True to character, the Phantom glided silently and secretly into town. But while a below-the-radar sneak peek of “The Phantom of the Opera” here Monday was remarkably low-key, it was also remarkably effective.

After a wait of about 18 years, folks got a first look at “Phantom” on the bigscreen, as about 150 distribs were invited to preview the film.

The no-media/distribs-only sesh featured a tantalizing five-minute seg that’s presumably the opening of the film: A black-and-white sequence that suddenly and successfully bleeds into color. The next five minutes offered a sumptuous, eye-popping montage of scenes rapidly cut to the overture and the chorus singing “Masquerade.”

Stars Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum and Patrick Wilson were seen but not heard. Still, the Cannes audience responded enthusiastically to the presentation, with sumptuous sets and costumes highlighting the Phantom’s underground lair, opera galas, sword fights, clattering horse carriages and, yes, that crashing chandelier.

Since its debut in 1986, the stage show has sold about 75 million tickets. Thus, according to director Joel Schumacher, the goal with the film was to offer something “familiar but new and fresh.” (Among new elements is a song written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart for the pic, “No One Would Listen,” to be sung by the Phantom.)

Execs from Warner Bros., Really Useful and Odyssey Entertainment (which is handling international sales) spoke briefly afterward, outlining prelim distrib plans. The pic is slated for a U.K. world preem Dec. 6, with a Christmas opening skedded for the U.S. Sony will release the soundtrack four to five weeks before the pic bows. In the U.S. at least, the official title is “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera,” to distinguish it from umpteen other film versions.

Security was ultra-tight for the screening, with publicists and security guards on hand en masse to keep out the uninvited. So how did one get in? Let’s just say the Phantom works under a shroud of secrecy, and so do some Cannes journalists.