The Big One Has Arrived
After 15 years in the making, the film version of The Phantom of the Opera -- or, as music co-producer Nigel Wright proclaims, “the big one”-- arrived in select movie theaters on December 22. The stage production, based on Gaston Leroux’s 1911 novel, earned hundreds of awards and garnered more than $3.2 billion worldwide. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s incredible music is the force beyond this phenomenal achievement.
Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum and Patrick Wilson star in the new movie adaptation, brought majestically to life by director Joel Schumacher from a screenplay by Webber and Schumacher.
Most everyone knows the story of a disfigured musician living in the catacombs of the Opera Populaire in Paris, a strange man who falls for Christine, one of the young opera singers nightly tantalizing him with her voice and beauty from the stage above.
Webber and Schumacher both understood that Phantom awakens something powerful in its audience. “”One of the reasons this tragic love story has been part of our culture since Gaston Leroux wrote his novel is because we identify with the Phantom,” said Schumacher. “He’s a physical manifestation of whatever human beings feel is unlovable about themselves…a heartbreaking character much like the hunchback of Notre Dame and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.”
The two filmmakers realized that although millions of people have heard about The Phantom of the Opera, many did not have the resources or availability to see it on the stage. Now they’ll have the opportunity to see the movie. Some critics have already rushed in with a negative judgment about the film, but I think they fail to see the film as a completely different entity from the stage production. Theater audiences are afforded extraordinary visuals of sets and costumes and full live orchestras playing Webber’s music, but the theatrical productions lack a closeness to the characters that’s seductively present in the film version. Luckily Webber and Schumacher had the visual instinct, the artistic ability and the intelligence to see the film and live musical as different creations as well. The movie expands roles for almost all of the characters and incorporates further details of their backgrounds and insights into their motivations.
Casting Phantom presented pyramid-sized obstacles, but ones that Schumacher’s expertise scaled with ease. Schumacher once told me in an interview, "I fall in love with my characters. They take over in my scenes and find their own voice;" and that’s exactly why the characters in this film make it such a different venue but equally as entertaining as the stage production.
When the movie first starts, it’s instantly apparent that Gerard Butler’s voice doesn’t project the commanding caliber of Michael Crawford’s. Still, Butler (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Dracula 2000) has a great voice, and his acting abilities are what make the Phantom resonate in the screen version. He’s more a real person who has experienced a tragic accident, but yet is romantic, tender and driven to rage when pushed. Butler rolls all these traits into his mystifying Phantom.
Emmy Rossum, a Metropolitian Opera-trained singer, finds the perfect balance of emotions for her character Christine. Awakened by the new thrill of a young and sexy romance with her peer, Christine finds herself naturally attracted to Raoul. Yet the hypnotic allure that the Phantom casts over her is a deeper, far more complex and undeniable draw pulling her in each time. Believing he’s her “Angel of Music” sent by her deceased father, she can’t resist his seduction -- and Rossum’s innocent young face radiates with sincerity as Christine surrenders herself to the Phantom every time.
Patrick Wilson had no problem with the tenor voice required for Raoul; he’s done many Broadway shows. Raoul emerges as a very threatening presence between Christine and the Phantom. With his gapping white shirt, skill with a sword, and obsession to love and protect Christine, Raoul cuts a fine figure as the swashbuckling romantic whose voice can bring women to their knees.
Miranda Richardson is marvelous as Madame Giry, the head of the opera company, and the one who knows the most about the Phantom. Minnie Driver, who doesn’t do her own singing in the film, is hilarious as Carlotta, the opera diva whose attitude soon results in her lead role being taken over by Christine.
Of course, the real star of the film is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, which has been reproduced for this movie. The team of Webber, Nigel Wright and music supervisor Simon Lee worked with a handpicked orchestra and created new songs to explain some of the characters’ back-stories.
Schumacher’s early career as a set and costume designer is evident in this film. Thanks to production designer Anthony Pratt, Phantom’s sets are just as lavish as the stage productions, if not more. The $1.3 million chandelier made from 20,000 Swarovski crystals is a sight to behold. Film and theatrical costume designer Alexandra Byrne, who earned Oscar nominations for Elizabeth and Hamlet, decorates the film’s characters with sumptuous costumes.
Cinematographer John Mathieson, Oscar nominated for Gladiator, earns high accolades for his artistic eye in lighting the film, a difficult task in the dark chambers of an old opera house. How he captures the transitions of the time/era changes in the film from 1876 to 1919 is splendid, especially in the scene where the camera pans the theater and cobwebs disappear, the tattered seat covers re-upholster themselves and the dust swirls away the old to the new. Mathieson captures the essence of the film and makes The Phantom of the Opera enthralling, exquisitely beautiful and heartfelt, exactly what Phantom fans want to see over and over again.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” for brief violent images.)
Read Diana Saenger's reviews of classic movies at http://classicfilm.about.com.