As I tuned into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s birthday special on PBS, I was greeted by the familiar overture to Phantom of the Opera. The same chills ran down my spine as the TV special opened up. Sarah Brightman appeared center stage and began to sing the famous title song. Joining her in the strange duet was a rather strange choice indeed. I loved him in Evita as Che, but Antonio Banderes coying as the masked man was a very strange choice. Rumors were circulating in the phan community that Antonio was in the running for the Phantom in a film adaptation of the musical. The song did not suit him at all. This was one of the early signs that a Phantom movie would be infamous.
Joel Schumancher, better known as the director of Batman and Robin (the bad one, not the awesome Filipino musical version), was picked to direct the Phantom feature film. Under the discretion of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the cast and crew were not allowed to see the original show prior to filming. Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted a fresh approach to the movie version. Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler were cast as Christine and the Phantom. Broadway veteran, Patrick Wilson, was cast as Raoul.
There are a few good things about the film adaptation. The sets are beautiful. The design for the Paris opera house is spectacular. You really do feel swept away by the visuals. However, like Moulin Rouge, epic sets and backgrounds cannot save a movie. I also liked how the older, Methusala Raoul scenes are shot in black and white. I felt this was very reminiscent of Ronnie Yu’s Phantom Lover. “Masquerade” had the best transition from stage to screen having a grand scale of actors, orchestra, and an elegant party atmosphere to set the tone.
And then there was the laundry list of what went wrong. I have nothing against film adaptation of popular shows. Dreamgirls and Evita exceed expectations. This particular adaptation, is very flawed.
Emmy Rossum cannot act. While ALW’s Christine can come off naive and daft at times, Emmy Rossum stares blankly into the camera. She lacks any emotion and looks like a dear caught in headlights. She has an all right singing voice, but I certainly have heard better Christines on stage. My main issue with what was done to Christine’s character is how “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” was handled. In the film adaptation, she goes to the graveyard right after the “Masquerade” scene. In the stage version, she has reason to go visit her father. It’s right after she feels pressure from both Raoul, the opera, and the Phantom to perform. Before this, she confronts Carlotta and shows that she does not want to have anything to do with the Phantom’s opera. I always felt this was crucial part in the show and I cannot understand why Schumacher decided to omit it from the movie.
Gerard Butler has an all right voice. He’s no Michael Crawford, but then again, Michael Crawford has not been the same since his glory days with Phantom. He is a better actor than Emmy Rossum. In retrospect, it is tough for me to take his Phantom seriously because of his infamy as King Leonitis. “THIS IS OPERA!!!!” My hand to God, it’s what I hear when he yells his “Stranger Than You Dreamt It.” The other issue I have with Butler’s Phantom is that he’s too young. In the freak show flashback, he’s shown to be Madame Giry’s age. Madame Giry is old enough to be both Christine and Meg’s mother. You do the math. The Phantom is supposed to be older to fufill Christine’s daddy issues. Overall, he was all right, but not on the same tier as the likes of Anthony Warlow, Ramin Karimloo, Davis Gaines, and others. At least it wasn’t Paul Stanley…
Rounding out the triangle is Patrick Wilson’s Raoul. I had no issues with Patrick Wilson. Other than the pretty boy Fabio hair, he sang the part well and he played both the childhood friend and love interest very well. Like other reviewers, I had huge nitpicks with Miranda Richardson’s Madame Giry. While she is a talented actress, her French accent was awkward when everyone was not talking with a French accent. I was dissapointed in how Carlotta was treated. I always assumed that Carlotta was a famed primadonna and I never thought she was supposed to be a terrible singer. I was also confused on the casting – why dub Minnie Driver with another actress’ singing voice?
Though I praised the visuals, I also had an issue with the costume design. The most glaring choice was Christine’s mourning outfit when she goes to visit her father. For the Victorian time period, too much cleavage to visit the family mausoleum.I also questioned why the Daae plot seemed to be the most elaborate of all the graves. I did not know a violinist made bank in Victorian Europe. The other failure was the design of the Phantom’s Red Death costume. When you see it on stage, it is a force to be reckoned with: the Phantom has a talking skull mask. In this version, he looks like he just got off the set of Barnum. I also wondered why Christine wore a dress akin to Empress Sissy in “Think of Me,” when Hannibal’s time period and Empress Sissy were in two completely different eras. However, the best one that to be the ninjas from the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” video making a cameo in “Point of No Return.”
In any stage-to-film musical, we also get a new song. “Learn to be Lonely / No One Would Listen” has a nice tune, but it is very forgettable. Unlike “You Must Love Me” from Evita, this song has not made it to any stage incarnation of Phantom of the Opera.
Other than the strange omissions from Act 2, the movie pretty much follows the stage version. However, there are plenty continuity goofs and mistakes done by the crew. You can look at the bullet points on IMDB’s Phantom of the Opera (2004) entry. The most glaring goof was that at times, the actors’ lips were not synced to the soundtrack. While it was a visually appealing film, the acting, editing, and filming did not live up to the stage version. If you consider yourself a phan, this is best saved for a bad movie night. I also understand that the 2004 film has been the only means for people to see the show. Fortunately, the 25th anniversary special has been released on DVD. If you are the least bit curious about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, check out that version instead, then watch this version.
erica @ scarlet-rhapsody.com
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