Andrew Lloyd Webber’s the Phantom of the Opera
Reviewed by: Charity Bishop
Better than Average
Drama, Musical/Performing Arts, Suspense/Horror
2 hr. 30 min.
Year of Release:
“The world’s biggest musical!”
Producer’s synopsis: “This romantic musical epic is about a mysterious masked figure, Erik (Butler), who roams the undergrounds of 19th century Paris, centering his activity around (or under) the Opera Populaire, where he tutors a beautiful young soprano, Christine (Rossum), who goes on to upstage the city’s most famous opera singer, Carlotta (Driver). The Phantom thinks he’s found love, until Christine’s childhood boyfriend, Vicomte de Chagny (Wilson) shows up.”
When originally penned in 1914, The Phantom of the Opera was not taken as serious literature but a sensational novel. It has spurred a number of horror spin-offs but only became known to the world as a tragic tale of romance and obsession through the ingenious musical on Broadway in the 1980’s by Andrew Lloyd Webber who, after twenty years, finally has the scope to bring his massive production to the big screen.
Opening after the turn of the century in Paris, the various set pieces and props from the Opera House are on auction, a legacy of forgotten memories for those who recall its former days of glory. As the chandelier rises, the dust and cobwebs are blown away from the magnificent architecture, taking us back in time to the height of the Opera’s popularity. Monsieur’s André and Firmin (Ciarán Hinds, Simon Callow) have recently undertaken the opera’s management and are being shown its intricacies by the former manager, who is overly eager to retire.
Together with their wealthy patron, the young Viscount Raoul de Cheney (Patrick Wilson), they are introduced to the opera’s grand diva, La Carlotta (Minnie Driver). Temperamental and demanding, after an incident involving a falling backdrop, Carlotta storms from the stage and refuses to sing for the grand opening that evening. The ever-resourceful and all-knowing Madam Giry (Miranda Richardson), who oversees the ballet troupe and keeps everything behind the scenes in working order, suggests that they replace the grand diva with Christine Dáee (Emmy Rossum).
The daughter of a famous violinist but orphaned at an early age, Christine has a strong, beautifully powerful voice that resonates throughout the theatre, drawing praise and applause from the crowds and critics alike, and enchanting Raoul, who is eager to remind her of their former childhood acquaintance. He is desirous of taking her out that evening after the performance in celebration of her success, but Christine cautions him on how strict her musical tutor is. Before she can protest, Raoul is out the door to fetch his carriage… and she is not there when he returns. Instead Christine is paid a visit from her “Angel of Music,” a mysterious composer (Gerard Butler) who dwells beneath the opera house. He has taken her beneath his wing, teaching her the true art of music and vocal talents, hidden from the world due to a hideous facial deformity.
While his love is silent and eternal, Christine grows to fear his dark nature. Her only salvation lies in Raoul’s ability to free her from the Phantom’s power, but the ghostly presence that haunts the opera house will not relinquish his pupil easily.
Ultimately a tale of romance, compassion, and revenge, “The Phantom of the Opera” is a glamorous spectacle from beginning to end. No expense was spared in bringing the Tony-award winning stage production to film, and it shows in every glorious frame. Candlelight flickering among the arches, the breathtaking first glimpse of the Phantom’s Lair, the beautiful costumes and jaw-dropping architecture. This film is absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous. I’ve never seen such grandeur, and yet it never overwhelms the actors.
Everything audiences know and love from Broadway is here, in addition to a swordfight and the opportunity to view the chandelier crashing to the ground and bursting into flame in a massive explosion of light. Most of the music is intact, but lyrics have been tweaked here and there, and a few alterations made to strengthen and modify the title track. Fans of the original recording may find themselves initially disappointed in the vocal talents if they have not been forewarned. Gerard Butler is no Michael Crawford; his limitations are occasionally apparent, but it’s his presence that is utterly remarkable. He puts such passion into the Phantom that he commands every frame; we are so enthralled with him that we can forgive moments of vocal weakness.
A perfect foil for him is Emmy Rossum. Her youth, beauty, and marvelous voice bring to life a very poignant Christine. Their scenes together are eclectic; sexual chemistry is evident, while her attraction to the quiet Raoul is very different and entirely innocent.
Patrick Wilson’s voice is breathtaking and he brings empathy to a character that normally fades beneath the empowering presence of the Phantom.
The cast member having the most fun is Minnie Driver, whose Carlotta drives the managers absolutely out of their minds and leaves the audience in peals of laughter.
The supporting cast is fabulous but one of the greater performances is by Miranda Richardson as Madam Giry, the formidable ballet instructor whose presence is slightly menacing and mysterious throughout.
There have always been mild content issues to contend with in this epic tale. Musical lyrics often carry subtle sensual undertones, particularly evidenced in Erik’s treatment of Christine in Music of the Night, and their duet for The Point of No Return, which is ultimately part of the opera Don Juan Triumphant in which a lord attempts to seduce an innocent young woman. In the former, while Erik encourages his visitor to give way to her senses and embrace the quiet, tranquil darkness that is his realm, he runs his hands over her in a briefly lingering caress. PoNR ends with violent and purposefully sensual embrace while the lyrics reflect on the lovers having “reached a point of no return,” intimating that they are now to share physical passion and wondering what new discoveries will be made entangled in one another’s arms.
The Victorian audience in the Opera House is scandalized. The managers muse on whether Raoul has slept with Christine. She accuses the Phantom of intending to indulge in his “lust for flesh,” and Erik bemoans that his face has prevented him from such possibilities. One of the stagehands moons Carlotta as she passes by.
Female nudity often appears in the Opera House sculptures. There’s also a dwarf who likes peeking under skirts, and very mild bawdiness appears briefly in an opera. One of the stagehands is strangled and dropped above the stage to terrify the ballet dancers. A boy is beat with a cane in a freak side show and then murderously turns on his attacker. A swordfight draws blood but the victor shows mercy at the intervention of Christine. A chandelier rips from the ceiling and comes crashing down into the audience, creating a massive explosion as people flee for their lives. Carlotta is hit by a falling backdrop but not harmed.
The Phantom becomes physically violent with Christine on two occasions, once striking her to the ground after she’s torn free his mask, and then dragging her to his lair by force. There are a half dozen mild profanities and abuses of deity. The Phantom has many negative and even murderous flaws but is not painted as the villain of the piece; he is empathetic even when acting for his own benefit, his actions made to seem justified through the torments of his previous public life. While he occasionally kills for sport and takes pleasure blackmailing the managers into paying his expensive salary, ultimately he is redeemed through compassion and love.
There are many moral discussions to be talked about after viewing the film, including whether or not the Phantom was given to madness or just obsession, if we are to have compassion for people with deformities or base our feelings on their actions (Christine tells him that his cruelty has turned her tears of empathy to tears of hatred), and if the heart can overpower hideousness. Raoul and Christine are both asked to make sacrifices for love. Audiences will have conflicted feelings about this one. Some may see the redemption of Christ in the role of Raoul and Christine, who eventually bring light into the Phantom’s life, but others may be shocked at the darkness pervading the script.
The film may not be perfect, but for a Phantom “Phan” such as myself, was a remarkable and emotional journey into familiar places and events that have until now remained only on the stage.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Minor