The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

I recently saw this film version of the musical that has been one of the biggest musical sensations on the stage since it was first performed in 1986. I haven’t lived in places where big budget musicals are performed and even if I did, I would . I probably wouldn’t have gone to the theater to see them because the ticket costs would have been out of my hands. So I wait until they do a movie version and I usually watch it when they air it.

Given the huge success it had on stage, I was expecting a lot and was extremely disappointed in this film. It was, to be honest, pretty boring and aside from a few songs that became hits (the title track, Music of the Night and All I Ask of You), I found everything disappointing.

Not all successful stage musicals translate well on screen. Other failures include Hair Y cats. Some notable successes were South Pacific, My Fair Lady, The Sound of MusicY Jesus Christ Superstar.

Why do some fail and others succeed? Not to skimp on the film version. Since this film production was lavish and elaborate (as the stage production was supposed to be), the difference may well be due to the fact that what people find spectacular when seen live on stage may seem normal to viewers. who are used to special effects. . It also depends on the strength of the music. Each of the hits I listed had far more memorable songs than this one.

Another factor may be the quality of the story. The story of Ghost adapted in this production has many problems that were often laughably absurd, as film critic Anthony Lane pointed out in a brutal review in the New Yorker.

The plot is impressively free of anything that doesn’t smack of raw melodrama. Most of it takes place in 1870, in Paris, ah, Paris, so overwhelming in its impact that while some of its blessed citizens remember speaking English with a French accent, others don’t. We are at the Opera, where everything and, if possible, everyone who can be gilded with gold has received the necessary treatment. The new patron is Viscount de Chagny (Patrick Wilson), who has long hair, blue blood, and an insatiably drippy demeanor. The diva of the house is Carlotta, enthusiastically played by Minnie Driver, who has the nerve to suggest that there might be some comedic value to be drawn from this film and is thus hastily pushed to the side of the proceedings before she can. cause more problems. When Carlotta leaves, her place is taken by Christine (Emmy Rossum), who until now has been, yes, a simple showgirl, and who brings the house down in, yes, her first performance.

But wait. There is more. Christine, who otherwise seems perfectly sane, believes that the ghost of her father has taught her to sing. In fact, her tutor is a nice guy in a half hockey mask who lives under the floorboards. He is the Phantom (Gerard Butler), his career ambitions include managing theaters, and to get to his lair you must go through mirror, along the creepy runner, down the spiral staircase, take the first horse to your right (what the hell is a horse doing down there?), jump within the punt, the drift under the dripping rake, past the multiple mirrors, and, pop, you are there, right in the middle of a bed shaped like a giant eagle. Watch out for its beak when you bend down to take off your boots.

Fans of the original production will claim that one had to be there, but then again, it presumably ran into the same obstacles that beset it. [director Joel] Schumacher’s movie. These include: (1) Why doesn’t the prickly Parisian audience boo when Christine opens her mouth and sings not in the manner of a true operatic soprano, but with the miked moans and gurgles of any other Lloyd Webber heroine? (2) Is it really dry ice swirling around Christine in the graveyard scene, or is someone cooking breakfast under her spread cloak? (3) When the Ghost finally removes the gear from his face, what exactly is the problem? Is there a problem with his cup of it that fresh fruit, Botox, and a healthy squirt of Visine can’t solve?

Film critic Roger Ebert also found many problems with the story, although he did enjoy the film.

Lon Chaney’s Ghost in the 1925 silent film had a hideously damaged face, the mouth a lipless rictus, the eyes off center in gouged out sockets. When Christine ripped off his mask, he was horrified, as was the audience. In Lloyd Webber’s version, now shot by Joel Schumacher, the mask is more like a fashion accessory, and the Phantom’s “good” profile is so chiseled and beautiful that the effect is not an object of horror but a magnet of perverted girls.

There was something unwholesome and pathetic about the Phantom of 1925, scurrying like a rat in the cellars of the Paris Opera and nurturing a desperate love for Christine. Modern Ghost is more like a wicked Batman with a really neat cave. The character of Raoul, Christine’s nominal lover, has always been a fatuous jerk, but at least in the 1925 version, Christine is attracted to the Phantom only until she takes off her mask. In this version, any red-blooded woman would choose the Phantom over Raoul, even knowing what she knows now.

But what I essentially dislike is not the film, but the underlying material. I don’t think Lloyd Webber wrote a very good musical. The story is beer watered down by the time it takes to tell it, and the music is maddeningly repetitive.

I love the look of the movie. I admire the cellars and the dungeons and the Styx-like sewer with its hearse and sensational masquerade ball, and I was impressed by the rooftop scenes, with Paris as a backdrop in the snow.

Some still feel that Michael Crawford should have been given the role he made famous on stage; certainly Gerald Butler’s work does not argue against his belief. But Butler is younger and more conventionally handsome than Crawford, GQ-esque; Lloyd Webber’s work has long since forgotten that the Phantom is supposed to be ugly and aged and, given the conditions of those cellars, probably congested, arthritic and neurasthenic.

This has been, I realize, a wacko review. I’m recommending a movie that I don’t seem to like very much. But part of the joy of going to the movies is sheer entertainment: just sitting there and looking at cool things and knowing they look cool. There wasn’t much that Schumacher could have done with the story or the music he was given, but in the areas that he had influence, he has succeeded. This is such a fabulous production that by reprising two of the three leads and adding some better songs, it could have been great.

Those two reviews pretty much sum up my own feelings.

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Here is the trailer.

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