The Phantom of the Opera

Starring Gerard Butler as the Phantom

Warner Brothers, 2004, Romance and Musical Drama

Flattering child, you shall know me. See why in shadow I hide. Look at your face in the mirror. I am there inside!

Since the moment I first heard you sing, I have needed you with me, to serve me, to sing of my music.

Fear can turn to love. You'll learn to see, to find the man behind the monster, this repulsive carcass, who seems a beast, but secretly dreams of beauty, secretly ... secretly ...

~The Phantom

A Movie Adaptation at Long Last

I decided to deviate from my usual formula for the other movie reviews, mostly because I believe I would be "reinventing the wheel" due to its popularity. I hope to expand on this page nonetheless, as I have found some excellent, intelligent reviews that got me thinking.

It almost seems as though Andrew Lloyd Webber scoured all other versions of the Phantom's story and borrowed the best from all of them. It begins with nostalgic black-and-white as in the Lon Chaney movie, then transforms into the lavish colorful life in the Paris Opera house like in the 1943 movie. Only this time, there is no "All Opera, No Phantom" problem, nor an equivalent to "Nelson Eddy of the Opera." The Phantom is noticably younger in this film (a guilty pleasure of mine) as in the 1990 miniseries and the 1993 movie musical comedy. I criticize the otherwise memorable silent film for deleting the tender moment between Christine and Erik, as the chase scene afterwards would have given the Phantom the sympathetic portrayal that Chaney fought for to the bitter end. This time, as in the live show, there is that tender moment just before the angry mob finds the lair.

As authors such as Gaston Leroux, Susan Kay, Kate McMullan, and Sam Siciliano have already shown, point of view is everything. I have seen the live show twice, but missed an important point entirely. It was not until this movie that I realized, the story this time is from Raoul de Chagny's point of view. If anyone had a motive to portray the Phantom as "a real monster" with some exaggerated horror, it would have been Raoul. Yet this is told from Raoul's memories and point of view. It shows Raoul's romantic soul as he begins to dwell on past memories while attending an auction. In the same memorable fashion of The Wizard of Oz, the black-and-white scenery gives way to rich, lavish colors as we go back to Raoul's early days at the Paris Opera house. After the story is told, the movie returns to black-and-white as an aged and very alone Raoul leaves to pay a visit to a long-lost love. It is a sad, emotional moment.

When I first started haunting internet forums, there was an aggressive "No Phantom Movie" campaign by online fans against a Phantom movie. I had never opposed the idea of a movie, but I admit I had my qualms. With some rare exceptions, I normally do not enjoy live musicals that have been filmed and sold as movies. This had already been done to one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's other lovely musicals, Cats. I had seen a live production of Cats and just did not get that energy watching the video. I pleaded on the forum at the Official Site: If you make a movie adaptation, then make it into a movie adaptation. Do NOT film a live musical on stage. Follow instead the lovely examples such as Oliver! and Man of La Mancha.

The "No Phantom Movie" campaign also voiced concern over changes to the story. Again, I did not oppose changes just for being changes. I was at that forum again on the Official Site, mentioning the lovely adaptations of the Kopit teleplay from a live musical to a TV miniseries. Changes sometimes are good, I said, because it can actually be fun. It makes a trip to the live show more worthwile. It is fun to compare notes.

Another concern the campaign voiced was that a movie would kill the show. People would watch the movie instead of paying to see the show. I thought, again, that enough of the right changes would actually help the show. It could spark enthusiasm and arouse curiousities about how the live show is played out. It certainly made me curious how some scenes were played out, just from listening to CD's. Again, I mentioned at the Official Site's forum the example of Man of La Mancha. I have a copy of the movie and the CD. I've read the book. Still, I would love to see the live show. I try to imagine how some of it is played on stage and I am curious how it is done.

Besides, live shows have such a different feel and there are a lot of spontaneous things that can happen. Also, like the saying goes, it is not what always what you say but how you say it. Actors in a live show will always be able to make those subtle but profound changes, making each trip a new experience. A movie will not kill a show. In fact, a movie and a live show can feed each other. Another recent example: the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the show Spamalot.

When I finally saw this remarkable movie, I was extremely glad. While I doubt that Andrew Lloyd Webber was hanging on to my every word on those forums, I am so happy that he and his people in charge were able to pull it all off. Just because you see the movie, do not ever think that the show is all the same old same old.

One example would be Carlotta's character. In this movie, Carlotta is a horribly wicked piece of work. She speaks in a perpetual scream and her overly hostile attitude is surpassed only by her overdone makeup. I used to visit a humorous site for criminal clowns (think Bomb Voyage in The Incredibles) and with her white powder makeup and her perpetual anger that is never to be satisfied, she almost seems like she'd be right at home there. In the live shows I've seen, she is quite different. The new managers never ignore her to gawk at the dancing chorus girls. One of them, in fact, is awestruck to be in her presence. She voluntarily sings for him at his pleading and nearly swoons as she approaches him during her song. Much of the same lines are there, but with different angles. In the live show, she generally just seems experienced in the business of opera but is tired of the "accidents" during her performances. She's not hostile, just upset.

Another example would be Ubaldo Piangi's character. In this movie, he is arrogant and almost as hostile as Carlotta. In the musical, he is quieter. He's got a beautiful tenor voice, but he is a bit clumsy. His first appearance in the live show is on the back of an elephant, and the poor man falls backwards off of it into a not-so-modest position. He and Carlotta speak up for each other, but they are not the menacing duo like you see in the movie.

I do not know what it is about Christine and the long white dress, but it always seems the "right" thing to do. It is a popular formula that seems to work, having her in a white dress for her first appearance in the Phantom's lair. Very few of the versions do NOT do this. Even in the live show, with limits of being a live show, they compensate as best they can with a long silk white robe placed over her Hannibal costume.

With all of this said, I also am aware that the film is not above criticism. Gerard Butler has a nice voice, but it is not operatic for a character such as the Phantom. Leroux describes the Phantom's voice as "other-worldly," making me expect something more along the lines of Paul Byrom or... forgive me... I kick myself for not knowing his name... Years ago, I heard a Russian opera singer as he sang smoothly and beautifully from bass all the way to soprano. I would not have believed it had I not heard him with my own ears and yet I do not know his name. In any case, this man would be great in providing the voice for the Phantom. A similar problem occured ages ago, when Harry Belafonte was cast in Carmen Jones. He has a fine voice, but it was not strong enough for his role in that movie musical, so he had to lip-sync as another singer's voice was dubbed. Something similar should have been done here. It seems to be a consistent problem when casting the Phantom in any version.

A similar consistent problem is in Christine's character. I made an observation in my review of the movie starring Asia Argento, that I found myself enjoying a more eccentric Christine. While that movie has its issues, Argento does show a lot of emotion and some lovable eccentricities as Christine in the same spirit as Disney's Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It is what I find endearing about Sarah Brightman, come to think of it. Unfortunately, oftentimes Christine is shown as way too passive and uninteresting as a character. Herbert Lom had a full-faced mask with only one hole for one eye, yet he shows a lot of emotion as the Phantom in the 1962 film. What is the excuse for Christine's roles? Christine seems to be the curse of the permanent potential. But what are you going to do?

Furthermore, I truly did not care for the swordfight during the graveyard scene. I seriously doubt that Raoul could have defeated an experienced streetkiller such as the Phantom, unless the Phantom was suffering some physical illness at the moment such as a heart attack. Then again, as I stated earlier, this story appears to be told from Raoul's point of view. The live show is more truthful, if indeed a work of fiction can be "right." The very brash Raoul is nearly killed in the live show but is spared only because Christine pulls him out of the way. I'm not a Raoul basher and I like the Phantom, but I also know just how dangerous and deadly the Phantom is. Raoul is simply no match for him in a one-on-one combat.

I read one review stating that people who do not like musicals would have that negative attitude reinforced by watching this movie, to which I could not disagree more. I think the opposite is true. I think this movie is a must-see, even for people who think they do not like musicals.

The Music

Every bit of music in this one is, of course, fictional opera.

The opera in rehearsal at the beginning of the movie is Hannibal.

The opera in which Carlotta gets a froggy in her throat is Il Muto.

Then, of course, is the very intense Don Juan Triumphant composed by the Phantom himself.

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