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Guilty Pleasures

The Phantom of the Opera

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Written By: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher

Main Cast:
Emmy Rossum – Christine
Gerald Butler – The Phantom
Patrick Wilson – Raoul
Minnie Driver – Carlotta
Miranda Richardson – Madame Giry
Ciaran Hinds
Simon Callow
Victor McGuire
Jennifer Ellison
Meg Giry



To sum up:  Not content with merely being the star of the stage, The Phantom of the Opera decides to make his big screen debut.

“Isn’t this the letter you wrote?”  
“And what is it, that we’re meant to have

     After a long wait, and thanks in part to the success of “Chicago”, it finally happened. One of the most popular musicals in stage history, “The Phantom of the Opera”, has at last gotten the old cinema treatment. Like most films that has long been waiting to be made, this one has endured all of the usual ups and downs that adaptations always seem to go through, as the battles over the rights, casting, directing, and studio support provided an operatic drama almost as big as the film itself. During this time, rumors, some false, like John Travolta being considered as the Phantom (please, God, no), and some true, like Joel Schumacher being considered as the director (please, God, no), spread like wildfire. But after years of waiting, Phantom fans can now see their favorite musical without having to pay at least $60.00 every time. This is providing, of course, that they like the final product that is presented to them.

     Now being a poor person, I’ve only seen the stage version three times myself, but with those three and a bazillion times of listening to the soundtrack, I, like everyone else, had some definite ideas as to what I wanted to see when it finally was made into a film. I must say that while it’s far from a perfect adaptation, I found myself pleasantly entertained, enjoying it far more than I thought I would. Actually, the thing that I enjoyed the least about the film is the loser in the row behind us who could not shut up and had to talk out loud through the entire film.

 PHANTOM (to Christine): Sing once again with meeee
PHANTOM (to Christine): Sing once again-
MAN IN AUDIENCE: That looks GREAT!!!!!
PHANTOM (to Christine): Sing-
MAN IN AUDIENCE: OOOO that’s interesting!
PHANTOM (to Christine): Sing-
MAN IN AUDIENCE: I like the look of that!
PHANTOM (to man in audience): Will you SHUT UP!!

     That’s exactly how it was at one point during the film. Honest. I just don’t know what it is about some people that they think it’s ok to carry on a conversation, in a normal speaking voice, oblivious to the annoyed looks of other patrons, totally unaware that people are moving away from them because this is not their living room and some people plinked down $10.00 to actually see and hear the movie on the screen and not the brain dead peanut gallery behind them. It’s certainly a different world nowadays. I guess I’m just going to go to the rich people’s theatre and hang with the quiet elite.

     The story is the well-known tale of a girl named Christine who is visited by an “angel of music” who has secretly been coaching and training her to become a great opera singer. She thinks that this angel is the spirit of her dead father come back from the netherworld to shower her with love and a nifty singing voice. In truth, it is the horribly disfigured Phantom of the Opera, who is pretending to be her dead father. The Phantom is an outcast, shunned by the world who regards him with horror and as a result, he lives a reclusive life under the Paris Opera house. It is he who has been molding Christine to become his glorious possession, reflecting to the world a beauty that he feels has been denied him. All goes well until Christine discovers who he really is and begins to fall in love with a brave young suitor.

      The choice of Emmy Rossum for the role of Christine turns out to be the most successful casting in the film. She’s young and definitely has the look of an innocent girl. As someone who lost her dearly beloved father and then came under the spell of the Phantom who, in turn, is pretending to be her father’s ghost, Rossum gives the psychology of the character the right amount of sincerity. It’s easy to see how her Christine can easily be swayed by the Phantom. Her face correctly reflects the variety of feelings she is asked to display as her character is torn one way then another; wanting to be free of the specter of her dead father and yet unable to escape the spell of that same “ghost”. It’s not a perfect performance as evidenced by the way she plays the pivotal scene where she unmasks the Phantom for the first time. This is a moment when, upon exposing his face, she expects to see the light of an angel but instead comes face to face with a visage of hell. But the shock of his disfigured face and the violence of his outburst of having been exposed are strangely underplayed; there is no real shock or fear. Her reaction doesn’t seem correct for the horror of the scene. Overall, however she’s comes off very well; providing the film with the emotional core that it needs. It is also clear that she can sing very well, giving the songs the weight they need and hitting all the notes when called for. There has definitely been some voice training going on.

     I find it interesting that when it came to casting the Phantom, the filmmakers chose the opposite extreme and went with a person with very little singing experience. One of the reasons that I was so opposed to Travolta and Antonio Banderas (whose name was also thrown about during the considerations for the role) was that I thought their voices were too weak. I would expect that the Phantom should have a strong, operatic voice; with the kind of control that can hold a note and let it softly taper off without it seeming that the poor singer just ran out of breath. But perhaps the filmmakers decided to follow the old saying of “Those who can...do. Those who can’t...coach”. If this is the case then it’s perfectly appropriate to have a Phantom who can’t throw out a musical note, go for coffee and a bagel, then come back with the note still remaining out there. This was my biggest fear going in. In all fairness to Mr. Butler, while he does have a pleasant enough voice, it’s clear that he does not have an operatic voice. What saves him is what he brings to his character on the acting side of his performance. Butler displays well the obsession that the Phantom has towards his pupil; the sense of delusional ownership that he feels is his; and finally, the pain and hurt of betrayal when Christine actually begins to fall in love with another man and not him; though clearly she should, based on the time that he has spent molding her. Butler carried just the correct amount of pompousness, arrogance, anger, and, yes, drool that a bitter disfigured Phantom should carry.

     By far the weakest performance turned out to be one that should have been one of the most important. I am speaking here of Patrick Wilson in the role of Raoul. I’m sorry to say it, and he may have a wonderful singing voice, but every time he spoke it just about sucked the life out of every scene. It also didn't help that every time I saw him, he looked to me just like Casper Van Dien with a bad haircut in an opera. It is clear that he was to function as a love interest for the hapless Christine and to be an “angel of light” of sorts, a counterpoint to the dark side of the performing force that was represented in the Phantom. But it didn’t help that just about every line, every expression, was devoid of emotion and passion. There was no real likable spark in his personality and certainly not a bit of spark between him and Christine. They fell in love simply because the story required them to. He may be great on stage, but he was not in this film. Though Schumacher tries to expand Rauol’s part to make him seem more dashing, it doesn’t really come off too well. He’s still a milksop.

RAOUL: Christine! Christine, listen to me!
ME: GHAAAAH!!!! (but quietly so I don’t disturb the other

      What is very good is the set and color design of the film. The film is dazzlingly detailed with sumptuous scenery. Every set is a pleasure to look at, from the technicolor dazzle of the opera house to the murky details of the Phantom’s lair. But unlike the stage version which showed things that were surprising to see live on stage such as the falling chandelier that could reassemble itself, the various pyrotechnics, and an abundance of moving sets, this film presents all of those things but nothing more. The visual effects all fall into the category of “things we’ve seen before”.

      In the end, Joel Schumacher has crafted a fairly well done adaptation. Though he doesn’t bring anything terribly new to the table or expand the boundaries of the musical in any significant way, it still comes off as what this fan wanted, a “good enough” adaptation. It’s not brilliant. It’s not inspired. It is adequate.

      I’m a fan o’ this opera.

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