The Phantom of the Opera

01“The Phantom of the Opera is here… inside my mind.”

The Scoop: 2004 PG, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum and Ciaran Hinds.

Tagline: The world’s biggest musical!

Summary Capsule: Crazy disfigured reclusive musical visionary sociopath loves waifish deranged orphan Opera singer with angel obsession, who in turn loves wishy-washy nobleman who also loves her. People sing. richbanner

Rich’s Rating: Contains scenes of mild violence and obsession themes. And singing.

Rich’s Review: If you have been concerned over the past couple of months by a disturbing creaking noise that you couldn’t quite place, perhaps making you worry that your house was about to fall down or that the 1/200th scale Death Star you built out of matchsticks in your back yard was preparing to implode, let me ease your mind. The sound you can hear is that of my weak and feeble machismo under relentless assault and preparing to collapse under the weight of a recent diet of films more feminine than any five lingerie stores you care to name.

Of course, I can’t say I haven’t been co-operating with this assault on my manliness. I’m more than happy to have expanded my cinematic tastes to take in some films I might not have seen before, and I’d like to think that each time I come out of one of them I have learned a little something about people, and about myself. It’s also mainly because I do whatever I’m told by my good lady or she beats me mercilessly.

In addition, I wasn’t really that horrified at the thought of going to see Phantom of the Opera. I mean, I like music, I like movies, and because I know the story I knew I was guaranteed at least one fight, so on the scale of movie girlishness there was a manly undercurrent there that I knew I could enjoy. In fact, I quite merrily accepted my lot in life when we went to see the film one snowy night in December.

It was immediately memorable, though perhaps not for the right reasons, as it had one of the finest PSA’s ever at the beginning of the film, warning the audience that the film contained the above-mentioned Mild Violence and Obsession Themes. I’m not really sure what exactly they are trying to shield people from with the Obsession Themes warning — perhaps there is a concern amongst movie-makers that impressionable young teens, upon seeing the film, might all don white masks and then find secluded corners of the playground to hide in and compose operettas about the girl from Class 4b with the nice hair.

The story, in case you didn’t know, is your basic love triangle. Young orphan Christine sings and dances for a Parisian Opera Company, who’s theatre just happens to be haunted by the mysterious ‘Phantom’ who sends little critiques of the performances and is a general superstition/good luck charm around the place. Christine was also childhood friends with Count Raoul, the theatre’s new patron. The Phantom, who Christine believes is an angel sent to her by her dead father, has been teaching her to sing (so that she can be a big Opera star) by talking to her through her mirror which is connected to a series of secret tunnels through the theatre. When Count Raoul visits the theatre, he meets Christine, and naturally falls in love with her, not something the Phantom approves off, since he has his own plans for the little French chanteuse.

See? Simple. Not in any way silly at all.

Christine, of course, is torn between her desire to be the pure and wholesome wife of the nice Count Raoul and her own darker impulses to give in to the mysterious seductive allure of the Phantom, who may not be a Count, but does have his own cave (complete with self lighting, water-rising candelabras) and can supply a wedding dress on short notice. Now I’m not girl, but were I forced into Christine’s position, I’d be waving goodbye to the boring drippy Fabio-lookalike-reject Compte De Froufrou and heading off to the Phantom’s place faster than you could say “whisk me away to your cave and show me your great big organ.”

However, Christine (for all her delusions and mental problems) ultimately realises that life with the Phantom, who is seriously crazy and tends to think that murdering people is the solution to every problem, might not be a bed of dead roses, and falls girlishly in love with the Count just because. Feeling slightly rejected by the fact that he taught her to sing and showed her his secret batcave before she spurned him, the Phantom naturally plans to get the girl in the end by stalking her and beating up her boyfriend and making her think her dead dad is talking to her from beyond the grave.

There’s also lots of other Opera-related things taking place against the backlot of this Fatal Attraction: 1772 Edition story, but I’m not about to go into them as I would inevitably spend the rest of this review poking fun at them, instead of actually telling you whether the film is any good or not.

OK, time to be serious — is it actually worth watching? Well, there are a lot of positives to Phantom. First of all, the look is incredible — all the sets, costumes, and the general feel of the film is very stylish and lavish, and fits the film very well. There are also some fantastic directorial moments; the opening transition from flashback to story at the beginning of the film is breathtakingly well done. There are some great performances as well — the Phantom is fantastically brooding, setting the standard for male shoppers at Hot Topic for years to come; Christine veers around the emotional spectrum nicely, as well as having mastered the complex art of acting with her cleavage — I swear, she manages to pack in more heaving bosom moments to 2 hours than an entire Emily Bronte/Jane Austen double-feature. Miranda Richardson and Minnie Driver both nicely play their parts with the appropriate pathos and comedy, and there is a genuine kind of energy to the whole thing that feels like it should work.

But for any number of reasons, I don’t think it does. Firstly, like I said earlier, the guy playing the Count looks and feels to me like a complete drip, a wishy-washy kind of goof who no doubt got pushed over by the other French Noble kids in the court of King Louis and had his lunch Francs stolen. From almost the very beginning I was just rooting for the Phantom to laugh at him, beat him around the head and send him on his way.

Not that the Phantom himself was perfect; in fact, he was wrong in almost the opposite way to the Count. To put it bluntly, he was simply not ugly enough. Seriously, with the mask on the guy looks like a Calvin Klein model…but when he takes it off — shock horror — he still looks like a Calvin Klein, but with a nasty rash around his eye. That’s it. I mean, there are people in Star Trek with more disfiguring make-up than he had applied with whom the human characters fall in love with on a regular basis.

Those two things combined soured the film for me. The fact that the Count is a wuss, and the Phantom not only drips coolness and mystery, but makes a pretty good looking guy even without the porcelain face attachment, means that I spent all the film wondering why Christine didn’t just dump the Count and hang with the Phantom, who is leaps and bounds hotter.

The final nail in my enjoyment of the film was something that might sound a little weird considering the fact that it was a music I went to see.

There was far, far too much singing.

Now, I knew the musical before going to see the film, so it’s not like I wasn’t expecting 80+ minutes of song. But what the makers of Phantom decided was that if people had come to see a film with that much singing in, then they would absolutely go hog wild if there was even more. So nearly everything in the film is sung. And not just important plot details and exposition. The first time I heard one of the chorus girls actually sing the line “Oh Christine, are you alright, you look upset” I knew I was in for a long two hours.

Seriously, that one device totally took me out of the film. The ratio of spoken to sung lines in the film must be easily in the thousands to one. I mean, the songs actually written for the musical are done well and are a perfect accompaniment to the events of the film, as you would expect. But I always feel that in a musical, the musical numbers should be a special part of the film’s progression. By setting even the most trivial conversations to a musical score, it somehow cheapens even the great and powerful songs that the musical is so famous for.

Of course, don’t take my word for it. I can only speak from personal taste when I say that the constant singing bugged me to the point of near collapse, and you instead may find it uplifting and an excellent theatrical device. But, for my money, this film is just a pale GHOST of the original musical. See what I did there? I made a funny.

I crack me up.

kylebanner

Kyle’s Rating: The only film of 2004 I cried (just a little) at

Kyle’s Review: Yep, a few tears came to my eyes at the end of The Phantom of the Opera. Don’t tell anybody, yeah? I also jumped out of my seat as the credits rolled with a little more pep than usual. I had seen Phantom onstage at the Denver Center of Performing Arts and enjoyed it (I saw it on a field trip in sixth grade to some weird dinner theater; all I remember is the excellent beef stroganoff), and because my parents dug the music I grew up listening to the soundtrack and loving it (Michael Crawford rules!). That said, I had no hope for the movie version. No Crawford, they were going with a younger cast, and Joel Schumacher (who is more of a Batman nemesis than The Joker or Two-Face) was directing. Disaster, right?

Nope. It’s awesome! Super-awesome! I really, really enjoyed it. It’s a great adaptation; full of drama, atmosphere, and genuine pathos. The musical numbers, while different from the stage versions, are just as good and possibly even better, in a couple cases. The only real Schumacher quirk is all the naked statues everywhere; thankfully, for every half-naked man statue holding up part of a building we get a naked female statue. Thanks, Joel! Even Minnie Driver’s involvement, which can either be hugely beneficial (Grosse Point Blank or Return to Me) or hugely annoying, was a plus. Great, great stuff. Epic quality entertainment. The best movie I took my family to see as a holiday present ever.

Now, I’d love to recommend you check out this movie. However, it is important that I make this very clear: Phantom is a musical. It’s a musical like Chicago was a musical, where the majority of the running time is dedicated to staging elaborate music numbers, and plain dialogue occupies a slight fraction of the film. A lot of critics out there are being honest in their negative reviews by explaining that they simply do not like musicals, so they would be hard-pressed to truly enjoy Phantom in the best of times. I can’t stress it enough: if you don’t like musicals, you will not like Phantom. This isn’t a good movie to test your patience for musicals, either, if only due to the lack of big-name stars (unless you’re a huge The Day After Tomorrow fan and already collect Emily Rossum clippings). Start out with Chicago, and if you like it, try Phantom. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.

It would be cool if you could take it, though. The story is practically archetypal: a poor lonely yet creative soul (slightly disfigured and happily homicidal) tutors a beautiful young talented girl in her burgeoning opera career, sees to it she gets her big break, and then get pretty mad when the girl falls for a suave and rich popular guy. It’s the stuff of tragic high school love triangles, only with people breaking into song whether they’re onstage or not and with one guy (guess which one) in a pretty cool mask. Well, maybe not archetypal. But still, you’ll identify with one or more player here, and you will dig it! If you dig musicals. Seriously, if you know you don’t like ‘em, don’t even try.

Die-hard Phantom fans will take umbrage at the lack of Crawford, the relative youth of the cast, and a few inclusions and adjustments to the plot (I don’t remember a sword fight when I saw it onstage). Eh. I understand the fury. Still, I think it’s worth a little “give” when the “take” is an excellent film adaptation of an excellent source musical. The visuals are astounding and the songs are beautifully rendered. Rossum is a perfect ingénue, and the entire cast is strong. Gerald Butler is a pretty cool Phantom; I was worried (as was most of the world) but his looks (just go with it!) and his rough-hewed voice (covering up the thick accent) make for a memorable Phantom. I love it all! Give it a try, please… but only if you like musicals! Otherwise, you’ll be bored and destroyed! You’ve been warned. Peace!

Of course, there's no way anyone would go for him... he's so scarred and disfigured. I mean, people with mild acne never find love, do they?

Of course, there’s no way anyone would go for him… he’s so scarred and disfigured. I mean, people with mild acne never find love, do they?

Intermission!

  • Having a wedding dress on standby is probably going to scare off potential dates.
  • At no point does the Phantom actually sit and play his pipe organ maniacally, which I must admit, upset me a little. People need to play to stereotypes more.
  • The Phantom speaks only eight of his lines and sings the rest.
  • In the “Masquerade” scene, there is a pan up the stairs. When it reaches the top of the stairs, opera patrons dressed in cat masks strike the pose that the cats on the show “Cats” pose in any promotional material. “Cats” is also an Andrew Lloyd Webber show. In the beginning of the movie, the new directors say that the only way to please Carlotta is “grovel, grovel”. This is part of a song from Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, another one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows.
  • In Christine’s debut performance as the star of the Opera House, she wears a costume that is an exact replica of the outfit Empress Elizabeth (aka “Sisi”) of Austria wears in her most famous portrait. This includes the white diaphanous dress with full, billowing skirt, as well as the diamond starbursts in her hair and earrings. This is not surprising when one considers the fact that Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of the most important collectors of artwork from this period, and would be familiar with the portrait in question. Gerald Butler would actually be a pretty good James Bond.
  • Butler’s real-life thick accent (I believe it’s Scottish) is probably why his voice gets a little odd during his singing. That said, he does an excellent job.
  • When the Phantom is taking Christine to his lair, he places her on a white horse for a while. This is not part of the show, but is a nod to the original book, where the Phantom uses a horse named Cesar to transport Christine part of the way.
  • When The Phantom is leading Christine to his lair there’s a scene with human arms holding candelabras. This is the same as a scene in the 1946 French film, La Belle et la Bête (The Beauty and the Beast), where The Beast is leading Belle through his castle. [thanks Star Opal!]
  • The project was ready to begin filming in 1990 and was set to star Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman (the original stars of the stage version). Just before filming began, Andrew Lloyd Webber divorced Brightman and the project was put on hold.
  • It took nine hours for Gerard Butler to be fitted with full makeup and prosthetics.
  • Soundtrack Review: Well, Kyle is quite familiar with the stage version, featuring Michael Crawford as the Phantom and Sarah Brightman as Christine. That’s a pretty good version, and it was very hard to accept new people and their new ways of approaching the songs. However, on the screen seeing it set to action and movement, the new versions are pretty squiggety sweet. Raoul is a little tough, but Butler’s Phantom and Rossum’s Christine are fine cinematic interpretations and their singing has the potential to be just as memorable as Crawford/Brightman. Heresy, you say? Nah. Just something new and different that happens to work, and quite well at that. If you dig the songs, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll dig them again. And if musicals aren’t your thing, there’s no way you read this paragraph anyway . . .
  • Neither Gerard Butler nor Emmy Rossum had seen the musical prior to receiving their roles.
  • Joel Schumacher was chosen by Andrew Lloyd Webber after he saw The Lost Boys in 1987 and was impressed by Schumacher’s use of music.
  • Webber composed 15 minutes of new music for the film and invested $6 million of his own money.
  • The chandelier weighed 2.2 tons, cost $1.3 million, and was provided by Swarovski. It had a stunt double for riskier scenes.
  • All of the principal actors sang in the film except for Minnie Driver. Most of the actors have a background in musicals or opera, but Driver (a skilled singer) had no experience in opera.
  • The only thing that Emmy Rossum was able to eat, due to wearing a corset during the filming, was ice cream because it was able to slip down her esophagus after it melted.
  • The theatre fire was an actual fire. Schumacher wanted realism, so they destroyed the theatre for the scene.
  • The lit candelabras that rise from the water were not done with special effects or CGI lights: the special wicks ignited when they reached the air. This effect was done in one take and didn’t work again after that.

Groovy Quotes

The Phantom: I gave you my music; made your song take wing. And now how you’ve repaid me – denied me and betrayed me. He was bound to love you when he heard you sing, Christine!

The Phantom: You will curse the day you did not do, all that the Phantom asked of you!
Raoul:  Free her! Do what you like, only free her! Have you no pity?
The Phantom: [to Christine] Your lover makes a passionate plea!
Christine: Please, Raoul, it’s useless …
Raoul: I love her! Does that mean nothing, I love her! Show some compassion!
The Phantom: [furiously] The world showed no compassion to me!

Andre: Signora, these things do happen.
Carlotta: For the past three years, these things do happen!
[to LeFevre]
Carlotta: And did you stop them from happening? No!
[to Firmin and Andre]
Carlotta: And you two – you’re as bad as him! “These things do happen!” Ma… until you stop these things from happening, this thing does not happen! Ubaldo! Andiamo! Bring my doggy and my boxy!

Madame Giry: We take particulur pride in the excellence of our ballet, monsieur.
Andre: I see why.
[looking at Meg Giry]
Andre: Especially that little blonde angel!
Madame Giry: My daughter, Meg Giry.
Firmin: [looking at Christine Daae] And THAT exceptional beauty. No relation I trust?
Madame Giry: Christine Daae. Promising talent, Monsieur Firmin, very promising.
Andre: Daae, did you say? N-n-no relation to the famous swedish violinist?

Lefevre: Ms. Guidicelli has quite an amazing aria at the end of act one. Perhaps she could be kind enough to sing it for us?
Carlotta: No, because SOMEONE hasn’t finished my dress for it and I HATE MY HAT!

Actioneer: Lot 666, then: a chandelier in pieces. Some of you may recall the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera: a mystery never fully explained. We are told, ladies and gentlemen, that this is the very chandelier which figures in the famous disaster. Our workshops have restored it and fitted up parts of it with wiring for the new electric light, so that we may get a hint of what it looked like when reassembled. Perhaps we may frighten away the ghost of so many years ago with a little illumination, gentlemen?

Meg Giry: He’s here! The Phantom of the Opera!

Carlotta: I will not be singing!
Firmin: What do we do?
Andre: Grovel… Grovel! Grovel!

Christine: Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God give me courage to show you, you are not alone!

Christine: Those who have seen your face draw back in fear. I am the mask you wear…
The Phantom: It’s me they hear…
Christine, The Phantom: You’re / my spirit and my/your voice in one combined. The Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my/your mind.

Raoul: Say you love him and my life is over!
The Phantom: Past all hope of cries for help, no point in fighting…
Raoul: Either way you choose, he has to win!
The Phantom: For either way you choose, you cannot win!

The Phantom: Seal my fate tonight. I hate to have to cut the fun short, but the joke’s wearing thin. Let the audience in. Let my opera begin!

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Rent | Mutant Reviewers

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