Andrew Lloyd’s poignant melody “The Music of the Night” lingers on within the memory after one sees the musical movie, “The Phantom of the Opera.” The story is about a man named Erik, an eccentric, physically deformed genius who terrorizes the Opera Garnier in Paris, France. Based on a French novel by Gaston Leroux, the movie has slowly evolved across several stage productions and earlier film versions.
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The Phantom of the Opera is a film presented by Warner Bros. Picture in association with Odyssey Entertainment. It is produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and directed by Joel Schumacher, starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, and Minnie Driver. Released on December 22, 2004, the film is an adaptation of a screenplay by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher, which in turn is based upon the novel “Le Fantome de opera by Gaston Leroux. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical of the same name is currently the longest-running Broadway show in history and the most lucrative entertainment enterprise of all time.
The story of “Phantom of the Opera” is set in Paris in 1870. Christine, a beautiful chorus singer, learns music secretly from a brooding and disfigured musical genius called “The Phantom” who lives in the sewers under the city’s Opera House. The Phantom falls in love with Christine, who makes a dramatic entry into the music scene and is very upset to realize that Christine is in love with the handsome and rich Raoul, her childhood sweetheart. While performing with the Phantom on stage, Christine rips his mask off, after which the Phantom kidnaps her and tries to force her to marry him. Christine makes her choice and kisses the Phantom, who then sets Raoul and Christine free. The plot and movie are well constructed and move to a pulsating climax set on a grand opera stage.
Stella Papamichael is a freelance film journalist who writes movie reviews at bbc.co.uk/movies and also for the Total Film Magazine. Papamichael observes that Butler has a ‘seductive intensity,’ and Rossum looks very innocent (Papamichael, para 3). But, the movie does not give them much scope to showcase their acting skills as they are forced to sing and give dramatic poses. However, Driver’s portrayal of La Carlotta provides the needed lightness to this otherwise melodramatic tale. Papamichael also says that the music does not really reach its fullest grandeur because of sloppy direction by Schumacher, who she feels has focused more on ‘lavish sets’ rather than on choreography (Papamichael, para 4). She observes that there is no hint of sincere emotion in the intimate scenes. She pungently comments: “its tragic love story between an opera-singing novice and her disfigured mentor is horrifically bloated with theatrical gestures and falsetto dialogue – a formula that may work on stage, but on the big screen, it’s frankly obnoxious” (Papamichael, para 1).
Anthony O. “Tony” Scott is a film critic for The New York Times newspaper who started his tenure at the paper’s Arts section in January 2000. Prior to that, Scott used to be a book critic for Newsday as well as a contributor to the New York Review of Books and Slate. Reviewing the movie “Phantom of the Opera,” Scott comments that Lord Lloyd Webber’s music and the visualization are both evenly matched in vulgarity and artificiality (Scott, para 2). He describes the movie as “two and a half hours’ worth of overstuffed tableaux” that is exhausting to the viewer (Scott, para 2). According to Scott, the script is better suited to the theater because the intense sentimentalism in the movie does not sound authentic or powerful enough to move the audience. Moreover, he opines that the intricate plot is submerged in the music and confusing narrative (Scott, para 3). He accuses Webber’s attempt at trying to fuse tradition and modern musical theater as nonsensical: “an act of cultural butchery akin to turning an aviary of graceful swans and brilliant peacocks into an order of Chicken McNuggets” (Scott, para 4). But Scott also acknowledges the fact that the music is quite challenging from the technical viewpoint and also appreciates the acting performances of Mr. Butler and Emmy Rossum (Scott, para 5). Though the movie is supposed to be based in France, the majority of the characters have no French accent. Rueing the fact that there is no comedy element in the movie, Scott remarks sharply: “Full though it is of bellowings and screechings about love, art and the spirit of music” (Scott, para, 5). He also says despite the presence of horror elements such as “dark corridors, guttering candles, masks, robes, corsets, and top hats,” there is no pervading sense of mystery that existed in Rupert Julian’s 1925 version of the movie (Scott, para 6).
The major weakness of the movie is that it has not been suitably adapted to satisfy moviegoers. There is an excess of melodrama and characters a bit on the darker side in this movie. The characters are somewhat unrealistic, and especially the disfigurement of the Phantom is not well etched. Moviegoers come of all ages and have different tastes. As such, the classical music background of the movie, which is more of a fusion type, is very difficult to be well appreciated by the majority of viewers.
The movie visually explores the Phantom’s childhood, thereby making the Phantom’s plight even more understandable. It cannot be denied that acting is of excellent quality in the movie. Not only do they portray their characters well, but they also sing beautifully. The exquisite lyric soprano of Emmy Rossum seems to aptly represent the innocence, freshness, and sweetness of Christine, along with her vulnerability. She is also very beautiful and fits the role. Patrick Wilson, as romantic Raoul, has that swashbuckling, romantic flair needed to fill the role and a pure tenor voice. Gerard Butler has a raw sensual appeal though his voice is not quite as commanding. The movie will be enjoyed by viewers who have a taste for Webber’s music. The music is, of course very technical and will appeal to people with a taste for opera music. The movie will also appeal to people with a taste for history and art as Schumacher has made the film version visually exciting with its sumptuous production and costume design.
The movie fades only when compared to the stage production and prior versions. But taken on its own, the movie has good music, lavish rich sets, melodramatic plot, some horror elements and excellent acting and singing by the actors.
The movie is criticized mainly for its different kind of music and the theatrical body language of the actors. But, there a people who do enjoy fusion music with a tilt towards the classical form. As for the theatrical body language of the actors, when the movie is based on a musical backdrop, actors are forced to sing and give exaggerated poses most of the time. Film goers who search for some depth in a movie will find the Phantom of the Opera intriguing and interesting. The Phantom can be seen as a symbol of whatever human beings feel is unlovable about their selves. The setting is grand and realistic in the movie. The Phantom’s Lair is given a cavernous shape and the opera house an architectural masterpiece. The movie will definitely appeal to people who enjoy mystery, gothic plot, and classical music.