Strangely enjoyable - mild spoilers follow.
- The Phantom of the Opera review by NP
Dario Argento’s daring interpretation of Gaston Leroux’s famous horror/tragedy/romance foregoes the traditional disfigured character of Erik (the absence of mask makes a nonsense of the DVD cover and promotional blurb), the Phantom. Instead, Julian Sands plays him as a handsome, tortured, long-haired whisperer unexplainably raised … by rats. It is a curious development. Instead of being ugly to look at, he is ugly in the way he deals with anyone who gets in his way, or in the way of his relationship with Christine Daaé (Asia Argento). Also, of course, the film is robbed of one of its previously defining moments: the unmasking scene and reveal of the cruelly misshapen mass beneath.
So is it political correctness that informs the lack of scarring? Good grief no, for we have much nudity, horrible things done to rats and the overweight, not to mention the rat catcher himself and comedy dwarf side-kick. We have a telepathic Phantom who instantly falls in love with Christine, and she falls instantly in love with him too. With all the eccentrics around him, Erik is saved from becoming the least interesting character by the great and violent rages he displays, at one point raping Christine, for which she appears to forgive him.
Production-wise, this is an impressive gala of colour and spectacle. Certain scenes in which the camera flies around the spacious theatre remind me of James Whale’s joyful exploration of Frankenstein’s laboratory during the creation of the monster’s Bride in the 1935 classic. The murky catacombs where bad things happen to ne'er-do-wells, the expanse of the theatre and the Phantom’s lair, all look wonderful and are effectively lit.
‘Tonally’, as the phrase goes, ‘this is all over the place.’ Despite some very exuberant singing miming, Argento’s Christine is a naturally played beauty, yet most of those around her are grotesques. The awkward sex-scenes don’t do much to convince us of the central love and romance. And yet, this is bizarrely enjoyable. Lots of silliness, some moving moments and mixed interpretations of gore. A fine central performance from Sands, in a look that occasionally invites unfavourable comparisons with 80’s wailer Michael Bolton; an array of special effects, sometimes convincing, sometimes not so much, and a strangely distressing ending involving a cavern full of heartbroken rats.
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