Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler in Warner Brothers' Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera - 2004
Photo Copyright Warner Bros.
Andrew Lloyd Webber is, without question, the Steven Spielberg of the stage. With such huge hits as Cats, Les Miserables, and, of course, Phantom of the Opera to his name, he has attained heights few theater types have even dreamed of, at least since the advent of film. Can he, however, make the leap from stage to screen? Do his big budget spectacles translate? That is, I suppose, for the audience to decide, and I imagine that the impressive box office this weekend's big budget adaptation of Phantom will help. However, though it is elaborately staged and dressed to the nines, the filmed Phantom leaves something to desire.
I have to be honest. I've never seen Phantom of the Opera on the stage. I've never read the play, nor seen any of the myriad other film adaptations of the 1911 horror classic, not even the one starring Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund. Simply by virtue of spending a good portion of my life on this earth awake, I knew the basic premise of the story going in, but the specifics and the songs were largely new to me. I mention this because the theatrical musical has a huge following and is immensely popular. So popular, in fact, that I'm sure there are those who will flock to this movie, seeing two and three times over, and love every minute of it. And that's great. I mean, I can watch Quigley Down Under ten times in a row and not get tired of it. But that doesn't mean that Tom Selleck is the penultimate actor of his generation nor is his movie in any way a definitive work of world cinema. The point I'm struggling to make is that the same logic can be applied to Phantom. People will love this film despite it's flaws.
When the famous Paris Opera House is sold to a pair of scrap metal millionaires, the two new owners quickly come to realize that there is more to running the theater than appeasing pouty divas and selling tickets. There is a ghost in the machine and he has plans; for his beloved Opera House, yes, but also for the young and virtuous ingenue Christine. The Phantom, running amok behind the scenes in his eerie white mask and fashionable black cape, must possess her, body and soul, and no one will get in his way, not even the handsome and debonair Raoul, Christine's would-be suitor. This, essentially a modernized re-working of Beauty and the Beast, is the basic plot of Phantom, and if that's all there was, it wouldn't have survived so long or so successfully. The real magic of the show, at least in Webber's capable hands, are the sets and the costumes, all impressively detailed and, more important, made huge. Grandiose acting, staging, and singing - these are the real draws and, in some ways, the drawbacks of the filmed version that director Joel Shumacher paints high upon the big screen. The problem is that there's not much more to it, and with film, there has to be.
On stage, almost any production is impressive if they have special effects, stunts, or larger than life sequences. On screen, you can always tell yourself that what you are watching is ultimately fake; camera tricks, computer graphics, funny angles, lighting, whatever. But at the theater, well, you're there. That means that in some way or another, what you're seeing is real,and therefore impressive, plot be damned. I've seen stage productions that had almost nothing to say, but, wow! How'd they get an explosion on stage? That's cool! I think this has a lot to do with Phantom's popularity. There's really not a lot of intense characterization or plot development going on, but boy oh boy, that chandelier!
Let's just be honest here. The songs? Pretty cheesy. Music of the Night? "Angel of Music?" All I Ask of You? Ech. Of course, I'm open to the idea that I'm soulless and heartless, but I don't think that's it. Now, my last complaint could have more to do with my ignorance of the genre, but I never could get my head around whether this movie was supposed to be an opera or a musical, the difference being that one has no dialogue and one has some dialogue. In this film, they speak their lines to each other sometimes, and other times they sing their lines to each other. There are big dramatic musical numbers, but very little consistency that I could see. To be honest, it feels like an opera that someone has snuck dialogue into because they were afraid the audience wouldn't "get" 100% singing, an issue proved wrong in the highly superior Evita, also an Andrew Lloyd Webber creation. Judging by that movie, I'd say Webber has a shot at Hollywood glory, but Phantom? That's simply asking too much. Grade: C+
Phantom of the Opera is rated PG-13 for brief violent images.
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