One of the stage musical’s strengths was the sheer theatricality of overcoming stage limitations. On film nothing’s impossible so it’s correspondingly hard to make an audience gasp. It’s not so hard to make them laugh, though: even a sympathetic preview house sniggered when the hideously deformed phantom’s mask was torn from his face to reveal – gasp! – a case of nettle rash and a broadish nose of the type considered endearing on an adolescent Hayley Mills.
The prospect of semi-grand guignol set in the already overblown world of opera (the show’s music sounds paltry in hypothetical comparison) prompts Joel Schumacher to pile on gothic vaults, subterranean chapels, snowy cemeteries and set-piece costume balls, dithering between ‘Moulin Rouge’ lushness and campy, latter-day Hammer. Numbingly predictable couplets squelch into bathos; pantomime sounds like TS Eliot in comparison.
The mewling heroine Emmy Rossum (or more accurately, given her state of semi-animation, Possum) wears a simper as inexpressive as the Phantom’s mask, and young Raoul (Patrick Wilson) also tries to disturb his waxwork loveliness as little as possible.
Minnie Driver as a temperamental diva steals every joyous moment she can, but Gerard Butler’s Phantom is elusive beyond the call of duty – feebly vocalised, uncharismatic. There’s one good line, as the heroine leaps into a cab: ‘Take me to my father’s grave, please.’ Try it on a London cabbie.