I have to admit that I enjoyed Joel Schumacher’s film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's phenomenally popular stage musical version of The Phantom of the Opera more than I did on stage. The storyline has been made more coherent for the movie than it is in the stage version, and the casting decision to use more youthful and sexy performers works to its advantage. I still have a lot of reservations about the pacing of the piece and unfortunately, the energy that characterizes a live performance is absent, resulting in a production that at times feels slow-moving and lacking in dramatic drive.
I’ve always felt that the biggest problem with Phantom was in its syrupy and redundant libretto and the lack of well developed characters. But as much as I enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatrical panache and occasionally inspired music I also have to add that missing from all his work, is that je'nes ces quois that makes unique composers like Sondheim, Rodgers and Harmerstein fully accomplished and original. Weber's music has been heavily critized for a lack of sophistication and originality that is usually salvaged by ocassional moments of melodic inspiration and Phantom of the Opera is no exception. The score for Phantom features some memorable songs, including, of course, the play's theme song with its thunderous organ blasts reminiscent of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Also notable are the production numbers 'Masquerade' , 'Prima Donna', 'Wishing You Where Somehow Here' and the love duet 'All I Ask of You'. But these songs are poorly integrated in a mélange of monotonous recitative and a libretto and lyrics full of phony sentimentality that seem to linger forever. Some of these issues may have been disguised by Harold Prince's magic on stage but become more apparent with the film medium.
On stage, The Phantom was a spectacle/special effects extravaganza with full orchestra and large cast. On film, these elements are still there but do not serve as the focal point, instead Schumacher moves our attention on the six lead characters giving more intimacy and a chamber feel to the score. In a way the film medium has given this musical a new image and a new life.
When he penned the musical, Lloyd Webber was not striving for shock and horror. Instead, he wanted to emphasize the romance and operatic elements of the story. The movie possesses a more fleshed-out narrative-framing device than that featured in the stage version. It is more about the elderly Raoul and Madame Giry reminiscing about the events we see. In their memories we are introduced to Christine Daae an up-and-coming opera star who is mentored by the mysterious Phantom, who lurks in caves beneath the Opera House. The Phantom loves Christine, and his goal is to make her a star and wife, but loses her to Raoul, her childhood sweetheart who is now the Opera House's patron. Once he realizes that Christine has slipped away, the Phantom's jealousy has terrible consequences. The love story is a failure, however. True emotion is evident between the characters of Christine and the Phantom, but the character of Raoul is poorly written and lacks the required charisma so it's impossible to believe Christine’s attraction to him, making little sense with the central conflict of their romantic triangle.
Emmy Rossum is truly wonderful as Christine almost as if the part was written for her. She is the perfect embodiment of wide-eyed innocence. Her singing is sweet, controlled and spectacular at times. Gerard Butler's Phantom is scary, larger than life and completely mesmerizing. Even behind a mask, Butler exudes a seductive intensity and charisma that is complemented by his poppish but effective singing. Raoul de Chagny, Christine's dashing suitor, is portrayed by actor Patrick Wilson but pales in comparison on every level to both Butler and Rossum. Minnie Driver as the diva Carlotta, rises above the tantrums-and-tiaras histrionics offering the perfect balance of comic relief and satire stealing just about all the scenes in which she appears. The supporting roles are filled by British character actors – Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry, and Ciarán Hinds and Simon Callow as Firmin and Andre, the new owners of the Opera House.
Schumacher tries very hard to make Phantom work. CGI camera plummets from the upper balcony into an orchestra's spittoon, homages to Jean Cocteau, Disney and Spielberg abound. He has also filled the screen with extravagant sets full of writhing statues, acres of gilt, and a forest of candles, all providing the perfect frame for the dramatic and gothic tone of the piece. Schumacher also offers one tremendous visual image. Easily the movie's best effect when the chandelier is raised and the Opera House returns to its splendor of 1870. Also memorable is the showy Masquerade number with its fabulous spectacle of costumes, light and sound and Emily Rossum's spectacular rendition of 'Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again', sung in a wintery cementery scene.
Anthony Pratt’s production design for the movie is impressive, and pretty much a faithful recreation of Webber’s show. Alexandra Byrne’s costumes are similar to the stage version. The singing by the entire cast is fantastic.
It is hard to imagine a more faithful celluloid translation of the stage phenomenon. The cast is good, the score has its moments, the visuals are sumptuous and although The Phantom of the Opera suffers from a multitude of problems, I cannot think a better way to kill a few hours away on a cold winter night.
American director and occasional writer who rather unfairly won a reputation as one of the worst in Hollywood when he was really only as good as the material he was given. Starting as a costume designer (working with Woody Allen), he went onto a couple of TV movies - screenwriting Car Wash, Sparkle and The Wiz between them - and then a feature, spoof The Incredible Shrinking Woman. D.C. Cab followed, then a couple of eighties-defining teen hits, St Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys, and remake Cousins.
In the nineties, he was offered higher profile movies, including supernatural Flatliners, cult urban nightmare Falling Down, John Grisham adaptations The Client and A Time To Kill, blockbusting camp Batman Forever and the much-maligned Batman & Robin, and grotty 8MM. 1999's Flawless signalled a change to smaller scale works: army drama Tigerland, true life tale Veronica Guerin and thriller Phone Booth. Lavish musical The Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber was a Lost Boys fan) was a return to the overblown blockbusters, but it flopped, as did his conspiracy thriller The Number 23.