The Phantom of the Opera (1990)

     directed by Tony Richardson

          starring Charles Dance, Teri Polo, and Adam Storke

My relationship with this film was off to a rocky start quite literally out of the box. I'm trying to do my best to penny-pinch in this project, since there's so very much material to find/buy/cover, so in this particular case I had bought the Korean import DVD because it was less expensive. Of course, this means I can't read anything on the cover, but that's what IMDB is for, right? The cover certainly has the looming visage of Charles Dance on it, but when I opened it up to put it in the player, imagine my consternation to discover that the inside insert and disc art were actually those of the Rosen/Schierhorn musical DVD. I was very upset, especially since I already shelled out for that show and I didn't need two copies. With a heavy, sinking heart, I put it in the player to make sure, and what should greet me at the menu screen but the logos for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical version. And then, after all that misdirection and confusion, it turned out that the film on the disc really was the Richardson/Dance movie after all.

 

This is what I get for buying things I can't even read.

 

First of all, the sets for this piece are absolutely gorgeous, primarily because they aren't sets at all; this is the first film I've watched that was shot almost entirely on location at the Paris opera house, the Palais Garnier (there are a few exceptions, most notably the Phantom's underground lagoon and the boxes in the audience, but 95% of the filming is the opera house itself). The wide shots, particularly those of the house from the stage, are stunning, and the gorgeous statuary and architecture are showcased well, especially during the credits. Unsurprisingly, special attention is paid to filming the mask-like faces that line the tops of some eaves, and the broken angel statues that march along some walls.

 

It should be noted that this is a very different version of the Phantom story, plotwise, than pretty much all other retreads. It is based on a musical by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston (which has its own review over here), which was written at almost the exact same time as Lloyd Webber's. Seeing as Lloyd Webber's was becoming a sensation, the Kopit/Yeston musical was shelved until it was realized that it was different enough in plot and direction to be a stand-alone piece, and this film was subsequently adapted from it, making the film version actually come out before the musical it was based on. Be warned: it's not going to be entirely the story that most of us know.

 

All of the characters are basically, fundamentally changed, beginning with Christine. She is a sweet, innocent country waif, who after a chance encounter with the Count de Chagny (mixing of English and French terminology, I know, but they probably felt "count" was easier for English-speaking audiences to grasp) is sent to the Paris opera house to ask for singing lessons. The background plays up her innocence and the fact that she is uncomfortable in the alien, worldly atmosphere of the opera house, but also robs her of a lot of her initial power as a character, as she has no musical background beyond her father's playing and is highly timid and frightened by the prospect of performing. Unlike the Christine of Leroux's novel, this woman does not change too much over the course of the film; she experiences little spiritual growth, seeing as she has already begun at what is basically a pinnacle of innocence and tolerant perfection (even more so than the original character did), and the changes to the plot don't require her to take the lead role in saving everyone's butts the way her forbear had to. This will become a recurring problem for more than just Christine as the film wears on.

 

Raoul - or rather, not Raoul, bear with me for a moment - is also a very different character. We hear about him long before we ever meet him, and it's a little bit concerting to discover that he's apparently something of a rake, tomcatting around with any number of girls and apparently having made the rounds through every chorus girl at the opera house (in short, when combined with his eventual "redemption" at Christine's hands, he's a traditional romance novel hero). This is obviously a huge change from Leroux's original conception of the character; Raoul, as the representation of childhood innocence and safe, comforting love, was almost entirely non-sexual in order to foster that feeling of security.

 

Additionally, he's not Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny anymore; this version has him as Philippe, the Count de Chagny, which is confusing since Philippe was Raoul's older brother in Leroux's novel. I can't quite come up with a justification for that change, unless it's that Philippe's character in the novel was much closer to the character set up here than Raoul's was (Philippe wasn't exactly a roving wench-bedder, but he did have a confirmed mistress in La Sorelli and a fairly typical derisive opinion of opera ladies in general). But why make it a love story between Philippe and Christine instead of Raoul and Christine? I think we have to assume that the character is intended to BE Raoul (and he will become more Raoul-like later on in the story), but is NAMED Philippe for some bizarre reason. (Although I know there have to be some rare Philippe/Christine shippers out there, so don't let me rain on your parade.)

 

So, anyway, Philippe and his mysterious identity aside, we have a slight change in the opera house's general running scheme. In this case, the former manager, Carriere, has been fired after thirty years of service by the new owner, Cholet, who is taking over the managing himself. Carlotta is in this version his wife, and appears to be of indeterminate ethnicity (though her husband has a rather outrageous Italian accent), though she does have the same red hair that was so popularized in previous film and stage versions. Carlotta is also the reigning soprano, and the added dimension of nepotism that is added to her status as the manager's wife is a plausible explanation for the favoritism shown toward her.

 

Unlike most later versions of Carlotta, she doesn't have the best voice; she certainly has quite a lot of technique and a powerful instrument, but Helia T'Hezan, the French soprano who dubs over Andrea Ferreol, is intentionally flubbing and over-dramatizing in order to convey a certain lack of true talent. T'Hezan is perfectly capable of sounding bang-up excellent, and even though her voice still doesn't sound nearly bad enough to me to be classified as "not being able to sing", she still does a great job of managing to sound like she's passable but not in the same league as Christine, which is a hard balance to strike (but essential for the believability of the piece).

 

Buquet gets a character face-lift in this as well, being here upgraded from stagehand to Carlotta's personal costumer (a post Christine will take over later in the film). Like all versions of Buquet, he is tragically short-lived, though through no fault of his own; counter to the original Buquet's fate being a response to his loose lips regarding the Phantom's doings, this one is bullied by Carlotta into descending into the Phantom's domain to take inventory of the props and is summarily killed for trespassing. Interestingly, Buquet is not hung as he is in most versions, but is so terrified by the Phantom's appearance that he topples off a catwalk to his death; this violence-free method makes Buquet's death an accident instead of a murder and absolves the Phantom of any real blame for Buquet's demise, which will become important later since this particular Phantom, like the title character in the 1962 film, is a tragic hero rather than an object of terror.

 

The Phantom certainly is meant to be a sympathetic and heroic figure here, but Richardson nevertheless does an amazing job at the beginning of playing him up as a ghostly, supernatural figure. Prior to actually encountering Erik, the opera house is convincingly and entertainingly haunted; statues rotate to follow Cholet with their empty eyes, while paintings and busts fall off the walls unprovoked as if affected by a poltergeist. The Phantom's ghostly voice also whispers in peoples' ears, which has an extremely spooky and telepathic effect (the fact that this is never explained actually adds quite a bit to the overall feel of things; a viewer who has read Leroux's novel and understands that this is accomplished via ventriloquism can enjoy the faithfulness to the source material just as much as a viewer who hasn't can enjoy the "supernatural" abilities of the Phantom). Carriere plays the idea of the ghost up to Cholet, telling him about the old Communard torture chambers beneath the opera house (popular rumor, though there were definitely storage areas and prisons down there during the siege of Paris) and generally trying to scare the shit out of him. It does a good job of sending a little chill up the audience's spine; I wouldn't want to be in an opera house in which things flew around without being touched. Cholet, who is overblown but not entirely stupid, assumes that Carriere is playing an unkind trick on him, and this turns out to be truer than one would generally suspect.

 

Our first moment of thunderstruck confusion comes when Carriere calls out to Erik by name. As an audience, this is confusing because we've just heard all about how creepy and ghostly he is, and poltergeisty ghosts generally aren't called by name. Furthermore, it's confusing from a perspective of analyzing the changes in the story, because the only characters to learn Erik's name in the original novel were the daroga and Christine (and Raoul by extension). Leroux's original version of Erik wasn't, as a rule, very sociable. Better yet, however, we soon discover that he's actually an accomplice of sorts with the Phantom, when he turns up having a conversation - nay, an argument! - in the Phantom's underground. Carriere, with his knowledge of Erik's origin and movements, fulfills the role of the ddaroga from Leroux's original novel, the most notable difference being that he is present from beginning to end (much like Webber's version of Madame Giry, in fact, who is also a substitute for the daroga).

 

Despite all the supernatural clap-trap that was set up for us at the beginning, Dance's Phantom is a very human figure. There is absolutely no doubt that he is a wholly mortal man: he has a plausible (albeit unusual) human backstory, totally human motivations and needs, and a penchant for arguing with Carriere as though they were equals, something that has not been seen in previous versions (all of which have conceived of the Phantom as something set slightly higher than a normal man, either because of a supernatural component or because of his genius). While Carriere earlier drove home the idea of the undergrounds of the opera house as the Phantom's "domain", an inviolate kingdom with only one authority, this idea (which is directly pulled from Leroux's original novel) is damaged by the fact that Erik and Carriere argue so readily, and destroyed by the fact that Carriere actually manages to wield some influence over Erik, convincing him of a course of action, making him apologize, and keeping his own secrets from the underground lurker, again something that has not been done in previous versions (as it changes Erik's character, making him more of a fugitive in the cellars, rather than the ruler of a separate demesne.)

 

The facts that the Erik not only appeals to Carriere for help in deciding how to deal with his problems, but actually apologizes to him for his ghoulish sense of humor, give the Phantom a very unprecedented sense of subordination; he seems to react almost like a chastened child, which is something that definitely has never been visited in any version of the adult Erik. This Phantom is also very logical and gentlemanly, and shows strong evidence of having a conscience, all of which are at odds with the original conception as a psychologically unstable genius with a dangerous heedlessness of others; the change robs the character of much of his mystique and power, but also makes him much more relatable and sympathetic for the audience.

 

There's quite a bit of humor in this version of the story, mostly expressed through the occasionally quirky quips of Erik and Carriere (for example, Erik jokes about his condemnation to the cellars, treating it as a subject for humor rather than a vehicle for angst). While most versions tend to approach the story as a very dramatic animal, whether in a romantic or a horrific vein, this one has an element of fun that, while subtle and infrequent, is nonetheless interesting. Kopit has stated that his musical upon which this was based was being written at the same time that Hill's musical production, which abounds with tongue-in-cheek humor, was playing in London, so it's not too much of a stretch to theorize that he may have borrowed a leaf from Hill's playbook.

 

I was a little bit confused when Erik asked Carriere who the Count de Chagny was, however. Even living in the cellars, you'd think he'd have a general idea who the count was, considering that he happens to be both an extremely important contributing patron of the opera and, well, aristocracy. This question was later put into even more suspicious light when Erik talks to Christine about Philippe's behavior at the opera house in previous years; there may have been intended to be some kind of mind-games going on here between either Erik and Carriere or Erik and Christine, but I'm at a loss as to what it is. It seems more like a scripting error (well, not an error, but a slightly transparent bid to bring Philippe into the conversation).

 

There's an old gentleman named Jean-Claude, whose exact function I couldn't quite pin down but who seems to be sort of a doorman-cum-groundskeeper-cum-bellhop-cum-assistant to everyone in the building. He takes over the role that was filled by Madame Giry in Leroux's original novel, warning others of the Phantom's reality and mischief and cheerfully stymieing the machinations of the new managers whenever he feels they are overstepping their bounds. Entertainingly enough, the actual Mrs. Giry as boxkeeper does appear in one scene in which she has no lines and is bullied into opening the box for other patrons, but she never returns and is not named.

 

Christine's introduction into the world of the opera house is a bit too easy and pat for me: she is taken on as Carlotta's costuming assistant after Buquet has conveniently kicked the buquet (ha ha!) and Carlotta has been reminded that Philippe's patronage is not to be trifled with, and then Jean-Claude lets her go ahead and live beneath the opera house out of the goodness of his heart, despite the fact that this is strictly forbidden and he has no assurances that she won't simply steal everything she sees and take off. This was all a bit too much of a stretch for me, and while, again, I hesitate to attribute anything here to borrowing from the Lloyd Webber musical (which was supposedly written in almost parallel time to this piece), it's hard to ignore the fact that that's the only previous version of the story that has hinted that Christine actually lived at the opera house, as opposed to in a house or garret somewhere in Paris (with Mama Valerius! Anyone remember her?). Especially since Christine is being presented to us here as a completely ignorant peasant girl from out in the boonies, the lack of class friction (from everyone except for Carlotta, but that seems less a desire for realism and more a desire to portray Carlotta as a bad person) is confusing. Pretty much the only antipathy Christine encounters is from the other opera girls, who are jealous of the attention Philippe lavishes on her, and from Carlotta, who is generally a pain in everyone's collective ass.

 

Richardson has a lot of fun over the course of the film with the Phantom's mask; specifically, he loves tricking us by making us think that we're about to have a surprise unmasking of the Phantom's deformity sprung upon us without warning. More than once, the Phantom reaches up and whips off his mask, and a second later everyone lets out their breath when they realize that he's actually wearing a second mask underneath that one. When he does actually unmask entirely (or we see flashbacks in which he is not masked), the camera adroitly avoids giving us a clear shot of his face, always lingering on the back of his head or ending up maddeningly blocked by a piece of scenery or another character. While I thought this was fun and clever the first couple of times, by about three quarters of the way through the film I had become anxious about it; the repeated rush of adrenaline followed by disappointed curiosity was building up to such a pitch that I started to seriously worry about the deformity makeup. The buildup was so severe that I was worried that the deformity wouldn't be able to back it up and would be a letdown.

 

Teri Polo is not actually singing here - the singer is Michele Lagrange, a French opera singer who actually performed much of her career at the Paris Opera - but she certainly does the best damn job of lip-syncing that I've seen in any film version yet. She breathes convincingly in all the right places and there's never any disconnect between the soundtrack and what her mouth is doing. Lagrange can only do so good a job of sounding totally untrained at the beginning (nobody sings like that without training), but there is definitely a marked improvement after she accepts the Phantom's tutelage.

 

As the film wore on (all two and a half hours of it, which was really more like four because I kept pausing and writing notes... stupid miniseries length), I found myself wishing that more use had been made of enhancing background music. There are extremely long periods of silence in the film, and while silence can be a very effective tool in storytelling, particularly in suspense and emotional moments, it seemed overdone here to the point of losing much of its efficacy. I wanted more audible clues or subtle influences on the audience, and they seemed absent for much of the film. Pacing also drags somewhat - not in every scene, but in several, most notably the scene in which the Phantom confronts Christine on the stage and offers his services as a teacher, things seem to drag on for just a hair longer than necessary, causing me to lose interest.

 

Various small questions plagued me throughout the first opera rehearsals: for example, why the Phantom insists on wearing a funky, shiny silver mask for some reason (not feeling dashing enough in your boring skin-colored mask, Erik? Playing dress-up?), and whether or not the copious public displays of affection between Cholet and Carlotta were anachronistic. I got all excited when it appeared that Christine might be developing a wee little crush on the actor playing Mephisto, but then it was dropped and never revisited, much to my disappointment.

 

When Richardson does remember to make use of his background score, however, it is generally to good effect. The ominous foreshadowing, in particular, is appreciably subtle; light strings and flutes give it a very nervous air, and are more fitting for a less brutal, more non-traditional Phantom.

 

In a huge change from Leroux's original Phantom, Dance's version of the character walks right up to Christine and introduces himself, offering to tutor her voice. Not only does this completely excise the "Angel of Music" deception that is originally so central to Christine's relationship with Erik, but it also establishes two very important characteristics for the Phantom himself: 1) that this version is apparently much more comfortable with interacting directly with people than Leroux's original, who allowed conversation only extremely rarely and with certain select parties, and 2) that he is a supplicant asking for Christine's permission to teach, not a powerful authority figure as in the original novel.

 

This works well in context,as part of Richardson's continuing crusade to humanize Phantom, though there is an unfortunate undertone (at least, to me) of sexual bartering which is not pursued past this scene. Erik clearly wants Christine, but he's very gentlemanly about never asking her for anything; again, extremely humanized. Amusingly, he allows Christine to believe that he wears the mask in order to conceal his identity, rather than admitting to his deformity; the lie (or, at least, the omission of truth) suggests a Phantom who is desperate to conceal his true nature from Christine, at odds with the original Erik's desire to be "loved for himself".

 

Carlotta's debut in Bellini's Norma is actually, again, not half bad; the heavy role suits T'Hezan's equally heavy voice, and I found myself wondering what everyone was making such a fuss over when they said she couldn't sing. Certainly her acting and presentation were dramatically overblown, but vocally I couldn't find that much to complain about (things could have been better, of course, but even with the scooping and sliding that she was doing to make things sound more ridiculous it's obvious she's a powerhouse). I would have liked a more plausible "suck factor", since the excuse of nepotism is a nice, ready-made excuse for a bad singer to be center stage in this large a venue. Her lip-syncing was slightly off, but not so noticeably that I was irked by it for more than a second or so. The tricks the Phantom plays on Carlotta to damage her performances are relatively minor and petty - seeding her wigs with lice and fleas, gluing her props together, etc. - and reinforce his image as an essentially okay guy who, while he might harass her out of offended sensibilities, will not actually hurt her any.

 

In a move that pays direct homage to the Julian/Chaney film, the chief police inspector that Cholet spends most of his time harassing for results is named Ledoux, the same name as the Secret Police officer who replaced the daroga in the 1925 movie. Ledoux isn't in the daroga's role this time, since Carriere has taken that over, but it's fun to see that little reference thrown in there.

 

The big conflict between Christine's feelings for Philippe and her feelings for Erik is pretty succinctly summed up by the Phantom himself during their lessons; he says that Philippe comes to the opera for the women and the social status, rather than for the love of the music itself. Music is paramount for Erik in terms of emotion, and the line here is clearly drawn for Christine, between the pleasures of a social, enjoyable love with Philippe or a withdrawn, but artistic and passionate, love with Erik. This Christine is by far the most conflicted between these choices of any previous film version, due in large part to the fact that Erik is made such a sympathetic character that her choice is effectively between a society man who loves her and another a reclusive man who loves her, instead of between a society man who loves her and a frightening, violent killer who loves her.

 

The discovery of Buquet's body, which Erik plants in order to scare the pants off of Cholet and encourage him to stop being so uncooperative, is high camp at its most entertaining. Cholet actually shrieks and backs into a wall, remaining there like a quivery, whimpering mannequin until the inspector rushes in (only to find the body gone, of course). It's all very silly, of course, but it also helps give the Phantom that extra supernatural enhancement again, as even we in the audience are hard-pressed to figure out how he managed to disappear the corpse so quickly. While we know as the audience that all of these things are managed using less-than-magical means, this is by far the best film version for illustrating the Phantom's ghostly grip on the opera house and the minds of its inhabitants; we can see why they believe, which makes his unmolested existence in the vaults below far more plausible.

 

The Phantom, curiously enough, decides to send Christine on a date with Philippe, because the event will offer her the opportunity to perform and make herself known to the opera elite. We can't help but feel sorry for the poor dude; he knows that Christine has some feelings for Philippe, but he sends her off anyway in order to advance her career. In putting Christine's career chances ahead of his own romantic desires, again, we are deliberately impressed by Erik's self-sacrificing niceness. He's so very, very nice. He cannot, however, resist staking his claim to her in the subtlest of manners before she leaves; he gives her a dress to wear, and laces up the corset for her himself. The intimacy of such an action would have been almost unheard of between unwedded couples, and several other factors (Christine's hair having been let down and the soft, intimate lighting, for example) give the scene an extremely sensual quality. Richardson cleverly splices in shots from the parallel scene going on in the bistro, and the bustle and raucous merry-making of the crowd make the pregnant silence and slow, sensual shots of Erik's fingers pulling at her laces all the more pronounced in their eroticism. Here, again, is a moment of clear delineation between Christine's choices: she is torn between the bright, colorful world of Philippe's gaiety and the dark, silent sensualism of Erik's realm.

 

The vocal "battle" between Christine and Carlotta is absolutely delightful; Christine's voice, which really is lovely by this point, lacks Carlotta's power but bests her in technique, while Carlotta clearly has talent but is unable to achieve the same qualities of pleasantness that Christine has. Having them sing side by side is a stroke of genius from Richardson, and allows us in the audience to weigh their relative merits and choose Christine as the winner without being railroaded into it by sloppy characterization or blatant attempts to discredit Carlotta purely for the plot's sake. The scene achieves exactly the right musical balance, and is one of my favorites in the film. Erik, who is listening outside the window, is also handled well; the alternating shots of the warmly colored interior of the bistro and the cold, dark evening in which the Phantom is lurking continue the visual dichotomy that was set up in the previous scene. The comparison also nicely emphasizes the Phantom's state as someone doomed to solitary emotion instead of fellowship.

 

And then there's a can-can with lots of bloomers and wiggling bottoms, and Philippe and Christine wisely leave before the entire place decides to switch to Club Shenanigans After Dark.

 

The interlude in which Christine and Philippe (seriously, do you have any idea how many times in this review I've typed "Raoul" and then had to go back and fix it? It's driving me absolutely bonkers) affirm their budding love is one of great character growth for both. For Christine, it is a blossoming; she is coming somewhat out of her shell of shy fear, which has been her trademark for most of the film so far, and becoming visibly happier and more carefree as we watch, qualities that clue us in that she is definitely positively influenced by Philippe's presence. Philippe himself is, interestingly, stealing the Phantom's thunder a bit; he is being essentially redeemed (from his philandering, no-good ways) by Christine's love and entering a kind of second childhood, wherein he rediscovers the delights of innocent, unconditional love.

 

There does turn out to be a childhood love between the two of them after all, though Philippe doesn't actually remember it until Christine reminds him; the childhood link helps explain to us why Philippe suffers such an abrupt emotional about-face when it comes to Christine, and elicits a great deal of sentimentality for the innocent, pure nature of their relationship (which, of course, highlights the difference between this relationship and Philippe's previous flings). While the presentation of it all is pretty hilariously overdramatic (I particularly enjoyed when Christine told him and he said, "Christine... oh, my god!", and all I could think of was his internal monologue saying, "Holy shit, you were my MAID? Error! Error!"), especially near the end when Christine and her father are turned out into the cold and there's the classic children reaching desperately for one another through iron bars, crying, "Noooooo!" like separated lovers, it gets the point across despite its occasional slips of logic (where did a country maid learn to play piano? Maybe Papa Daae has a portable piano in his violin case, too). We understand that Christine represents innocence and pure love, and that Philippe falls in love with her and rejects the inferior delights of the carnal shenanigans he's been involved in. Entertainingly, Philippe is here making the same choice that Christine is traditionally faced with, going all the way back to Leroux's original novel: faced with the choice between innocent, pure childhood love and the sexual, somewhat frightening love of adulthood, he chooses to remain (or in his case, return to being) a child.

 

Carlotta is making trouble back at the opera house during all of this, as she's feeling unsurprisingly threatened by Christine's sudden catapult to stardom. I was baffled that she apparently knew that Christine was living in the opera house; who told her that? When? Didn't Jean-Claude say not to tell anyone because he might get fired and because it was essentially trespassing? But, somehow, she knows, because it is essential to the plot that she bother Christine some here. My annoyance at this thinly-disguised contrivance was somewhat mitigated by my favorite line of the film, uttered when Carlotta is arguing with her husband over where Christine's training had come from; when he suggests that she might just be naturally talented, Carlotta snaps scathingly, "No one can sing bel canto without lessons. God doesn't allow it."

 

As a side note, it's interesting to see that Richardson has chosen to give Philippe some musical talent of his own; in his childhood flashbacks, we see him playing piano with Christine and later playing a recorder of his own. Not only does this offer his oft-professed enjoyment of the opera a plausibility beyond his desire to socialize, but it also adds a dimension of empathy between him and Christine that goes beyond Raoul's in the original novel. His musical talent and insight, small though it might be, allows him to be involved in or appreciate Christine's musical talent to some extent, which makes him a more sympathetic, "appropriate" mate for her for those audiences that might consider a non-musical soldier clod like the original character to be incapable of really sharing in her passions. While it does make the relationship between them a little bit stronger, it also hurts the comparison between Erik and Philippe; where Erik's musicality was originally representative of passion and a certain transcendent sensuality that Raoul was lacking, Christine's choice is now between two men who can appreciate her musical talent, even if one is clearly not comparable to the other in terms of ability.

 

Being the silly, flighty little thing that she is (which is odd, because she's been pretty responsible and shyly thoughtful so far - must be Philippe rubbing off on her), Christine stays out too late and has to rush back to the opera house when she realizes that she's late for her lesson with Erik. Philippe, like the original Raoul, immediately descends into moping, pouting, and generally throwing jealous tantrums, none of which behaviors are helped by the fact that Christine refuses to tell him who she's rushing to in such a hurry. Of course, Erik isn't there when she shows up, being elsewhere moping over the fact that he just sent his twoo wuv off to make kissy-face with his arch-rival, but Christine's distress and devotion to the Phantom are obvious when she collapses on his piano in tears. Polo does an excellent job of giving us small cues that let us know that her heart isn't completely sold on Philippe, or at least that she hasn't decided to give up the Phantom for him yet; her hands stroking the piano in her extremity, in particular, are quite sensual and effective, as is her apparent obliviousness to them.

 

Interestingly, when Erik first questions Christine about her previous evening, she lies and tells him that she was out with Carlotta; the untruth is illuminating because it reveals that Christine feels guilty for having abandoned the Phantom for her beau, but also that she is unwilling to hurt his feelings by telling him about it. She is aware at some level that Erik is at least infatuated with her, if not actually in love, and so she is motivated to tread lightly around the subject of Philippe. Of course, Dance's version of Erik is much too nice a guy to get angry at her even though he is perfectly aware that she's lying, so he just suffers in wounded silence until she breaks down and confesses (which confession also reveals that she is still indecisive - were she sold on the whole Philippe idea, she would have less inclination to apologize so profusely to Erik for her runaround ways). Then she rushes him for a bear hug, and I was deeply entertained to see Dance put on a credible show of simultaneously panicking and being forced to think about cold showers while his hands hovered in midair to avoid touching anything. Christine doesn't notice anything particularly unusual in this hug, which tells us that this version of the Phantom is clearly humanoid-feeling (unlike Leroux's corpse-like, grave-smelling recluse); it's not much of a surprise, since Richardson is determined to humanize Erik thoroughly in this film.

 

Unlike pretty much every previous version of the Phantom, Dance's Erik is apparently not up on his inner-wall lurking and impression of omniscience, because things are going on all the time- - ometimes even in the cellars - that he doesn't seem to know about. Along with everything else, this adds to the cumulative effect which convinces us beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a mortal, fallible Phantom (despite the bewilderingly convincing ghostly shenanigans he pulls off now and then).

 

Despite Christine's promise to Erik that she would not divulge his identity, Carlotta manages to bully her into giving away enough to pinpoint him as the Phantom. In an obvious hearkening back to the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film, Cholet and Carlotta hatch a plot with Ledoux to capture the Phantom when he shows up to hear Christine sing Marguerite in the production of Faust (Carlotta had thrown a tantrum and refused to sing earlier, which gives them a plausible reason to plunk Christine down center stage). By keeping her so intimately involved in the proceedings, Richardson is thrusting Carlotta into the role of primary antagonist; God knows the Phantom isn't much of a villain in this version, and the audience needs someone to root against.

 

So, in another move that is eerily reminiscent of Lloyd Webber's musical version (though reversed), Carlotta serves Christine a drink before the show that renders her unable to sing, making her debut a total disaster since all she can do is stand there and cry (again, reminiscent of the 1983 film and Elena's catastrophic debut). Unfortunately for Cholet's carefully laid plans, this so enrages Erik that he rushes backstage, cuts the rope that drops the chandelier so that it crashes into the audience (since Madame Giry has been removed in this version, the motive of squashing her replacement has also been removed), and then grabs Christine and absconds with her before anyone can figure out what's happening. As the first truly wicked thing we've seen Erik do, the chandelier-dropping ought to be a red flag showing off his evil side, but it really isn't; Dance plays the character as clearly so upset that he is barely aware of what he's doing, hacking away unseeingly at a rope with his sword and then fleeing with Christine for safekeeping. The effect is that the Phantom, once again, isn't really at fault for his actions - he just can't help himself after the strength of his emotional reaction overtakes him.

 

The transition from the opera house to the catacombs beneath it is especially powerful because the underground world that the Phantom inhabits has remained an unknown quantity up to this point; most pointedly, Christine has not made the connection between her music teacher and the fabled Phantom, so she has never suspected him of supernaturalism - ergo, this is an unexpected and wholly magical wonderland that she finds herself descending into (via dragon-prowed Norse boat, yet!). The lake is the only "set" used in the film, since the rest was filmed on location, but it's a lovely one, gorgeously and evocatively lit and filled with props from the opera house that lend it an otherworldly aura despite their mundane origins.

 

Erik sings the bewildered and worried Christine a little bit of a lullabye here, and I was mildly disappointed. I mean, he has a pretty voice and all, but it definitely wasn't magically entrancing or angelically transcendent. It was just a pretty nice voice.

 

While all this is going on, Ledoux is leading some policemen down into the bowels of the opera house in an attempt to capture the Phantom, a choice that is probably based on the 1983 film's police pursuit (which was in turn based on the 1925 film's mob chase). We finally get a hanging, which was the original Phantom's trademark method of execution (it's not for Dance's Phantom, however; this is the only time we'll see it, and we won't actually see it happen; there's no mention of the Punjab lasso), the victim of which is an unfortunate police officer (which is reminiscent of the demises of the police officers in both the 1983 and the 1989 films). This is the only actual murder that the Phantom perpetrates in the entire film, but we don't see him at all connected with it; the policeman just turns up hung in the cellar, and everyone makes a dash back upstairs (another policeman dies when, so surprised by the hanged man, he falls into some machinery, but that can't really be attributed to Erik). By leaving the Phantom completely out of the scene and just letting his guilt be implied, Richardson keeps him from being viewed as a murderer on that visceral level, most likely to try to keep treating the character as a tragic hero. Of course, he is still at fault, having set that trap in the first place, but the audience doesn't get the visual connection between the two.

 

Christine, upon waking and finding herself in Erik's unfamiliar house, proceeds to contract Illogical Plot Device disease. First she puts on a dress she finds in the house (why? I could not tell you. She just felt it was the thing to do at the time), and then goes wandering through it touching everything while her host is out. It's in this part of the film that I begin to become very confused as to chronology and influences. There are paintings of Christine all over Erik's house, which is confusing enough (when did Erik become a painter?), but there's also a cradle with a headless doll in it. Aside from the creepiness factor of that, did anyone else just get hit between the eyes by the hammer of Susan Kay influence? Even if we ignore the doll in the cradle (which is strongly reminiscent of the doll that Erik tricked his mother into believing was a living baby in Susan Kay's Phantom), we later discover that Christine looks and sounds exactly like Erik's mother, which may be one of the reasons he's so taken with her - and which was an extremely central point to his relationship with her in Kay's novel.

 

No version previous to Kay's included that idea that Christine was somehow related to or reminiscent of Erik's mother, but I'm given pause by the fact that Kay's novel was published the same year this miniseries aired; additionally, Kopit claims that he had written the script upon which this miniseries was based several years previous to filming. So it seems impossible that Kay's novel could have influenced this version - but if it didn't, what are the odds that they'd both come up with the exact same concept for Erik's relationship with Christine? Is it possible that Kay could have been influenced by the miniseries, instead (it came out in March of 1990, and her novel was published at the end of the year)? Certainly, Kay does not mention it with the other films in her acknowledgments. Or is it possible that they both coincidentally came up with the same idea at the same time, as a response to the themes of Leroux's original novel (specifically, that Christine functions as a mother figure for Erik as well as a love interest, and that there are no other mother figures in the novel besides the removed-in-this-version Madame Giry)?

 

While Christine is wandering around in his house, Erik is having a heated argument with Carriere, who is once again fulfilling the role of the daroga from Leroux's original novel (many of his lines here, such as, "Erik, you must send her back," are directly borrowed from Leroux's text). This Phantom has a very interestingly inverted view of the world: he informs Carriere that his realm is not hell, that "...that up there is where hell is," and thus refuses to send Christine there. I can't help feeling that Dance's Phantom is really chill about his fate. He sounds cranky about it a few times, true, but not nearly to the extent of Leroux's Erik, who knew himself to be condemned to an underworld and barred from an upper world that he considered, if not entirely divine, at least a little bit heavenly.

 

By the way, those wishing for Carlotta's demise will be only slightly appeased. This Phantom is way too nice to go about killing women (or at least, Richardson clearly doesn't feel that the idea would allow for the character to remain sympathetic), so instead he tells her off and then dumps a trunk full of rats on her, causing her to become hysterical and spend the rest of her screen time screaming, shrieking, or singing inanely while she waltzes around or cowers in the extremity of a psychotic break. It annoyed me, frankly; it was a moment of blatant fanservice provided just to "punish" Carlotta, largely for being in the way of the main characters, and it was both uncreative and unnecessary.

 

During Carriere's and Erik's conversation, we see him carting around the barrels of gunpowder for the blowing up of the opera house, an unexpected return to Leroux's original plot; no other film version, with the exception of the 1925 Julian/Chaney, has included any part of that scene (though this version does stop short of including the scorpion and grasshopper, unfortunately, because forcing Christine to make a choice in that manner is outside the scope of this gentler, kinder Phantom). One of the most revealing lines of the entire film for Erik is here, where he tells Carriere that, "I was born so that she could save me," his voice full of wondering joy at having finally discovered this purpose to his life. The statement is extremely telling; Erik is, as a much more human character, seeking meaning for his life and for the trials that he has endured, which makes him fundamentally different from Leroux's character (who knew, bitterly, that he was living as a cruel joke from God and that there was no purpose to his life). It's also a nice reversal from the idea of Christine being born to serve as the Phantom's redemption that we often see in later media - here, the Phantom says he was born to give Christine the opportunity to save him, making him the character who provides a vehicle for her growth.

 

Erik orders Carriere to leave the catacombs and never come back, but while the Phantom's off securing his realm, Carriere breaks into his house anyway in a misguided attempt to rescue Christine. In another departure from pretty much every other version of the story ever, Christine doesn't want to go anywhere (even though she was just kidnapped by a weirdo and left in an unfamiliar bed miles underground; remember, this is Kinder Gentler Phantom, and she trusts him), so Carriere is forced to stop and give us a big heaping dollop of background on the Phantom in his attempts to convince her that she isn't safe down here. Some of his assertions seem groundless, for example his insistence to Christine that "[Erik] doesn't understand your world"; I've seen no convincing evidence of that, since Erik does a great job of being a member of humanity in this film.

 

More interesting is the flashback, in which it is revealed that Carriere is actually Erik's father (not super surprising, but still neat). While this doesn't exactly come as a shock in light of the way he's been behaving throughout the film, this is nevertheless the first film retelling to give Erik a real and present father figure, which he of course lacks in the original novel (in which God really plays the role of the distant and unloving father). The storytelling style here is somewhat stilted and hokey; blurring lenses lead us into flashbacks, which are constantly narrated by Carriere. The upshot of it all is that Erik's mother, who thought he was cute as a button and had no problem with his deformity, died when he was three years old and left him with Carriere, who couldn't bear to look at him but has nevertheless raised him from afar for all these years. Erik, naturally, was never told and apparently believes Carriere to be an uncle or something, for reasons of Dramatic Storytelling. It's also revealed that Erik has been de facto running the opera house for the past decade or so, which calls Lloyd Webber's version of the Phantom more to mind than Leroux's. Despite all this exposition and reasonable cajoling, Christine refuses to leave, saying that Erik deserves for her to say goodbye and explain herself, and Carriere is forced to return to the surface without her.

 

Upon Erik's return, he decides to take Christine on a picnic, which is bizarre, to say the least. In the most obvious (indeed, pretty much the only) sign of mental instability we've seen out of the Phantom so far, he takes her to his underground forest, which he has created himself to ape the real world above. The trees and sunlight are all fake, of course, created with props and lights and pieces of theatre stock, and the stuffed deer and birds he has dotting the landscape are downright creepy. This is the part of the film where Christine would normally unmask the Phantom and there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but since the dynamic between them has been so fundamentally changed from Leroux's original (by Erik's surprising and continual humanity and by Christine's complete lack of fear of him), the sudden, violent moment of discovery is replaced here by Christine gently begging Erik to show her his face of his own volition. Of course, he refuses, but as she persists (and eventually hits him with the one-two punch with the statement, "If your mother could look on your face and love you, so can I!") he eventually takes off the mask for her.

 

And of course she promptly faints, and he promptly gets despairing and violent from the angst of it all. The most important elements of this scene are Christine's confession of love - make no mistake, this Christine loves Erik, the admission of which is a big fat change from Leroux's original and all the previous film versions - and the fact that Richardson once again doesn't show us Erik's face, leaving us to wonder what, exactly, the big deal is. My notes at this point say, "This deformity better be worth it," which pretty much sums up my feelings on how overly-hyped this buildup is getting.

 

I was frankly pretty bored by the Phantom's little tantrum downstairs. He runs around breaking things and crying. Big deal. I would have been impressed that he locked Christine in a cage, except that he didn't actually lock her in anything since she promptly opened the door and escaped. The whole thing was more juvenile than frightening, and since Dance's Phantom hasn't been set up to be scary in the least, Richardson's attempt to make us worry about Christine fell regrettably flat. The scene does better as an example of Erik's inability to process emotion and almost childlike regression to lashing out.

 

Philippe, who has been freaking out this whole time over Christine's kidnapping (and who also, incidentally, is a dead ringer for Ashton Kutcher with long hair - how weird is that?) immediately whisks her off to take care of her, after a short, fatherly talk with Carriere (Carriere, as the appointed father figure of the film, is not only Erik's real father but also the effective father figure for both Philippe, who doesn't have the older brother he had in the novel, and Christine, whose relationship with the Phantom has had that component almost completely removed in order to prevent the squicky incest angle from annoying viewers) in which he declares that he's willing to give up his philandering ways for her because he really, truly loves her. Christine reacts to this sacrifice for love by immediately raving about how much she regrets her actions, how she can't believe she left Erik like that, and by calling the Phantom "love" repeatedly in her delusional fervor. Ouch, man. Philippe tries to tough it out, but he eventually has to leave the room to avoid breaking down or becoming incensed by her behavior, and I can't really blame him; this scene, and most of the rest of the film, establish him as a good man who is, ultimately, second best to Erik, who is a better man.

 

In case things weren't melodramatic enough yet, Erik begins dying of a broken heart in his vaults under the opera (apparently, broken hearts make you cough a lot for dramatic effect). Christine sees this in a dream (seriously?) and demands Philippe help her with increasing levels of hysteria until he gives in (only after she promises she won't go back underground, however, because Philippe is a sensible person). Her plan involves convincing Cholet to let her sing Faust again, because Erik will hear it in his lair and understand that she's singing it just for him because she loves him (yes, she says this right to Philippe's face; he takes it surprisingly well). Cholet allows this because he figures that he can fill the building with police again, and catch the Phantom if he shows up personally to hear Christine sing.

 

We digress from the opera shenanigans so that Carriere and Erik can have a tearful, dramatic scene below the opera house, in which Erik tells us all about how he's at peace and he's philosophically letting Christine go (even though he never did actually let her go, since she escaped his attempts to hold onto her), and Carriere finally tells Erik that he's his father (which he already knew, because the evidence was pretty impressive). The whole thing was a bit overdone, though it did include another moment of pretty entertaining humor, when after Carriere tells Erik that his mother thought his face was beautiful and Erik asks him what he thought, Carriere says delicately, "Well... I thought it could be better." The scene also contains another example of Richardson teasing the audience, when Erik offers to unmask for his father but ends up not doing so. Despite the melodrama of the scene, the parts of the film in which Erik and Carriere discuss have the best, most snappily delivered and entertaining dialogue.

 

Erik sends Carriere away so that he can die alone with dignity, but of course right after that Christine starts to sing, and the sound of her voice mysteriously cures him with the power of love, and he hauls his sick, dying ass up to his normal box to listen to her sing. Christine, who apparently never took classes on subtlety, immediately turns her back on the guy playing Faust and sings the rest of the piece ("Ah! Do I Hear My Lover's Voice?", which is fittingly sung by Marguerite when Faust arrives to bust her out of prison) directly to Erik in his box, which clues in any remaining oblivious police officers that Target One is in the building. We can't lay all the blame on Christine, however, since Erik starts to sing Faust's part over the poor guy onstage, who continues to try to bust it out but is usually overwhelmed (again, shades of Lloyd Webber's musical, in which the Phantom took over the stage actor's role of Don Juan, appear). The two of them are transcendentally happy, declaring their love for one another in front of the whole world (while poor Philippe sits in the audience and looks very, very depressed).

 

Then, of course, the police open fire (they were polite enough to wait until the end of the duet, weren't they?) and the Phantom leaps onto the stage in a move borrowed straight from the 1962 Fisher/Lom film, grabs Christine, and takes off once again, this time to the roof of the opera. His choice of locale is ironic as the roof was the location of Christine's and Raoul's engagement in Leroux's novel, and things are so far from that original narrative that they might as well be unconnected stories at this point. Philippe and the police give chase and manage to corner the Phantom on the roof, but not before Erik busts out a sword (again, sword-fighting seems to be borrowed from Lloyd Webber's stage version) and almost kills Philippe by hurling him off the roof. Of course, he doesn't, because Christine asks him not to and he's such a damned nice guy, so instead he flees to the top point of the roof, where he is held at bay. Carriere arrives and glares at him, and in my favorite comedy move of the film, Erik shrugs at him. I have no idea how this happened, Dad! Sorry!

 

Since the police are trying to take Erik alive, and the Phantom had earlier made his father promise that after he died no one would put his face on display, and since Richardson made a point of showing us Carriere rushing off to retrieve a pistol earlier, it's not exactly a shock that Carriere shoots his son to prevent his being taken alive. Christine, safe with Philippe on the other side of the roof, becomes hysterical and runs to Erik's side, and everyone gets to have a nice tearful death scene (everyone except Philippe, who is still trying to be reasonable and mostly looking sad). Christine removes Erik's mask, still not letting us see his face because her head is always in the way, and gives him the kiss on the forehead that was the crux of Leroux's Phantom's happiness, and then she replaces the mask and he dies while everyone weeps. Our last shot is of Philippe marching Christine off into the sunset, and hopefully to a brighter future.

 

And the film is over, and ten thousand people suddenly shout in outrage, "Wait, we never got to see his face!"

 

That's right: Richardson has the last laugh. The Phantom's face is never revealed. I'm of two minds about this choice. On the one hand, I think it was pretty much the only choice to be made by the end of the film; the buildup and constant teasers had created a level of hype that no makeup artist could possibly have lived up to, and any unveiling after all that would have been anti-climactic and disappointing. On the other hand, an audience denied that moment of cathartic horror and pity is a cranky audience indeed. In the end, I actually disagree with the critics on this point; I think it was a valid artistic choice to exclude an actual visual view of the Phantom's face. Especially when, as is being done here, the goal is to make the Phantom a sympathetic and human character, it's much more effective to let the pity for the character come from his mistreatment at the hands of others, rather than to show the audience the hideous root cause and trust them to come up with their own reaction, which even if favorable would probably still include at least a small element of horror and/or revulsion.

 

It's interesting, when all's said and done, to realize that Philippe is the character that really achieves redemption here; Erik, who is essentially treated as doing nothing wrong, never repented, and is doomed without having ever done anything to deserve it, certainly has no fall from grace from which he can be redeemed. Philippe is redeemed from his self-destructive, shallow lifestyle into one of love and happiness with Christine, but the Phantom just gets to die, because he is a tragic hero and that's what tragic heroes do. It's both gratifying and mystifying to see the theme of redemption turned on its head this way; in the end, it left me cold, because while I appreciated including Philippe in the proceedings (it can only enhance Christine's role as divine savior, after all, if she saves both men instead of just one), I could not get past the fact that Erik was treated like he was basically innocent in all this mess. He was never redeemed because he never had any demons to overcome, and that omission completely removed the themes of man overcoming his inner monster and love conquering the most damaged, twisted of souls. It was sad that he died, yeah, and it was unfair, but it didn't mean anything, and without meaning there's no story worth remembering.

 

In the end, this is a tragedy, and has almost no elements of horror. All of the "evil" elements of the original novel have been removed, even the hideous face, and that will probably make audiences who are interested in Erik's multi-faceted personality less than excited about this adaptation. We care much less about a nice guy getting killed because of a misunderstanding than we do about a man who must struggle with his own personal demons and achieve personal redemption against all odds - two fundamentally different stories that share only a title character with nominal similarities.

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