Dir: Joel Schumacher.UK-US. 2004. 140mins.

After Jesus ChristSuperstar and Evita, this is the third feature-version of an AndrewLloyd Webber musical and it suffers from the same problems in translation whichbeset its predecessors. Although filled with pleasures and confidently directedby Joel Schumacher, Phantom remains filmed rock-opera and it fails toignite as dramatic cinema.

Co-scripted by Lloyd Webberand Schumacher and produced by Lloyd Webber, there is no diversion from theLloyd Webber formula here with every song from the 1986 stage show intact. Butthe greatest musicals from West Side Story to Chicago becamegreat films by embracing the medium. Yes, a stage score is renowned and belovedbut it isn't sacrosanct if it takes priority over characterisation andnarrative pacing. This film, short on dialogue (yes, there is some dialogue)and long, so long, on songs, creaks under the weight of its famous score.

It's a hotly anticipatedpicture and one which will be popular with older audiences appreciative of thelavish production, glorious voices and memorable songs like The Phantom OfThe Opera, All I Ask Of You and Music Of The Night. Evitagrossed $50m in the US in 1996 and $91m in international territories. Phantomshould better those numbers, although again its chief market is outside the US.But it hasn't got the oomph which made Chicago such a crossover success(over $300m worldwide) and this risky independent film is unlikely to start atrend of bringing other rock operas to the screen.

Awards nominations are mostlikely in art direction, costume design and makeup categories, although, as in Evita,Lloyd Webber has written a new song for the film Learn To Be Lonelywhich is sung over the end credits by Minnie Driver (whose voice ironically isdubbed in the film), and could, as happened with You Must Love Me from Evita,score him an Oscar.

Lloyd Webber and Schumacheropted for a cast without major stars, and certainly without the overpoweringcelebrity which Madonna brought to Evita. While all the leads acquitthemselves admirably, the lack of star magnetism will also have an impact onbringing in unconverted audiences. Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson are on theroad to stardom but neither will act as draws here.

Schumacher takes a bold stepin framing the film with a black and white sequence set in 1919 in which awealthy old count arrives at an auction at the ruins of the Opera Populaire inParis for some of the remnants of the opera's better days. Among them are theremains of a massive chandelier and a clapping monkey which he purchases. Atthe auction, he sees an old woman. The two recognise each other and nod, butthere is no further communication.

The film then sweeps back tothe 1870s to the heyday of the Opera where temperamental diva La Carlotta(Driver) rules the company. The new managers (Callow, Hinds) of the operaarrive wit their new patron the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Wilson) but theyoffend La Carlotta and she walks out, leaving the ballet mistress Madame Giry(Richardson) to push forward one of the chorus girls Christine Daae (Rossum) asa replacement. That night, Christine steals the show (singing Think Of Me)and wins the hearts of the audience including the Vicomte who recognises her asa friend from his youth.

When she returns to herdressing room, Christine is confronted by the voice of the man who has trainedher voice - her Angel Of Music (cue the song of the same name) - but who isactually the hideously disfigured Phantom (Butler), a musical genius who hasgrown up in the catacombs of the theatre terrifying all who work there.

That night, he revealshimself to her and takes her to his lair. She is both enthralled by his musicalpowers of seduction (Music Of The Night) and repulsed by hispossessiveness and rage - and, let's face it, his face. Instead she is wooed byRaoul (All I Ask Of You) and they agree to marry. The Phantom overhearsand is furious, and goes on to kill one of the theatre staff.

Although they initiallyresist the Phantom's threatening urges to cast Christine in the lead of anopera he has written for her, the managers finally agree out of fear and thePhantom himself takes the lead in the opera against Christine (The Point OfNo Return). As police move in to arrest him, he takes Christine to his lairagain with Raoul in hot pursuit.

Schumacher, who reveals thepoint of the black and white sequences in the final moments of the film, pullsout all the stops to energise the film. His opera house bristles with activity,his musical numbers are respectively tender, sexy and spectacular and brimmingwith visual invention.

Butler brings passion to hisemotional and unhinged Phantom, the romantic leads Rossum and Wilson are prettyand sing nicely, and there are some choice supporting turns which add somespice - notably Richardson as the mysterious Giry and Minnie Driver, deliciousas the hysterical diva. Working mainly in song, however, all the charactersremain strictly two-dimensional.

Prod cos: Really Useful Films, Scion Films
US dist:
Warner Bros
UK dist:
Int'l sales:
Exec prods:
Austin Shaw, PaulHitchcock, Louise Goodsill, Ralph Kamp, Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman &Keith Cousins
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lloyd Webber &Schumacher, based on the stage play and the novel by Gaston Leroux
John Mathieson
Prod des:
Anthony Pratt
Terry Rawlings
Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyr:Charles Hart & Richard Stilgoe
Main cast:
Gerard Butler, EmmyRossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Simon Callow, CiaranHinds