Friday, May 7, 2010

Review: Phantom of the Opera

by Nathan Stout

Before you begin reading this, you have to go here and listen to this music as a soundtrack while you read (just shrink down the window).

Basically THAT bit of music is what sets off the feeling of the whole thing. That cheesy bit of over-the-top music.

Now before my man-card is revoked for reviewing a Broadway musical, understand that Phantom (with all its girly stuff aside) is fun, and so over-the-top that you can't help but enjoy it.
In this extensive review I am mainly covering the musical, but I will touch on the non-musical adaptations.

Phantom of the Opera was originally a French novel by Gaston Leroux written in 1911. It has been made into several movies, TV productions, a musical, and spin-off book (and soon to be sequel Broadway show).

Let me sum the whole story up VERY QUICKLY:

Deformed man living in opera house falls in love with chick, kills people, finally captures the chick, gets a kiss, and decides it's too 'yucky' and lets her go.

Ok, I might be GREATLY generalizing it but that's basically the story. I am making the assumption that he thinks it's 'yucky' but it's pretty obvious. Although he seems to finally realize that he loves her enough to let her go, we all know that women just didn't live up to his expectations.

Here is a rundown of the most of the well known versions of the movie adaptations:
  • 1925 (most famous version with Lon Chaney)
  • 1943 (Claude Rains Phantom version)
  • 1962 (Hammer horror version)
  • 1974 (Phantom of the Paradise, cheesy 70's semi horror version 'rock opera')
  • 1989 (Robert Englund version)
  • 2004 (Joel Schumacher and Andrew Lloyd Webber 'musical/movie' version)
There are quite a few more versions out there, but those were the most well known. For a complete list go here.

I am going to focus on the Broadway musical, and the Joel Schumacher version. I have now seen both the musical and the movie twice, and feel I have enough entertaining bits of info to make this review.

The reason I am covering the 2004 version of the movie is that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote it. This is basically the most 'perfect' version of the Phantom of the Opera musical (since Webber was able to put in scenes that are not able to go into a stage production). What I plan to do is take you though the story of the musical, and discuss differences between the movie and stage version. I think you will find it quite interesting.

I will cover the cast first since any good production relies on it's cast. The musical was written by Webber in the early eighties. Webber was married to Sarah Brightman (the opera singer). Basically the heroine was written specifically with Brightman in mind. I don't know if this is an endearing move or an insult. The character of Christine (the main female role) is a vapid, silly girl (although that is not intended). Here is this young chick who thinks her dead father has sent her an 'angel of music' to teach her how to sing. Then she is basically seduced by this deformed peeping tom, and on several occasions, after being told what he really is by sensible people, she still falls for his traps. Anyway, I am not saying anything about Brightman, but she has always come across as a little vapid (in interviews). She is still hot as hell but a little vapid. Anyway, Sarah was the original Christine. The original Phantom was some Broadway singer who is quite good (I am sure I just offended Phantom fans who read that [also known as Phans] so I apologize). In the movie, some unknown singer took the part of Christine (Emmy Rossum). She plays the spacey Christine fairly well (Sarah would be proud). The Phantom in the movie is none other than 300's Gerrard Butler (yeah, I can see the surprise on your face) and will go into more detail about him later. For now I will say:



THIS.... IS.... PHAAAAATOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!




Christine's boyfriend in the movie is Patrick Wilson. He just started acting before Phantom, but you may remember him as the affable Dan Dreiberg (aka Nite Owl) from the Watchmen. Surprised huh? This is quite the strange gathering for something you usually associate with a bunch of farting around on stage.

Let me get to the farting...

Broadway musicals are farty. That's my man-side coming out there. They generally suck. I mean really, look at this piece of steaming crap (start at the :25 mark). And THAT IS Webber's work. Talk about farty...

Phantom is *a bit* farty, but not THAT farty. A bunch of people dancing about like cats. In Phantom people are dancing, but it is always in context (in a opera, at a ball, etc) not just farting about.

Ok, I digress. Where was I... oh yes, the story. The year is 1870 and we see an Opera house under new management. The new managers discover that there is an 'opera ghost' living in the huge building. This ghost is a man who has lived there for many years. He is a genius, but a little mad. One of the chorus girls (Christine) has gotten his attention, and he has quietly been teaching her but not revealing himself to her. She thinks he is her angel of music her dying father told her would come to her. Through a series of events, she is propelled to stardom and her childhood boyfriend (now the patron of the opera) is reacquainted with her and they fall in love. The Phantom (who everyone thinks is some sort of ghost haunting the opera house) is very jealous, and tries to undo the two love birds. He continues to threaten, all and make mischief in his plans to control everyone and win Christine. In the end, he captures Christine, and the boyfriend races to rescue her. The Phantom finally realizes she will never love him by force, so he lets her go. The angry mob from the opera is hunting him down so he escapes, end of story. I could have gone into all this extra detail, but that is the basic story.

The main theme of the musical is the love triangle between the boyfriend, the Phantom, and Christine.

The music what makes the musical the musical. It is actually pretty good. The singing varies between the musical and the movie, but is pretty good overall. There are groups of fans who prefer certain performers over others, and usually the musical fans bash the movie singers, but both have good and bad points.

The biggest point of irritation for me is the 'faggy' way the musical Phantom sings. I'm sorry to use such an ugly word... I guess I should use 'less than hetero' instead of 'faggy'. I understand it's a Broadway musical and it's inherently 'less than hetero' but really... Here you have a character who is supposed to be smouldering with lust for Christine, and he is singing like a choir boy. Here is an example. Also, note the vapid expression on Sarah Brightman's face.

Now in the movie manly man Gerrard Butler sings the same thing. This seems more like a grown hetero put in the difficult situation of singing. Here it is. Now Crawford (the musical Phantom) is much more adept at singing, but you must admit Butler's Phantom is more manly. You will also notice that Rossum's Christine is almost as vapid as Brightman.

I think the appeal for me is the cheese main theme (the one I linked to at the top of the article) and the shadowy Phantom character. In scenes of the musical (not the movie) the Phantom wears this wide brimmed hat, and will appear as a huge shadow on the back of the stage. This is very reminiscent of one of my favorite characters: the Shadow. I also like the whole disfigured face/mask thing too. There is a bit of humor sprinkled throughout, so that appeals to me as well. In the musical there are several 'scares' that are fun too (gunfire, explosions). Also, who can hate a giant chandelier hanging over the audience when you know at some point it is going to come crashing down???

The movie plays more or less like the musical, but like I said before, Webber got to do more and make it more true to his perfect vision of Phantom. Some of the events are shuffled around and a couple of songs/interludes added as well. Of course there is more of everything since there was a much bigger budget for the movie. The stage production isn't cheap either. In an interview with the production manager, he stated that each of the traveling productions of Phantom cost 11 million to create (in 1980's dollars). The movie was actually independently financed to give the creators more control. It was basically a big budget independent movie. They did a great job considering. I can tell at various points that a certain Hollywood polish is lacking. There are some shots that look a little amateurish. One in particular is during that 'music of the night' song I just linked to. Here it is again. If you look at 2:37 you will see that the camera passes in front of a light source, and you can clearly see it's shadow move across the actor's face. Other than those little details, the movie was well made.

Broadway musicals hold this special place in the entertainment world. When one comes out, you generally can't see it unless someone smuggled in a camera, or the production company releases footage of it (or a movie is finally made of it). You have to pay for the privilege to see it, and can only see it when it (rarely) comes to town. Movies USED to be like that before the home video market. Even at the beginning of the home video movement you had to wait like a year or more for a movie to come out on tape. I think Webber and friends could have made much more with the Phantom movie if they kept it from home video release and brought it back to theaters once a year. It would still be in that 'special place' in the entertainment world. Seeing Phantom of the Opera would be an event, not just a movie. I think that was done with a few movies back in the day (E.T. maybe)?


One final thing that I would like to touch on is the music. Phantom was written in the early eighties and it shows. You have this massive orchestral piece with some electronic drums and keyboard work thrown in. That's another point of the cheesy fun for me.

In the 80's a music video was made for the Phantom of the Opera song. It stars Brightman and Steve Hartley (a British rock and roll singer of the time). It's not really representative of the musical. It is just that one song with some elements of the show. It is fantastically bad (in a good 80's way). Enjoy the strangeness. It is a little more 'rock' than the actual song in the musical.

One final note on the music. The lyrics have change quite a bit over the years. If you get on YouTube and look at the different performances over the years, you will notice that the lyrics change a bit. I am guessing that Webber continued to hone the songs into the best version (which you see in the movie).

All in all I think its ok for all you men to watch this movie (or musical) with your wife or girlfriend. It's man-friendly enough.

4 comments :

  1. No woman can live up to any man's expectations. (at least I haven't).

    that's why I've given up on the whole idea. You give them love, moral support, encouragement, blah, blah, blah.

    At the end of the day, you just end up feeling as if you've been punched in the gut. So I'm not even trying anymore. Just not worth it. You end up feeling like a piece of shit. Maybe I am a piece of shit. Who knows, who cares?

    I've come to believe that love and romance is just a sweet fairy-tale.

    Its surely not reality. Never been my reality. Not in the end.

    Not trying to be negative. Just facing facts and staying single.

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  2. It has been a little more than year since I wrote this blog and I still throughly enjoy reading it!

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  3. Excuse me i am sorry Nate but i must touch on some stuff
    1. you are right cats sucks hard core but musicals are generaly pretty good.
    2. Just because you like a musical dosen't mean you have your man card revoked i am a strait male and i love musicals don't know why i just do.

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  4. The Phantom didn't let Christine go because he found her kiss "icky." He did it because her kiss was proof that she would do anything she could to save Raoul. So the Phantom finally realized she didn't love him like that, and killing Raoul would only make her hate him. He was in a no-win situation, and he decided to take the path that wouldn't make Christine forever loathe him.

    And yeah, referring to the Phantom's music as "faggy" is awful and inexcusable. Someone needs to grow up.

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