The Phantom of the Opera ★★★½

Joel Schumacher's movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe's blockbuster musical adaptation of the Gaston Leroux novel is opulent and incredibly slick, but no worse for it. The first act is particularly brilliant, setting up the story of Christine, an understudy who replaces star soprano Carlotta at the behest of the theatre's feared "Phantom", supposedly a ghost but actually a lonely disfigured genius who lives in the shadows. The format allows Lloyd Webber to flex his musical muscles by composing opera pieces as well as more traditional songs, three of which made the singles chart in 1986/87 and still sound great today.

Christine and her would-be suitor are the central characters, but they're both quite wet and uninteresting, as in fact is the Phantom himself, and that means that it's never actually successful on an emotional level. The real fun is to be had in the comic support, notably Simon Callow as one of the theatrical producers, but especially Minnie Driver, who's hilarious as Italian diva Carlotta, having the time of her life and outrageously rolling her Rs like she's in 'Allo!, 'Allo!.

Meanwhile, Schumacher's camera glides through the various areas of the theatre, as if great swathes of the movie were shot in long, flowing takes. It's thrilling and loads of fun, and perfectly replaces the experience of watching a stage show.

But then comes the second half, which is way less fun, coasting through the romantic drama, filling in the backstory and recycling musical motifs from Act 1, until it eventually picks up a bit with an action-packed finalé. But the resolution of the Phantom's longing for Christine is a real letdown; it's faithful to Leroux's story, but there's no reason that either Lloyd Webber or Schumacher couldn't have rewritten it to make it better. It means that the whole thing ends on a flat note, especially in a film adaptation where you don't even get a curtain call to lift the spirits.