Given that opening, you might be surprised to find out that I actually own this film. I bought a used copy of the movie a few months after it came out because I thought it was pretty cool at the time. The movie quickly lost favor with me and it’s probably been just under a decade since I’ve seen it. I’ll also admit that I have never seen the stage performance of The Phantom of the Opera; so this movie comprises everything I know about the story.
This movie is almost exactly what you’d expect Joel Schumacher (the guy who turned Gotham city into a day-glow version of Rapture) and Andrew Lloyd Webber would put together. I have a list of character grievances to get to, but first, let’s recap the movie.
The Phantom of the Opera takes place in Paris in 1870… or in 1919, after World War I had apparently destroyed all color film technology. It covers the events surrounding several operas, eventually leading to the destruction of the opera house, and the relationships between the people that work there, all of whom are either idiots or have outright mental disorders.
The center conflict of the film is between Christine, a young opera soprano star, and the Phantom, a physically malformed genius who taught Christine to sing. The Phantom is obsessed with Christine both as a singer and a love interest, while Christine only has eyes for her childhood sweetheart, a local count who is patron of the opera house. The Phantom uses his vast talents and knowledge of the opera house to terrify, trap or outright murder people until Christine agrees to marry him.
Overall, the movie is alright. It has some serious gaps in the story, seemingly jumping over about 90 percent of the opportunities it has to develop characters naturally. Instead, all emotions and characterization are done through singing as per the musical style. The art design is interesting, but Schumacher’s failure to commit to more surreal imagery just leaves the whole thing feeling split. I felt the acting also needed some work, though maybe it was what the director wanted for a musical, I don’t know.
By far the worst part of the film is the characters. So, for fun, I’m going to go through all the major ones and say what I thought about them:
Christine: She is actually crazy. Her dad died when she was 8 years old and the Phantom has been secretly training her and basically setting her to go full-on Stockholm Syndrome. If a guy’s singing can make a person think candle mounts have turned into human arms, someone should have her committed.
Phantom: He’s a manipulative tool. I know he was beaten, humiliated and abused during his childhood and Christine has been his obsession for about a decade, but when he impersonated the ghost of her dead father to earn her trust, I was physically uncomfortable. Also, killing people to make a point isn’t cool.
Raoul: When Christine picked a love interest, all she had to do was not choose someone worse than the Phantom. This guy passed the test. Barely. Raoul is a textbook narcissist, always assuming he can outsmart the Phantom. He even goes so far as to use Christine as bait to draw out the Phantom, despite her begging him not to. He was warned the Phantom was a genius, too bad no one warned him that he was an idiot.
The Opera House Owners: These guys are spineless and care about nothing beyond their public image. They routinely pick their lead singers based on what suits their objectives. At this point, you could write a feminist thesis on how women are just pawns for men in this movie.
Madame Giry: SHE KNEW WHO THE PHANTOM WAS AND WHAT HE WAS DOING THE WHOLE TIME AND SHE DID NOTHING! SHE’S THE WORST OF THEM ALL. Though, in her defense, she does seem to be only person who realizes the Phantom is probably a product of being treated like a monster and not simply because he has a “corrupt soul.”
Carlotta: Her character would be super annoying to deal with in real life, but Minnie Driver actually sells it perfectly. Best part of the movie.
Stage crew and dancers: All annoying lewd drunks. They made me glad the Phantom burns the opera house down.
As a final note on the characters, can I just point out how NOT deformed the Phantom really is. He gets billed as “The Devil’s Child,” but really the deformity nearly isn’t as bad as it could be.
Since this is a musical, I should probably mention how I feel about the singing and music. I’m not a huge fan of it, but, as I mentioned earlier, I am not a musical person. I think my favorite decision with this version is what I’ve heard was most people’s least favorite: Gerrard Butler as the Phantom. I know the Phantom is supposed to have super awesome voice, but I’m more in favor of a guy who sounds like his only practice has been singing alone in a dungeon for the past 20 years.
I guess, when all is said and done, the movie is serviceable. I probably won’t watch it again for many years, but I’m certainly not ashamed to own it. It remains, however, nowhere near the gold standard of musicals: Newsies.
(Note: It’s been 2 weeks since I watched this and the songs are still stuck in my head. I guess the music deserves more credit than I originally gave it.)