, a powerful and riveting story, with all the ingredients of a best-seller - drama, passion, suspense - and deserves, at the very least, the opportunity to prove itself. Chances are, you won't be disappointed.



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