The Phantom of the Opera: Cliché Yet Charming
Though I was not familiar with Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, I was immediately fascinated when this film (directed by Joel Schumacher) came to my attention. This film which was decisively panned by the majority of professional movie critics, I truly believe is brilliant. In this review, I will reveal why this movie is simply and purely cliché yet charming. The criteria used in my analysis include: content, set, lighting, musical score, acting, and originality.
The movie begins in a dull, black and white, grainy, 1919 Paris, France, at an auction in the old, run-down, Opera Populaire. Even though the opera house is covered in cobwebs and dust, one can easily discern that in its day it was glorious.
The real magic begins with "Lot 666," a chandelier. As the chandelier is lifted from the floor in a display of its fully restored glory, the first chord of the theme song of The Phantom of the Opera begins. A bone-chilling, uncharacteristically bass chord played on an organ begins the transformation of the Opera Populaire. Its once sad condition is reversed a full 49 years to 1870 and the color is restored as well.
This transformation scene is the most amazing scene of the whole movie; it displays the grandeur of the theater, leaving the viewer feeling small in comparison to the oversized sculptures. The theater is larger than life, and this scene emphasizes its magnificence, creating a sense of excitement and awe. Its baroque style invokes a sense of hyperrealism, furthering the ostentatious façade inherent in show business and drama. Every aspect of decoration in the theater is hyper-elaborate, offset by the lighting, giving the overall feel of never being alone, especially in the dark.
The décor of the catacombs is also intriguing. While the upper levels of the opera house are decorated in the feminine, the insidious underbelly is decidedly masculine. The supporting columns are caryatid, but in the masculine form, which brings to mind the psychological idea that men are the cornerstone of society.
The lighting also is a key element in the mood. This is a dark, brooding movie with a sinister line in even the happiest of scenes. The danger is palpable because of the lighting. The head of the lighting department chose to use a natural lighting method. While critics complained about visibility issues, my response would be, "What's wrong with your vision?" The vivid colors come through the darkness of the lighting, the lighting complements the actors' features, and it also makes the film feel real.
The musical score is also impressive, even when the song is just performed in rehearsal. A little known fact about this movie is that every actor/actress actually sings his/her own part, except Minnie Driver because she was not classically trained to sing the high notes of a soprano opera diva.
La Carlotta (Minnie Driver) belts out an amazing rendition of Hannibal's "Think of Me" and doesn't skip a single word; stunning really, because she enunciates the Italian accent quite fluidly. Emmy Rossum (Christine Daae) plays the helpless heroine who is seduced by the Phantom. At times her lip synching is a tad off, but other than that, she is spectacular. She is also very talented at conveying Christine's emotions. Patrick Wilson (Vicomte de Chagny) played his role in a convincing manner. Unfortunately, his role was over-powered by Gerard Butler's character. The explanation I have for this analysis is that the Vicomte de Chagny character lacks depth and is very one-dimensional compared to the Phantom; he lacks that key element of mystery that makes the Phantom irresistible.
Gerard Butler is a moving, seductive, sensuous Phantom; he adds panache to the role of the eccentric, homicidal recluse. He also portrays the emotion of the character brilliantly; in every scene you can read the feelings in his eyes. Many times the Phantom refers to himself as the angel forced to live in hell. Because of his malformations, he is forced to live away from everything and everyone. In the song, "The Music of the Night," he says that the light of day is garish. This paints a picture of what it is to be away from everything. The Phantom lost touch with reality in his seclusion. Fundamentally, this movie is about his obsession, blood lust, and overall psychosis.
When the Phantom first takes Christine down to his lair, there are two things that immediately become apparent. First and foremost, the theme song of the movie sounds like it has come straight out of a '80s sci-fi movie, thus adding a little comedic relief. Second, the feeling of "otherworldliness" that is conveyed by the light sources in the catacombs adds even more magic to the appeal of the movie.
I could go on and on about the different things that make this movie magical, charming, and at times cliché. The novel, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, was written by Gaston Leroux in 1909, and made into several movies, as well as television shows. Then it became a Broadway Play (by Andrew Lloyd Webber), and ultimately, it was transformed into this stunning movie.
Critics have complained that this film is not as good as the play, lacks depth, character, and general originality. I counter this idea with the simple logic that this movie is an adaptation of a play that was an adaptation of a book, there can't be much more originality in the story line. While it is understood that this is not, perhaps, as good as the play; one must take into consideration that it is not the play, but a movie instead. It is a different expression of the same story.
Moreover, perhaps this movie contains more depth, character, and feeling than can be noticed by a satirical eye. Webber chose this director and his choice should be respected.
Andrew Lloyd Webber comments, "The film looks and sounds fabulous and I think it's an extraordinarily fine document of the stage show. While it doesn't deviate much from the stage material, the film has given it an even deeper emotional center. It's not based on the theatre visually or direction-wise, but it's still got exactly the same essence. And that's all I could have ever hoped for." (Phantom)
In short, this movie is not for those with short attention spans, who cannot sit and take in every detail. The Phantom of the Opera is designed for someone that can appreciate the gaudiness, the opulence, the clichés, and the charming manner in which this movie is presented.
Phantom, Notes. The Phantom of the Opera. n.d. 22 October 2011 http://phantomthemovie.warnerbros.com/notes.html>.