Usually, when it comes to translating from genre to genre, I am a purist. But the practically verbatim jump of The Phantom of the Opera from stage to screen is a disappointment. Produced by musical mastermind Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Walt Disney of the stage, and directed by Joel Schumacher (Batman & Robin and Batman Forever - yikes! - but also director of St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys), the word-for-word transfer of dialogue and the familiar music is comforting, but the screen held untapped potential for this story when it came to cinematography.
The direction is so heavy-handed it reaches into the sappy and cheesy. Shots are reproduced almost exactly as they would appear on stage, using no imagination.
This is even more saddening because of the opening of the movie, which gives a glimpse of what could have been. The film opens in black and white, at the auction inside the dilapidated opera house. When lot 666 is lit, the chandelier takes flight, accompanied by the rock-opera music, and color seeps into the opera house, as it is transported back 50 years. As color touches the decaying remnants of the theater, it is restored to its prior grandeur. This shows an inspired compromise: The integrity of the play is intact, infused with the magic of the camera. Alas, this merging doesn't last.
A small few of the plot details are altered, but nothing that would change the core of the story. And the songs are reproduced exactingly. And, yes, this is a musical, so be ready to have characters sing at each other.
Costuming, which is usually a key element in Phantom, especially for "Masquerade," is lackluster.
Emmy Rossum as Christine spends most of her camera time staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed, but when she does sing, it is very pretty. She and Patrick Wilson as Raoul produce lovely duets. But most heart-breaking of all my quibbles is Gerard Butler as The Phantom, who simply cannot sing. With Antonio Banderas MIA, it seems the casting directors went for a look-alike instead of someone with vocal talent.