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The Phantom Of The Opera – Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s 1 trick pony

You're looking a little pale my dear

You're looking a little pale my dear

dead duck

The Phantom of The Opera – Director Joel Schumacher

You are on the edge your seat throughout the PTO: will the stupefying banality of the screenplay and lyrics, outstrip that of the music? It’s a close call, but after 142 interminable minutes I think the words won by a brass neck. There is after all one very good tune, endlessly reprised, but still a good melody.

It is said that Andrew Lloyd Webber auditioned thousands of unknowns for the leads: Emmy Rossum as Christine has talent, tries hard and will probably be in a good film one day. But how could a musician pick a leading man for a musical who can’t sing? That is breathtakingly perverse. It’s not Butler’s fault, he has what he has: but though to my untutored musical ear he can (mostly) hit a note, there is no resonance, warmth or expression in his voice at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those musical elitists who have always been sniffy about ALW’s stuff. My musical knowledge is sparse and I’m a sucker for a good tune any day of the week: but this grandiose, overblown, puffed up battle for organ, strings and brass, drowns any feeling the few simple melodies at the heart of the piece might express. Whenever interest is flagging, PTO winds up the volume, whacks in the organ and strings and then hits a brass filled crescendo that would end any stage musical. The trouble is, PTO has more climaxes that a porn star and in the end they have just about as much meaning.

Such a disappointment: I was drawn to the film out of curiosity at what had launched a thousand coach trips; and what is perhaps the best trailer of 2004. Given the pedestrian direction by Schumacher I wonder who edited the trail? Whoever it was should have made the film, to give it some pace and style. If it was Terry Rawlings who edited PTO – he must have been massively overruled in the final cut of the film.

Yet the opening 5 minutes of PTO are cinematically excellent: atmospheric, intriguing and though perhaps nicking a bit of Baz Luhrmann, they draw you in and set the story up superbly. But it’s all downhill from there; the risible dialogue (take a bow Andrew and Joel) and clich¾d lyrics simply refuse to be ignored or taken seriously.

The late Dillys Powell once said you shouldn’t review a film unless you can find something of merit. OK: sets, costumes (superb), editing of the trailer, and the first five minutes. After that, sorry Dillys, but my money for the coach trip stays firmly in my pocket.

(December 2004)

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