The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera ★★★


[originally written on my blog]

Believe it or not, my first encounter with this chestnut in any form, unless you count the funereal opening notes of Andrew Lloyd Webber's score (which I confess to humming at a couple of key moments—it's really perfect). Not a whole lot to the story, is there? I had a general sense of what to expect, via pop-culture osmosis, but I thought the actual movie would flesh it out a bit, involve some serious demon-wrestling. Chaney's makeup still has the power to repulse, but he doesn't exactly give what you'd call a performance; any sense of tortured longing derives from the intertitles, making it easy to be distracted by the film's stupendous set design. (Reconstruct the catacombs, put in some slow-moving fake gondolas, and you'd have a fantastic Disneyland attraction combining the best elements of the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.) And when we're above ground, it's like sitting through the romance scenes in the Marx Brothers pictures. Still, great spectacle can be its own reward, and bits and pieces throughout pack an atavistic punch; when Erik wades into the lagoon to hunt Philippe, it's easy to think of him as monstrous in a sense entirely separate from "deformed." (And maybe I'm wrong about Chaney not giving a performance, despite the makeup and the mask—he definitely conveys something in his carriage.) Leroux's original ending has been radically altered, judging from the Wiki-synopsis, but I gotta say I kinda dig Erik's sad little fakeout just before the mob devours him. He gets the last laugh, somehow.