The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

     directed by Joel Schumacher

          starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, and Patrick Wilson

The time has come. This film is probably one of the most influential workings of the Phantom story to emerge in the last decade. Whether or not that's a good thing is a topic of hot and often frothy debate. Some people think this is the worst film ever made, and some thinnk it's better than Casablanca. This film was the most undeniably polarizing descendant of the original Phantom story until the advent of the second Lloyd Webber musical in early 2010, and it still inspires a great deal of heated opinion on both sides of the fence.

 

This is, as you can probably guess from the cover's white half-mask and the inclusion of a certain composer's name all over all the credits, a film version of the 1986 Lloyd Webber musical; it follows said musical's plot almost exactly, and makes few nods to its new format, retaining a lot of the same stage effects and recitative passages. As far as surviving the transition to a new medium, it... well, it does survive, at least, but one of the greatest technical faults of this film, for me, is in relying much too heavily on its stage origins and refusing to explore most of the new freedoms that could be accomplished in film.

 

The prologue is, therefore, familiar, being set in 1919; the vintage-style film, sepia-toned black and white with artful distressing to suggest age, is effective in communicating this to us, though it wears a little thin over the course of the movie. Interestingly, the grey vintage footage is used for the present day, while the events of yesteryear are filmed in glorious technicolor; I'm reminded strongly of the 1995 Yu/Cheung film, which did the same thing, but unfortunately Schumacher's lack of variation and interaction between the two styles lacks Yu's deft and evocative touch. The idea that the events of the past are much more real and emotionally compelling is still ably presented, however, and reinforced by Raoul's internal monologues in regards to the musical box he purchases at the auction.

 

I have a few vague questions here, mostly having to do with why Raoul is in a wheelchair and why he's being attended by a nurse - if it's 1919 he's in his late fifties, but that usually wouldn't mean he couldn't walk anymore. I suppose he could have terrible gout or something, but that wouldn't explain why he looks like he's somewhere in his seventies. My other question has to do with Madame Giry, who is lurking about bidding against him for the music box; Miranda Richardson, who will also be playing Giry in the flashback, looks maybe twenty years older here tops, which is confusing since we're supposed to believe that 30+ years have gone by (and she doesn't seem to need any nurses with wheelchairs!). I think this is actually meant to be her daughter, Meg, now also in her fifties, though again she looks pretty damn aged for that and it would have been nice for someone to tell us this so we weren't confused about her apparent age-defying powers; but, on the other hand, there's really no evidence of this aside from my desire to make it make sense. It could be Meg; it could be her mother. Either way it presents a bit of a hit to my suspension of disbelief, since if it's Meg she shouldn't be so damn old-looking and if it's Madame Giry she ought to be the ancient one in the wheelchair.

 

At any rate, whichever Giry it is, she gives up bidding against Raoul and lets him win the music box; her downcast look and quiet acquiescence suggest that she may be ceding the item to him because his claim on it is greater in terms of what happened in the past (as the Phantom's impact on his life was far greater than it was on pretty much anyone else except for Christine).

 

As in the original musical, Raoul is still a vicomte, even in his old age; I presume this is because Lloyd Webber's version tends to pretend that the other de Chagnys don't exist. One has to assume Philippe or some other older relative is sitting on the higher title, or else that Raoul's family is just less important than it was in Leroux's novel.

 

One of the things that irks me most about this film is the random cutting of lines; it starts here, where Raoul's monologue loses the line, "Your velvet lining and your figurine of lead," and will continue intermittently throughout the film. I understand film time constraints and all that, but it seems odd to me to make a film based on and using a very popular musical's score, and then start randomly removing bits of it to no apparent purpose. Patrick Wilson, playing Raoul for us in this version, has a pleasant enough voice, but he doesn't pull off sounding old as well as did Steve Barton in the musical's original incarnation.

 

The transformation sequence starts from the unveiling of the chandelier, as in the stage musical, but it's one of the few things that actually works very well when transplanted to film; the idea of the revelation of the chandelier suddenly pulling the audience back into the past is a very cinematic one, and Schumacher mostly doesn't disappoint. A few things, such as the visible wave of color rolling over the previously black-and-white walls, could have been done more subtly for a more effective impact, but touches such as the gas footlights flaming to life and the sudden plunge into the world of the backstage performers really pull an audience into the scene well. This is one of my favorite introductory sequences in any Phantom film, actually - the thundering of Lloyd Webber's overture compliments the vaguely ordered chaos backstage beautifully, and Schumacher does a great job of showing us the many social strata between different performers and staff, and the fanciful behaviors and creations going on behind the scenes.

 

The only thing I don't particularly like here is the fact that the gain seems too low to me; since this is basically a long string of chaotic establishing shots with no dialogue, I would really have liked to hear that overture boom out over everything else, providing ominous foreshadowing before anything has yet happened. As it is, it's a presence, of course, but it feels too muted to be truly powerful. I'm also not sure what's up with what seems to be a lot of added rock/synth orchestration that wasn't present in the original overture; yeah, I know, the original musical is from the 1980s, but deciding in 2004 to add 1980s musical elements to a musical that is set in the nineteenth century doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. There is a reason synthesizers are no longer the instrument du jour of the discerning composer.

 

Unfortunately, now I'm somewhere between indignant and snickering, because subtitles inform us that we are now in the year 1870. There are quite a few problems with this, the most obvious of which is the fact that Paris was in the middle of a war with Prussia in 1870 and spent a third of the year (the third in which the characters will be blithely running around and conspicuously not encountering any signs of economic or wartime difficulties) under direct siege. Frivolous entertainment in the vein of opera was pretty much nonexistent at that time; there was no money to pay performers, and most people were more concerned with where they were going to find food and whether or not the neighbor would notice if his dog went missing than with Gounod and Rossini. Another issue is the fact that the Palais Garnier was still under construction in 1870 (construction that, incidentally, was halted due to the war and then further set back by the interference of the Paris Commune) and didn't actually open until 1875; Lloyd Webber refers to the fictitious "Opera Populaire" in his musical instead of to the Garnier, so you could make the argument that they're not the same building, but that doesn't solve the problem of there being, you know, a war going on at the time.

 

At least that (sort of) answers some of my age questions from the prologue. If Raoul is twenty or twenty-one years old as he is in Leroux's novel, that would put him at almost seventy in the prologue, which combined with the possibilities of complications or failing health could easily confine him to a wheelchair (it doesn't answer any of my questions about the Mysterious Giry, though). Why on earth Schumacher would choose to set his film eleven years prior to its source material is completely lost on me, though, as is the question of why nobody on his entire creative and editing team noticed the historical implausibility of it. In my imagination, some well-intentioned and crestfallen intern is loftily told, "We already printed it. No one will know the difference between the 1870s and the 1880s, I mean, it's old French history, who cares about that stuff?"

 

Buuuut, Ciaran Hinds is here playing Fermier, and I do love Ciaran Hinds. I know I should probably care more about the leads of the film than about the side characters, but in this movie, the side characters are much more delightful. Buquet is not the older drunk of the 1925 film or the young pup of the 1989 movie, but somewhere in between, a vital kind of a dude in the prime of his life; while the shorthand for his impending doom is a little overheavy (he's peeping at the girls in the dressing room, and we all know what happens to perverts in any horror situation), he's a lively presentation of the character, and I prefer him over some of the flatter exposition-vehicle versions of him I've seen before. And, of course, Minnie Driver is an absolute scream as Carlotta; her portrayal is such a madcap over-the-top caricature of itself that it can't be anything but entertaining, and allows both the audience and the characters in the film to enjoy her hugely overexaggerated persona unselfconsciously. If you're going to play the diva as a caricature, this is the way to do it: balls to the wall total ridiculousness, which reads better than many versions that have tried to straddle the line and only ended up making a vaguely fleshed-out character look like the butt of undeservedly cruel humor.

 

And speaking of Carlotta, Margaret Preece, who dubs over Driver for her singing voice, is my absolute hero (no surprise that she's fantastic, as she originated the role in the stage show as well). She has an amazing soprano, which she does a capable job of trying to make sound like it is not; she's pretty much just a ton of fun to listen to, and has amazing chops. While her ridiculous mannerisms and off-the-wall ornaments and vocal gymnastics certainly help paint Carlotta as a diva with more invested in showboating and fads than in pure vocal production, she's so good that there is an unfortunate side effect of making me angry with all the characters that make such pained faces or even plug their ears when she sings. Dude, that woman's voice is phenomenal. The directing here doesn't help matters too much; the characters tend to wince at the wrong times, looking pained when she swoops up into a technically flawless high note rather than when Preece is giving them all those fantastically awful scoops and glottals that they could look legitimately disturbed by.

 

This was a problem that I also had with the original Lloyd Webber musical; Carlotta's part as written is heinously difficult and requires a soprano who really knows what she's doing, so it's difficult to suspend disbelief and swallow that the same character who hits a glass-shattering E at the end of "Prima Donna" is a bad singer. With Driver's incredibly intense Carlotta strutting around screaming in broken Italian, this film had the perfect opportunity to switch it up and show her miserable personality and outrageous demands as the reason for her removal rather than trying to convince us that she couldn't sing, but unfortunately this was a road not traveled. Where the original musical got around a lot of this by casting Sarah Brightman, also in possession of some kick-ass soprano stylings, as Christine, our leading lady for Schumacher's film is the young Emmy Rossum, and while she has many pleasant qualities to her voice, Preece completely and utterly dominates her.

 

I'd like to know why Raoul is driving his own carriage around. Doesn't he have people for that? But I have to admit that he looks quite boyishly excited to be doing so, and Patrick Wilson doesn't have to put forth too much effort to seem adorable. The Fabio locks he's sporting, however, are not so charming; they're at least twenty years out of date even for 1870, and ridiculously old-fashioned for the time period we're trying to set this story in (not to mention not very well taken care of - what is his barber doing, anyway, taking a nap during his appointments?). A lot of the costuming in this film wanders vaguely in and out of date, but this hair... this hair is the worst offender. While it does establish Raoul as more boyish and carefree than his elders, it also establishes to me that the hair and makeup people for this film did not do much research.

 

Rossum makes her first entrance as Christine, and her exposition is a little bit annoyingly modern-sounding. Most of the dialogue in this film comes directly from Webber's libretto, and I would have preferred that whomever they got to write incidentals such as this had tried to match the period style more closely. However, the "Little Lotte" theme plays softly in the background, which helps tie the wee little interlude musically to the imminent meeting between Raoul and the singer.

 

Huh. Another question sort of answered; Raoul's parents are apparently still alive, since he mentions that they are the opera's patrons along with him. In that case, unless his father has the stamina of a horse, I'm even less sure why he's still a vicomte in 1919.

 

Rossum is pretty obviously not a ballet dancer, nor is Jennifer Ellison playing Meg, from the lack of relevant musculature to the obvious way that, while nicely graceful, they really aren't able to perform the same as the other ballet dancers. Schumacher doesn't quite manage to camouflage this via a few hasty cuts away from what they're doing to focus us in on actual dancers who were hired for the purpose, but it's not too glaring.

 

Miranda Richardson's portrayal of Madame Giry is actually a high point of the film for me, at least for a while; she manages stern-but-motherly well, and since this is Lloyd Webber's version of the character has no difficulty in convincing me that she knows most of what's going on and is protective of her various charges. In fact, even the memory of Mama Valerius is completely excised in favor of Madame Giry by the claim that Christine, after the death of her father (here made a famous violinist at the opera rather than a penniless peasant one, a change that is not only most strongly reminiscent of the 1943 Lubin/Rains film's original script but which also establishes Christine as no longer in that lowest caste of peasantry, possibly to make her more desirable as a heroine), was brought to live in the "ballet dormitories" of the opera. What ballet dormitories are, exactly, I am not sure, since this is a professional performing arts establishment and not a school; dancers would have lived in, you know, their own apartments around Paris, rather than being housed by the opera itself (it takes up quite enough room just holding all the non-living stuff it needs for performances, thank you). This odd change is also difficult to get around from a suspension of disbelief point of view, but it does make of the Opera a more self-contained world, and it plays in nicely to the idea that the Phantom can control its inhabitants, who now have much less time spent outside of it, absolutely.

 

Much as I might love Richardson's version of the character, however, I don't love her ridiculously thick French accent. I don't even understand it. I seem to run into this problem a lot as I go through these different versions, and it never makes any sense to me; we all know that this story is, in fact, set in France, right? Everybody is speaking French. All the people who have British accents in the original musical? They're speaking French. They're just being portrayed by British actors. The same is true here; we have a mix of British and American actors playing these parts, but they are all, in fact, playing French people. It makes no kind of sense for one character to have a French accent when nobody else does (I wouldn't be thrilled if everybody had a French accent, either, since it would be unnecessary, but it would at least be consistent). Are you trying to portray that Madame Giry is actually NOT French, and has a French accent when the French character is speaking English to illustrate that she actually has an English accent when she is speaking French, or something? Because that is WAY too much thinking to force your audience to do to figure out what you're up to. I think the idea is to impart to her a sense of mystery and exoticism and, well, Frenchness, but it is frankly really not the best way to do it. My head hurt by the end of the movie from all the eye-rolling I did whenever she spoke.

 

The keen interest the managers display in the ballerinas is mostly introduced as a vehicle intended to paint them as rather silly and to piss Carlotta off enough to get the ball rolling for "Think of Me", but it has interesting precedents, most notably in the 1998 Argento/Sands film, which also featured managers with a marked taste for the ballerinas. Schumacher's film is not even in the same ballpark as Argento's in terms of staying squeaky clean and avoiding any hints of horror, so the pedophilia angle has been removed since all of Schumacher's ballerinas seem to be sixteen or older, but it's still a notable parallel (and still creepy, cut that shit out, dudes).

 

Man, I am disappointed in Ellison's screams; both of the famous Meg screams in this film (here, and when Buquet eventually meets his demise) are just wussy. She needs to put her lungs into it. As it is, her scream is wussy, the backdrop falling is unimpressive, and everyone's consternation is unconvincing. It seems less like a theatre in the grip of the fear of an unknown spectre than a theatre in the grip of confusion because one of the stagehands didn't tie his knots very well. Likewise, the reduction of a chorus of panicked ballet girls down to just Meg saying somewhat matter-of-factly to Christine, "He's here, the Phantom of the Opera," like she's noting the weather is more realistic, but it really detracts from the impact.

 

The Phantom dropping a letter down to Madame Giry from the rafters is an interesting touch; the letter fluttering down without any apparent source helps things look more ghostly (a good thing, since most of this film will be so concrete), and lets us know that she's still fulfilling her boxkeeper go-between role, just in a wider scope that includes the entire opera house.

 

Period inaccurate though some of them (and that's not to say all of them) may be, the costumes and sets, both the film's and those used in the operas, are sumptuous and really help set a fantastic tone for the story. The Phantom story as envisioned in this film is an overarchingly melodramatic and convoluted fantasy, and as such it really requires that the director move the audience as far out of their normal expectations of reality as possible. Schumacher really has his hits and misses (John, ever-loyal despite my continual parade of Phantom-based materials, said that this movie looks like he's trying to be Terry Gilliam and failing) as far as that goes, but the visuals are a hit; costumes are fantastical and colorful, sets are grandiose and sweeping, and both combine to create a microcosm in which the story can take place, wherein only the most annoying of directorial stumbles or historical inaccuracies can usually make it through to pester the audience. They do still make it in - in fact, there are quite a few of them - but a lot of things work when they normally might not just because of the scale and lushness of their accoutrements.

 

But the single most painful, awful thing that doesn't work begins here, and we're never going to escape it: the soundtrack. I share the managers' confusion when Madame Giry insists that Christine could sing Carlotta's role (after all, she's not even a soloist in this version - she's a ballet dancer, who presumably doesn't even sing much), but once she started singing, they lost me, because were I a manager I would have smiled politely and said in the nicest terms I could come up with that thank you, but no thank you. Rossum has a very pretty voice, but it is obviously both immature and not fully trained, and the effect is pretty tooth-grating. Her issues run the full gamut: tone production is spotty, evenness and breath support wander in and out with painful inconsistency, power simply isn't there, and she has serious intonation issues, usually tending to go sharp (sometimes very sharp). Yikes.

 

The voice is certainly appropriate for a young girl; I'd be vastly surprised if most young girls didn't sound like that, because their voices won't be physically mature for some time and singing is hard work and difficult to learn, but for a character whose voice is supposed to be effortlessly beautiful and a replacement for a big-name star to boot, it is completely unacceptable. The poor girl would have been laughed off the stage with issues like that (literally - nineteenth-century opera audiences were ready and willing to boo the house down), assuming that the managers were desperate and tone-deaf enough to let her onto it in a leading operatic role in the first place. She clearly doesn't have the singing stamina to take on a 3+-act opera, either, even if she could have faked it for a little while; Rossum's voice audibly tires near the end of most of her numbers. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, and I can handle a lot of cultural silliness and caricaturing and dramatic hyperbole, but in a story that hinges so centrally on opera and on the sublime performances of its main characters, having a less-than-stellar singer take on the role is an instant killer. Rossum's performances in this film wouldn't be up to snuff for most professional theatre of any kind, let alone grand opera, and there is absolutely no way to stack her up against Preece's soprano without making her sound very tiny, very tinny, and very inadequate.

 

Rossum is very lovely and looks great in the role, and while her acting is occasionally lackluster, she has some scenes in which her innocent confusion is very believable; but she just can't sing the role, not even approach it. I'm completely at a loss, not as to why they cast her - as I said, she does well enough in the role - but as to why they didn't dub over her with an actual singer, as they dubbed Preece over Driver. Why on earth wouldn't they do that? I mean, yes, that means you have to pay another person, but in a movie centering around an opera, isn't it worth it to have the character sound like she can actually sing opera? It's not like this is an unknown convention - My Fair Lady is a classic example of an excellent actress (Audrey Hepburn) being dubbed over by an excellent singer (Marni Nixon) with excellent results. Why not do this here?

 

I spent a little time trying to craft a theory that involved Christine not actually being a great singer, and just being thrust into the limelight as a result of the Phantom's obsession with her, but the fact that she gets the first role on her own merits and that critics and audience alike laud her as a phenomenon don't bear that out at all (were that the case, we would have seen something akin to the critical savaging of Elena in the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film). Vocal song is so central to the plot that much of the story is totally destroyed for me when Christine isn't a credible opera singer, and Christine herself singing is so central to Lloyd Webber's musical that there's no escaping the marked discomfort of a lot of breathless, accidental tremolo and barely-eked-out, egregiously off-key high notes to have to listen to all the time. Having heard some of Rossum's pop music, I know that she has a pleasant voice - but it is not a voice that could handle this role, and the result is that she sounds woeful and the plot and other characters suffer because of it.

 

My depression over the absence of vocal artistry was somewhat soothed by a great shot of the camera diving down through several cracks and grates in the floor to finally arrive at the Phantom listening to Christine sing from the tunnels beneath the opera house; the dive not only makes a great, marked line between the glittering world of the Opera above and the totally different, somber world below it, but it is also intensely reminiscent of a similar shot in the 1943 Lubin/Rains film of the Phantom listening from below. The divide between the two worlds and the Phantom's presumed longing for the one denied to him are palpable and well-handled.

 

I know that this isn't on Schumacher and his writers as much as it is on Lloyd Webber, but the man has really got to stop rewriting the lyrics every time he remounts a show. There are so many different version of the lyrics to half of the songs in this musical that I can't keep them straight half the time.

 

I'm also somewhat soothed by the arrival of Raoul, whose sung lines in the middle of "Think of Me" are much less objectionable. He still has his issues here and there - he tends to swallow his words and he needs to open his damn mouth - but overall he's much better in evenness and tone, and much less difficult on the ears than Rossum. This isn't actually much of a surprise - Wilson has sung professional musical theatre, including starring in the 2002 Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammersteins' Oklahoma! - and is accordingly better-trained than his young costar, not to mention having a decade of practice on her. Christine's crowning cadenza at the end of "Think of Me" is severely simplified, which is depressing, but on the other hand there's no way poor Rossum could have managed it in its original form, so it's probably for the best. I'm left noting that the CGI on the theatre is occasionally overdone in this scene, and that the standing ovation for the performance we've just heard is by far the least realistic thing we've seen yet in the film.

 

I was pleased, however, to note that the Phantom's ghostly, congratulatory line has been correctly changed from "Bravi, bravi, bravissimi!" to "Brava, brava, bravissima!" since there is only one of Christine. Ellison's voice, when Meg goes down to... uh, to an underground religious chapel Christine has under the opera house? I'm not quite sure what's up with that, but anyway, Ellison's voice is pleasant enough, and as Meg is usually a character voice anyway there isn't much to complain about. Much more interesting than their little interchange, however, is Christine's breathless exposition dump to Meg; while it's a bit clumsily presented, the changes to the story's dynamics are significant. Christine explains that her "angel" has been watching over her since she first arrived at the ballet dormitories when she was a very young girl (around eightish or so, from the looks of things); this completely changes the dynamic of the Phantom's relationship with Christine, making him a stalker who's been following her around since she was a child rather than an adult who first noticed her because of her lovely voice (I suppose that approach doesn't really work in this film. Zing).

 

Honestly, that elevates things to a new level of creepy for me - you're not watching an eight-year-old ballerina-in-training because she has a transcendental voice and you want her to be representative of society's acceptance. The possibilities are skeevy, to say the least. And how old is the Phantom supposed to be, then? I mean, it would make some sense if he were in the late fifties or sixties neighborhood of the original novel, though it would still have the creepy overtones of an adult stalking a little girl, but I am aware that Gerard Butler is going to be playing the Phantom in this film, so that's out. I get the impression that no one really worried too much about making the ages gibe here. If we can set aside the creepy stalkery aspect of it, this idea seems to have two primary motivators, both intended to sympathize the Phantom: making him a constant, watchful companion places him in a mostly benevolent guardian role over Christine, and having him here consistently for several years also helps override Raoul's prior relationship with her, which must have happened previously but which has just been resumed now, giving the Phantom at least an equal "claim" on Christine. (Not that you can have a claim on a person, but that doesn't stop writers from trying sometimes.)

 

Even more interesting, this version of Christine explicitly states that she believes the Phantom to be her father's ghost, not a real angel (or, alternatively, she's seeing her father as having turned into an angel after death?). It's a much more parental dynamic from her side of things, therefore, and a less devout one, which has the effect of making her both more of an innocent - I mean, how much more innocent can you get than believing the ghost of your father is taking care of you and teaching you? - and more out of touch with reality, since she doesn't have the excuse of religion to explain why she believes these things. As usual, Meg thinks she's a little bit unhinged but is too nice to say so.

 

Once "Angel of Music" kicks off, I have to take back what I said about Ellison; she's not sounding so hot, even if we assume she's trying to sing in a character voice (character voices do not exempt you from breath support and intonation, people). Added to Rossum's inability to sing consistent vowels and the painful departures from pitch and support, the duet is more painful than beautiful, which is unfortunate since it's a rather lovely piece of music. These just aren't professional singers, and it shows, shows, shows, god how it shows.

 

Interestingly, Madame Giry has a way more involved role in the relationship between Christine and the Phantom in this film; she seems to know all about it and even to endorse it, something of a change from the woman who was kind of terrified of the guy in the original musical, and Christine apparently doesn't think there's anything strange about her surrogate mother-figure giving her notes and roses from the guy (the single rose, incidentally, is a convention that started with the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film), so she must think Madame Giry believes it's the ghost of her father, too (an odd stretch, but nobody's going to talk about it so we have to draw conclusions were we can).

 

Oh, Raoul. It's pretty cute that he's naive enough to put the managers off accompanying him by saying, "If you don't mind, this is one visit I would prefer to make unaccompanied," and then not realize that he might as well have put a sock on the doorknob and a big sign over the doorframe saying SEXING IS GOING ON NOW. At least the managers notice and give one another significant looks; apparently the idea that it might look odd doesn't even occur to Raoul.

 

Another of the things that drive me nuts in this film is Schumacher's bizarre decision to have some of the sung lines from the original libretto spoken instead. While I understand that maybe he thought a fully-sung opera-style film would be too much for a modern audience, I don't understand why anyone thought it would sound less silly to have people speaking in rhyme instead. Wilson's delivery in "Little Lotte" is charming, but the fact that he's just speaking in rhyme and trying desperately not to look like it's out of the ordinary is a little bit difficult to take seriously, and besides - why make a film of a musical, use the exact same lines, and then remove the music? I often feel, in this film, like Schumacher really wasn't sure where to go with this stage musical/movie fusion and ended up waffling a lot. Raoul kneels beside Christine's dressing table for much of this scene, which is nicely supplicant and doting, and their relationship is very sweet and uncomplicated, as it should be to contrast with the Phantom, who is incoming in just a few seconds.

 

After Raoul leaves, the Phantom locks Christine in her dressing room. I'm not really sure why, unless it's in order to inject some sinisterness into the proceedings. Madame Giry watches him do it and says nothing, which again suggests both that she is tacitly approving (or at least not disapproving) of the relationship between him and Christine, and that he is aware of her knowledge and treats her as a confidante and subordinate rather than placing her with the rest of humanity. It's also worth noting that Madame Giry must be aware by now of the Phantom's wholly human nature, what with always hanging around him, which helps solidify her as a co-conspirator but takes a lot of the punch out of her fear of him and her doleful warnings to everyone who considers crossing him.

 

I'd like to know why Christine is changing into a lacy nightie-robe in her dressing room. Where the hell is she planning to go like that? Totally not outside clothes. There seems to be some confusion about what, exactly, a dressing room is in this movie, since Christine apparently lives in hers (but what about the "ballet dormitories"? And why does she get a private dressing room all of a sudden when establishing shots have shown us that most of the ballerinas and chorus members share communal ones?), which is not actually what a dressing room is for, and which makes very little sense. It also doesn't make much sense that she's taken off all her clothes and put on a lacy dressing-gown type of robe, but that she's still wearing a tightly-laced corset. People don't, you know... sleep in those, unless they are fans of sleep apnea and terrible rest.

 

But these sillinesses aside, it's time for the Phantom's grand entrance, and for the grand exit of the remainder of my hopes for this film. If Rossum is difficult to listen to, Butler is downright terrible; if Rossum is unable to credibly sing her part, Butler puts his through a meat grinder and then stomps on it. I have no idea if he actually has a pleasant voice or not (I hear he sings pop music a bit in the later film P.S. I Love You, but I haven't seen it) because of the horrible things he's doing to it just to try to sing a score that he clearly doesn't have the ability for. Unlike Wilson, who has performed professionally, or Rossum, who is young and undeveloped but who has had some vocal training, Butler has no musical background and he is frankly painful to listen to. He has no tone, his breath support is atrocious, his intonation is all over the map, and even his pronunciation suffers, as though the effort of trying to get the notes out warps the words as well ("I am your Eengel of Music!"). I want to find whoever was pretending to be his vocal coach for this film and have stern words with them, because just listening to him makes my throat ache, and I can't imagine it was a lot more fun for him. Like Rossum, he doesn't have the range or the power to sing his part (in fact, he's pretty easily identifiable as a baritone, an issue when he's singing a tenor part that, while occasionally played by very versatile baritones, is definitely no picnic), and the result is even more painful, especially since half the time he sounds like he has a head cold (I have no idea what is causing him to sing in his nose like that, but the effect is miserable).

 

Christine being a poor singer hurts the film badly; she doesn't make a positive contrast with Carlotta and it's difficult to imagine all the furor over her as a performer, but that pales in comparison to the Phantom being a poor singer. For the Angel of Music to be anything less than sublime irreparably damages the character, axing the symbolism of his transcendent voice, removing any credibility in its hypnotic power, and totally destroying its oft-vaunted, haunting beauty. Butler, who despite being shoehorned into a role that wants him to do a lot of things he isn't good at and ignore the things he is still manages to pull off a few genuinely emotive and compelling scenes, is simply not a singer - or, if he is a singer in other genres, he is totally and unequivocally not a singer of opera or even musical theatre. Again, my agonized cry goes out: why, oh why, Schumacher, did you not dub him with someone who could sing the role? By all means, let Butler run around and be manful in the role, if that's what you're shooting for, but why wouldn't you want the Angel of Music to sound like he could actually sing? It's just beyond my scope of understanding.

 

And I really don't want to think about the fact that this has been mixed and prepared for soundtrack before I ever heard it, either. If Rossum and Butler sound this inadequate for their roles after the recording has been tweaked, they were either catastrophic to begin with or everyone who worked on sound mixing for this film needs to be fired. I really dislike the modern convention of auto-tuning the hell out of poor singing voices to make them sound better (Glee, I'm looking at you), but I like it better than just letting them be bad. I like pretty much anything better than that.

 

But, if we plug our ears and concentrate on what we can see on the screen, what else is going on? Schumacher makes an interesting choice to plunge us into a half-dream-sequence, half-hallucination here, the herald of which is Christine ceasing to visually sing while her voice carries on in the background as she takes the first step into the mirror (a metaphor that brings Carroll's Alice in Wonderland to mind, especially as handled here). One thing that Schumacher does really well is delineate the lines between the upper world and the Phantom's domain, and between reality and the surreality that he tends to bring with him. In this case, the implication is that Christine is hypnotized a bit by the sound of his voice (which brings back shades of the 1944 Waggner/Karloff film), and accordingly bizarre things begin happening. Christine and the Phantom duet the whole way down, but both of them only sometimes seem to be singing physically, at other times just traveling downward while their voices continue on around them. Golden arms clutching candelabras light the way and move aside for them like living things, a trippy choice that confirms that we're definitely in Christine's headspace right now and not seeing reality unvarnished. The gargoyle faces on the walls are a nice touch, too, incorporating the ideas of both monsters and masks in one.

 

Other things are more problematic. The boat they're traveling in is painfully obviously on a track and not being propelled by the Phantom's pathetic attempts at poling it along; someone should really have coached Butler on that, because nobody is convinced. Christine, who is wearing nothing but underwear and white lace, remember, gets backlit a lot, which is a bit jarring when you're watching the trance-state unfold and then, whoa, she's naked. I'm curious as to why the Phantom's horse here is black; why change it from the original white horse? Whither Cesar? I have to assume this is probably a choice made to underline the Phantom as sinister with traditional black/white color symbolism, though at this point in the proceedings Christine is still on board with him and it wouldn't have hurt to be a bit more ambiguous. The candelabras rising up out of the water as the boat glides past is a relic from the stage show, and while it's a decently effective idea (and one that enhances the trippy not-reality thing we have going on here), it doesn't make the transition to film very well, and I spent most of the scene thinking of ways that Schumacher, with all the magical abilities of film at his disposal, could have done that better. It didn't help that the candles and their stand visibly wobble in some shots while rising.

 

Both times that Butler's masked face and head are revealed here, I burst out laughing. I couldn't help it. It's not that he's bad - he's a credible enough actor, but sweet Jesus, he's just so damn pretty. If ever a Phantom actor was chosen specifically to be sexy, Butler's the one, which is of course highly ironic and ridiculous since he's supposed to be playing a character who by nature is physically hideous (or at least neutral when the deformity is covered) and sexually magnetic because of his other attributes (but then again, his voice sure isn't doing my libido any favors, so he might need the help). What a lovely chiseled jaw you have, sir, and such fabulously thick, dark hair, and such manly, iron-like muscles, and your underground barber has given you an impeccable shave!

 

We've seen this many times before, from Lloyd Webber's original musical, which promoted the Phantom from "abhorrent" to "passable while covered up", on through countless film and novel versions (the 1989 Friedman/Rydall film comes to mind, as does the 1991 Stuart novel and the vast majority of the self-published novels to date), but it doesn't alleviate its silliness. Even with the deformity (which, magically enough, has shrunk even from the days of the original Lloyd Webber musical - couldn't have Butler's manly yet sensual lips marred!), I have serious difficulty buying this guy as an outcast from humanity because of his hideousness. The fact that he practically oozes charisma would normally be fantastic for a traditional Phantom character, but in this case just makes his inability to interact with society more confusing.

 

Unfortunately, I can't ignore the vocals forever; this is the title song, after all, and probably the most onerously demanding for the role of Christine in the entire film. Butler's nasal moaning is painful but intermittent, but poor Rossum is stuck in the spotlight and just can't deliver - she doesn't have anything approaching the power and flexibility to make it through the high cadenzas, and the final high note - an E6 in the original show, but I would lay a lot of money on a bet that it was brought down to at least a C6 for Rossum - is so painfully flat that I winced and spilled my drink. Luckily, she gets to take a rest now (for the best because she sounded a bit like she might expire from asphyxiation during the end of that piece) and Butler can take over with "Music of the Night", kicking it off with an impressive and totally ridiculous cape twirl that you kind of have to love for its sheer silliness.

 

The song makes a jump down a key as it transitions from verse to chorus, which makes sense as Butler, as noted before, is not a tenor, and "Music of the Night" is the highest piece for the Phantom in the entire film. Butler has, in addition to his host of other vocal problems, serious volume modulation issues in this scene, having only "too quiet to support" and "shouting" as possible levels. His falsetto, however, is surprisingly pleasant, free of a lot of the painful pushing and straining that plagues his full-voice attempts; I would actually have preferred that he do the entire song in falsetto, and damn his baritone range. It wouldn't have been great, but it would have hurt less. The final high note, which is of course traditionally full-voice instead of falsetto like its predecessors, really hammers that point home by being tragically, painfully flat (again, what the hell were the sound mixers doing while editing this soundtrack?).

 

I'd like to know if Schumacher forced Butler at gunpoint to always turn his mask to the camera in every single shot, even if it means he's singing awkwardly out of the side of his mouth. I understand that the mask is important, and that the audience needs to know that, but after the first, say, six times or so, I feel like it's enough. In fact, I'm starting to feel a lot of sympathy for most of the major actors in this film, who all seem to be playing roles they're ill-equipped to deal with, possibly under threat of death.

 

The set for the Phantom's lair is, at least, lovely, but it's also confusingly bright; the number of candles he has going on here, while impressive, is definitely not enough to light it up so amazingly (I would attribute this to Christine's dream-trance except that it will remain constant later in the film). Additionally, having the organ like, right off the edge of the water on a slimy limestone lip? That organ is going to be a huge pain to keep proper maintenance on, and the many haphazardly-scattered scores and sheets of music on and around it are very artful but also make me want to run up and put them all in a bundle with a paperweight before they end up in the barely-a-yard-away lake. Really, the whole place is distinctly uncomfortable-looking, which, even if we're not following Leroux's original concept with its palatial little house, is still a little odd considering how impeccably tailored and shaven and turned out this guy always is.

 

Christine's faint when confronted with the Phantom's wax figure of her (dressed in a wedding gown, yet... yeah, that's a dimension of creepy that we haven't yet had. Nineteenth-century Real Dolls) is very unconvincing, as is her bizarre toe-pointed stance as the Phantom carries her off to bed, but the bed itself is quite interesting; it's swan-shaped, something we saw in both the 1990 Richardson/Dance miniseries and the 1925 Julian/Chaney film, a cute little homage in design to both of them. One must assume that the bed was built for her and that he doesn't sleep in it, since it lacks traditional masculinity,and if there's one thing Butler's Phantom has, it's machismo. Where he does sleep we'll never know; no other bits of lair are ever revealed to us aside from the swan-bed and the main room with the organ and all the mirrors, which may be an intentional choice meant to make him a more mythical and less human figure (a lost cause in this film, but still a decent effort).

 

In an interesting added scene, Meg gets into Christine's dressing room up in the opera house (why does she have the keys to everything? Who knows, really?) to snoop around for her, and discovers the mirror still open a crack, because apparently Butler's Phantom is also really slapdash about his privacy. The mirror-passage is a little bit impractical for quick disappearances, since it seems to be a sliding-door type of mechanism, but then again Christine is all rohypnoled when she goes down there, so she probably wouldn't have noticed. The passage itself is dark, dirty, apparently abandoned, and full of rats, all of which reinforce the idea that the magical, golden candelabra-lit world Christine just descended into is not the reality of the situation. Madame Giry catches her daughter and hustles her back upstairs with some serious roughness, because she Brooks No Interference in the Phantom's Business.

 

Continuing her campaign to be a hardass, Madame Giry shows up as usual during "Magical Lasso" and outright slaps Buquet (though the slap as filmed is less than convincing); she follows that up with some serious strangling, tightening a noose around his throat before flouncing out. I'm not sure why she gets to shove him around since she's not exactly of a mad higher social standing than he is, but class lines in this film are odd; they're either forgotten conveniently or presented with blinding oversimplification.

 

Christine wakes to the sound of the monkey music box playing next to her, though why is a mystery since the Phantom is across the room and it needs to be wound to play. There is much debate out there in the wilds of the internet over the fact that her white stockings are gone when she wakes up, leaving her legs bare; whether this is a filming goof or proof of creepy fetishism and possible date-rape is a question for the ages, though the fact that she never even seems to notice that they're gone points, for me, to the former (and trust me, after the whole stalking-her-since-she-was-a-child and pretending-to-be-the-ghost-of-her-father-to-get-into-her-pants thing, Butler's Phantom doesn't need any help being creepier). The Phantom wins the all-time prize for foolishness by sitting in one place while Christine pets all over his face and mask and then somehow being surprised when she slowly, oh so slowly, peels it off; it's really difficult to believe that he wouldn't have noticed, though Butler does a lovely job of communicating the character's thirst to be touched and thus connected to her anyway.

 

The ensuing "Stranger Than You Dreamt It" is more of the same mess singing-wise, and again jumps keys in the middle to accommodate Butler. The scene is intentionally filmed so as to prevent us from really getting a good look at the deformity, which is being saved for the big reveal near the end of the movie, an expected but still solid choice on Schumacher's part. Disappointingly, Butler is very wooden in his delivery of this piece, in contrast to some of his better scenes, and Rossum isn't helping much by just lying prettily on the floor looking tearful, so I ended up just pondering how the mask, which has no apparent fasteners or attachments of any kind, stays on his face, especially at the end of this scene when Christine hands it back to him and he just pops it on and heads out.

 

Back up in the opera house, it is also disappointing to discover that however much I love Ciaran Hinds, he still can't really sing. Neither of the managers can, though luckily they're playing character roles and can get away with being crunchy and hilarious and don't really have to sound like masters of the art. They manage to make it through "Notes" and "Prima Donna" without too many stumbles, and while they're nothing to write home about, they are at least also not terrible, which is starting to be all I can ask for from this movie (Richardson isn't winning any prizes, either, but she's at about the same level of not-good-but-not-horrible). Wilson sounds like the second coming of Pavarotti next to all the butchery we've been hearing for the last half hour or so, and when Carlotta returned in a huff I found myself actually cheering. It's probably not a good sign when I want the throwaway humor villain on the screen to rescue me from the bad singing of the leads.

 

Sadly, the intricate and overlapping harmonies and vocal parts in "Prima Donna" have been simplified and in some places completely removed, a choice I'm not sure I understand entirely (it's not like it's vocally taxing for the managers, and Preece is well able to handle herself), by which I mean I don't understand it at all and wish it hadn't happened. Noticeably, Raoul and Madame Giry are pretty much entirely removed, leaving just the managers and Carlotta to carry things on by themselves. The orchestra taking over their parts somehow doesn't have the same punch as Raoul's plaintive, "Is this her angel of music?" or Giry's ominous, "Msr, you cannot hope to win!" The entire cast's enormous dirty breath before the final notes got a chuckle out of me, however, as did the towering confection that Carlotta's wearing, and while I'm not sure why it was decided to remove the second "Once more!" from the end of the song and instead just have Carlotta sing her ridiculous high note twice in a row, I'm impressed by Preece's ability to do so.

 

The parody that is Il Muto is just as hilarious here as in the stage show; in fact, Schumacher does better in the humorous scenes than in some of the dramatic ones, and this is no exception. The ridiculousness of the opera and its performers parodies both eighteenth-century classical opera and its nineteenth-century performers ably. The Phantom's interruption is done well audibly; his reverberating voice is quite powerful and evocative, in contrast to his singing voice, but his choice to show himself, not only to the cast but to the entire audience, seems anticlimactic and suspiciously shortsighted. After all, he just looks like a dude up there on the ceiling, and then he just leaves without actually doing anything, none of which is very awe-inspiring or ghostly. I'm not sure how Buquet could be the only person to find the hidden door he was standing right next to, either. It's right there.

 

The removal of the ventriloquism from the original novel and Lloyd Webber's stage musical undercuts what little authority and power this version of the Phantom has left, as well; he ends up resorting to filling Carlotta's atomizer (which was used in the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film and played a key role in the 1944 Waggner/Karloff film) with a throat-damaging drug, making him a saboteur instead of a magician. Honestly, he's been so incredibly human and generally unimpressive so far that I'm not surprised, but it's hard to imagine him holding the opera house in a grip of terror, or hypnotizing Christine with only his melodious (groan) voice.

 

He's also not so much the master of his domain as he is a skulker sneaking about the opera house, so the scene in which he hunts Buquet down in the catwalks is also a little disorienting. The dissonance of an added ominous musical theme overlaying the spritely ballet below is effective, however, and again reminds me of the 1983 movie, which also made great use of gradually increasing, ominous music to illustrate the Phantom's terror slowly leaching into the opera house. The hanging is also less than convincing, though, hampered by Meg's wussy scream, Buquet's mostly-fine-looking face (he looks unconscious, but that's about it - no bulgy eyes, no lolling tongue, no broken neck), and Schumacher's apparent aversion to showing any kind of actual horror in this movie; we get one brief shot of Buquet's face - long enough to establish that he doesn't look that bad - and everything else is done in wide, impersonal shots that really only communicate the panic of the performers and audience and don't do much to focus on its cause. It's disappointing; god knows I'm not a blood and gore kind of a girl, but if you're going to kill a guy and you're not going to do it offstage, it has to have some punch to not fall flat as it does here. I'm in a strange place when I reflect that the 1962 Fisher/Lom film did something better than a much higher-budget, closer-to-the-source-material movie.

 

Rossum has a brief rally during "Why Have You Brought Me Here?" in which she sounds steadier than usual, but soon we're segueing into "All I Ask of You" and, unfortunately, she's back to demonstrating that she really can't manage it vocally. Symbolically, a few interesting things are going on; Christine drops her rose at the beginning of the piece, representative of shedding the Phantom's influence and moving toward Raoul, while their kiss and spin around the roof are naively joyous and beautiful, a sharp contrast to the chaos of the last scene. Schumacher insists on spending a lot of time cutting away to the Phantom, who's lurking around behind various statues (it's a little bit depressing that him hiding behind a statue is not really in the same league of impressiveness or fear as him looming and watching from above on the Lyre, but this is the "Opera Populaire" and not the Garnier, so no Lyre to be had), a choice which irks as it doesn't do very much for the scene aside from establishing that he's figuring out that Christine is genuinely attached to Raoul, and it detracts from one of the few purely romantic moments in the film.

 

Wilson's Raoul, despite silly hair and Schumacher having only barely given him enough screen time to exist, is still gallant, touching, and a great leading man, for all of the five seconds he's allowed to show it. This film puts Raoul in an odd place somewhere between Leroux's original character and Lloyd Webber's treatment of him in the stage musical; he's not as childish and self-effacing as the original Raoul, but not as forceful as the stage show's, leaving him in a strange, lonely limbo that makes it clear that Schumacher really isn't interested in devoting much time to his character. It's a testament to Wilson's acting abilities that Raoul comes off as heroic and earnest as he does, since he has a surprisingly small amount of screen time in which to woo Christine, get engaged to her, and then try to rescue her from the Phantom. Most of his less active scenes, such as his participation in "Prima Donna" or the beginning of the graveyard scene, have cut him out entirely, and the scenes in which he remains often see him losing lines or being given a more active but less character-development-heavy role. Ultimately, he ends up a representative foil for the Phantom (interestingly, one of his original roles in Leroux's novel) and a cardboard hero to rescue Christine, but he isn't allowed much time to present himself as a character in his own right, an unfortunate choice that fails to utilize Wilson as well as he could have been in this film.

 

Butler's reprise is cringe-worthy as expected; the poor man just doesn't have the range or the vocal training for it, and some bizarre choices, such as starting him out an octave below the original piece and then making him jump that octave up for the second verse, are not making it any easier. He struggles gamely through it anyway, and manages to be believably emotional about the whole thing, though occasionally a bit too pat and predictable for my taste. His crushing of Christine's discarded rose is another moment of obvious symbolism, indicating that he, too, is discarding their previously mutual bond of affection, and while it's pretty much a punch-to-the-face level of subtlety, it's still effective. The last line of the song, delivered on the roof while Butler desperately tries to hork out some powerful high notes, is miserable, and Schumacher's wide zoom out followed by spiral into blackness didn't lend it much in drama to make up for the pain in my eardrums.

 

One of the worst offenders for not making the leap to film better is this break between Act I and Act II; I know there's a six-month time-jump, but I can't think of any way he could have done it that would have been more like, "Welp, Act I is over... better fade to black for intermission so we can go to Act II." Schumacher is very scrupulous about following the format of Lloyd Webber's musical, and I think that's a mistake; there are many opportunities for artistic or experimental choices that are passed up because of it, and since this isn't actually a stage musical, it's a little disorienting and occasionally even boring for an audience expecting to see something exercising the options available to film as a medium.

 

The masquerade scene, however, is one of the most visually interesting of the entire film. I've heard both praise for and criticism of the two-tone black-and-gold color scheme, which dominates the set, the costuming, and the makeup, but I think it's a valid choice; representationally, it helps subconsciously remind the audience of the line between the normal world and the Phantom's domain, a line already blurring because of the masks and abandon of the event, and besides, it's done in a lush and lovely fashion in keeping with the film's general ability to dazzle the eyes. It does seem somewhat austere for the opera house, considering the moshpit of color it was in the opening scenes, but then again it provides a fantastic contrast for the only people wearing color in the scene - naturally, Raoul, in soldier's garb, the Phantom, in his Red Death costume, and Christine, wearing a delicate pink confection that falls somewhere in between. The featured mime-dancer for this number is also a treat, which helps make up for some kind of sloppy execution of choreography from the rest of the cast (I've seen high school show choirs better at synchronizing their arm movements!).

 

Of all the characters, only Raoul and Christine, who have nothing to hide in their innocence, and Madame Giry, who hides habitually without one, do not wear or even bother to carry masks, a symbolic choice. While everyone trips over new lyrics needed to deal with the fact that the chandelier hasn't yet fallen, Schumacher adds an aside to show us the lower-class party going on downstairs; it's nice to see that we are at least peripherally aware of the class divide, though as usual in these films (Titanic comes to mind as another example), there doesn't seem to be any middle ground between Sparkling, Bejeweled Nobility and Grubby, Drunken Peasants. Similar scenes occurred in the 1998 Argento/Sands and 1990 Richardson/Dance films, though not with quite as heavy a hammer of obviousness.

 

More sung dialogue has been converted to spoken here, with the mixed results of making me cranky because it doesn't make much sense and making me relieved that it means Rossum isn't singing it. Her refusal to announce their engagement is familiar, and her plea to Raoul not to be all up in her business in public is understandable, but the fact that she starts making out with him in the middle of the dance floor seems to kind of indicate that she's not very good at these "stealth" and "consistency" ideas. Or, since pretty much everyone else has moved to having a dance party on the stairs, leaving the two of them below, this could be viewed as a representational kiss rather than a literal one, symbolically indicating their love for one another while in reality they're just dancing sedately, but if so it's presented pretty poorly.

 

There are good things and bad things about the Red Death's entrance; a good thing is that Butler is by far at his vocal best in this piece, as there's no need to stretch his range or belt out powerful notes, and he can imbue the softer, more easily reachable recitative passage with a lot of menace. The sudden freezing of everyone in the room is a bit of a stretch for my suspension of disbelief, but I got through it by imagining that they were all frozen in confusion rather than in fear. I know that the costume department was probably trying to impart to Butler's costume a sense of drama and fear while still making it sexy, manly, and form-fitting, but these things did not all come together; he pretty much just looks like he's dressed in red, and while the 3/4-face mask with skull-like ridges reminds people who already know the story that he's supposed to be the Red Death, it's way too wussy to ever clue anyone else in, and doesn't nearly approach the visceral fear of the skull-face that it's supposed to. I mean... we couldn't have Butler not being pretty. My god, perish the thought! What else do we have him for?!

 

Raoul also chooses this moment, when the murderer who was previously stalking his fiancee is mincing his murderous way down the stairs, to run off without so much as a word to her and leave her standing there like Prime Target Number One. Since the film doesn't actually clue us in that he's gone to get his sword until a couple of minutes later, this has the unfortunate effect of making him look like kind of a dick - and even that revelation doesn't help much, since he still looks like a dick who would rather fight the Phantom than safeguard his fiancee (or, at least, a dick who didn't think it through and to whom it didn't occur to take her with him so she didn't have to stand there and get manhandled in his absence).

 

Since the second "Notes" number will be mostly cut from this film, the Phantom gives his monologue and instructions for the performance of Don Juan Triumphant here, a condensed choice but not a bad one in this format. An unfamiliar theme that research informs me is that of "Learn to Be Lonely", a new piece Lloyd Webber wrote for this film, plays while the Phantom ogles Christine before stealing Raoul's engagement ring off her neck and shouting at her, none of which is endearing but which does finally approach the level of menace required to really convince me of her fear of him. Raoul's abortive attempt to chase the Phantom through his extremely sophisticated trapdoor (dude, what is up with that? And why does nobody ever investigate it, just like the door in the ceiling?) is confusing and doesn't seem to add much to the proceedings, 

 

Raoul is totally ineffective when confronted with a dark, mirrored room (though I do appreciate the shout-out to Leroux's torture chamber, not represented at all in Lloyd Webber's stage musical), I can't figure out why the Phantom doesn't just kill him while he's helpless and lost in the dark, and Madame Giry can apparently move at the speed of light because bam, there she is dragging his ass out of there in less than twenty seconds. Actually, there is something that scene does; it establishes that Madame Giry knows pretty much everything there is to know about the Phantom, which, while we already suspected it, is still good to have confirmation of since it's going to become very important in a bit when Raoul hatches his plan and then hunts her down and demands an explanation.

 

And an explanation there will be, after an incredibly half-assed attempt by Giry to avoid Raoul's question. It seems that when Madame Giry herself was a young, spritely teenage thing who also lived in these mysterious ballet dormitories, a Romani fair came to town, and all the little ballerinas trooped out to take in the sights. The carnival is one of the best-presented bits of this film in terms of ambiance; despite being totally added for this film (Lloyd Webber's stage musical gives us precious little in the way of backstory for its nameless Phantom), it is filmed in an impressively surreal and somewhat drunken style, bringing the audience into its disorienting and magical, even demonic world. The Romani themselves, of course, are stereotyped almost unto death; make no mistake, this backstory is WAY racist, and apparently completely unaware of this fact. While Leroux's novel did utilize a lot of Orientalist tropes to give itself a more "exotic" feel, it was never this blatantly offenseive - the Romani in this film are presented as uniformly grubby, hideous, greedy, and unpleasant, not to mention heartless and cruel to the child Phantom (which plays on ugly old stereotypes of Romani people as evil baby thieves).

 

I keep waiting for some version of the Phantom story to take the brief mention of the Phantom's time with a Romani carnival in Leroux's novel and do something interesting and well-handled with it... but so far, no success. Kay's 1990 novel contains an extended section in a similar setting that is equally insensitive and may have been drawn on as a source for this backstory, and the 1989 Wellen short story features Erik writing an entire opera based on his experiences with the traveling caravans but is not particularly well-thought out.

 

At any rate, amongst the many frightening and beguiling things to see, there is an exhibit of a creature called "the Devil's child" that, of course, turns out to be the wee Phantom, wearing a mask made of burlap and hiding in a filthy, straw-strewn cage. I had a few questions about this scene; the first was to note that the Phantom's single toy as a child was apparently a stuffed monkey with cymbals, which indicates that the monkey music box is his own creation (he's now a ceramics master!) and that he retained that image from his childhood, but which does not at all tell us why. I would hazard, based on its symbolic value as the one bright spot in a miserable existence, and on the Phantom's later obvious attachment to it, that the monkey is representative of fleeting joy in an otherwise pretty joyless life, and thus something worth remembering and preserving (additionally, the fact that he consistently places it near Christine also ties in to the fact that he now considers her its adult equivalent).

 

Another question was how, if he's so incredibly poorly treated and abused here (and Schumacher goes to great lengths of unpleasant stereotyping and Villain Shorthand to let us know that he is), he's got real cymbals on the monkey's hands, since those things are valuable and, while they are often associated with Romani people in European literature, I'm not sure why the actual people in question here wouldn't be using them for something instead of giving them to the Devil's child over there. The logical conclusion is that someone in the fair is actually occasionally nice to him, but I don't think that's intentional, as Schumacher is pretty much doing his damndest to make sure that we understand that nobody but Madame Giry and Christine has ever been nice to him. My final question is a more interesting one; is the Phantom, then, Romani himself? Nobody ever says, and while Butler is identifiably Scottish to the max, the background leaves it an open question as to whether the child-Phantom is a Romani boy being exhibited by his own family or people or someone else who was found by or sold to them.

 

Of course, after beating the kid up and exposing his face to everyone, the gigantic dude in charge of the Devil's child gets lassoed and strangled to death by a malnourished twelveish-year-old, which is not really believable at all but which is partially saved by a well-done shot in which the kid steps back from the man's corpse, picks up his doll, and then stares, seemingly unperturbed, at little Madame Giry from behind the unreadable cloth of his mask. It's one of the few great moments of the film that really underlines how he could be considered truly terrifying, though clearly Giry doesn't agree because instead of fleeing she hustles him out of the cage and runs him off with her while the carnival folk start crying murder and looking for him.

 

Does this background for the Phantom look familiar? It should, to anyone who has encountered the magical tour de force that is Forsyth's 1999 novel, from which it is lifted pretty much whole-cloth. Most details are exactly the same - the carnival, the cruel treatment, Madame Giry rescuing the boy and taking him home with her before installing him beneath the opera house - with the only changes being the ages of the participants, since obviously nobody wants to watch movies about people who are not at least in their thirties, if not twenties. Since Lloyd Webber will go on to collaborate extensively with Forsyth for his 2010 sequel musical, this is not exactly a surprise, and all things considered does not actually turn out to work poorly at all for this film, if you can cast a lot of rationality and silly worrying about things like ages and dates aside. Even with a concerted effort to do so, however, I'm still left with nagging questions, such as how Madame Giry doesn't know the Phantom's name if she's been taking care of him since childhood, or why she thought dumping him in the sewers under the opera house was such a fantastic plan. I would actually have liked to see more of this backstory in order to make it make more sense and flesh out Giry's character further, since she's being used as a major player here - for example, it would have been really interesting to find out how the "opera ghost" story got started and what her role in that was, but, alas, it is not to be. Either way, however, Giry's maternal role for Christine and Meg is extended to also cover the Phantom himself, another example of a later interpretation "correcting" the Phantom's lack of a mother figure (or, more accurately, replacing Christine as a mother figure with someone else).

 

After Madame Giry reveals all this to Raoul and he proceeds to do nothing with his newfound knowledge except sleep outside Christine's bedroom (apparently not in her dressing room after all! Raoul sleeping there is both ridiculous and inappropriate, but also cute), Christine, who seems to have an aversion to dressing properly to go anywhere (possibly she is taking a leaf from the 1999 Argento/Sands film's book), throws a cloak on over what again appears to be her nightie and runs off to visit her father's grave. I can understand her wanting to go alone, though it still seems like a pretty obnoxious thing to do to sneak past Raoul and leave him to wake up and enter full panic mode when he discovers she's gone and possibly kidnapped by a dangerous murderer. This latter half of the film, now speeding toward its conclusion, starts to have more logic jumps and issues with making sense, such as when it turns out there is apparently only one cemetery in Paris and that everyone knows where Christine's father's grave is; it's still not bad enough to make me give up on the movie entirely, but I wish they'd done more of those sorts of things earlier in the film, when Schumacher was working harder at making things surreal and dreamlike and they might have floated on by unnoticed.

 

Raoul, who naturally rushes out after Christine when he finds her missing, does so by leaping bareback onto an unfamiliar horse (while wearing only an artfully open peasant's blouse as well, naturally - do these people know that the opera house "ballet dormitories" probably don't have central heat and they'd have been freezing to death sleeping in those things?) and gallop that sucker after her carriage. He's a manful one, this version of Raoul, as is Wilson, who insisted on doing his own stunts. And oh, hey, there's Cesar - it looks like I was right about the simple black/white color scheme representing dualism, since Raoul is now galloping his white horse to the rescue after the Phantom wandered through tunnels with his black one earlier. The whole scene is rather silly, but it has the bonus of being kind of like the equally silly carriage-chase scene from the 1925 Julian/Chaney film (but without the dignity at the end). The Phantom, naturally, is driving the carriage, having knocked out Christine's random carriage-driver first.

 

The graveyard set is very atmospheric and Gothic, and fits the contemplative mood of the first half of the scene well, even if there seems to be enough mist to choke a horse (someone went nuts with the dry ice, methinks), and even that may again be attributed to Christine's mental state as she strides through the fog of grief toward her father's tomb. While, again, Schumacher decides for some unknown reason to have Rossum speak the "Little Lotte" introduction to "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" instead of singing it, once she gets to the piece proper she sounds pretty good; this song is one of her best musical moments, being both gentler and less operatically demanding and a better fit for her range. Her issues are still there and there's no escaping them, but it's the most pleasant piece for the whole film.

 

While I understand that Christine needs time to get her angst on, the endless and less-than-varying shots (though stone angels are always symbolic for this scene) make it seem like this cemetery must be fucking enormous, because it feels like she wanders through it for about ten years before finally arriving at Daddy Daae's tomb. Which, by the way, is a super-fancy giant mausoleum, which again underlines the fact that Christine and her family are (or were) famous and vaguely well-to-do performers, rather than unknowns barely a step up from the peasantry, possibly because all peasantry in this film are required to bathe in grime before reporting for a day of shooting. The final line of "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" is repeated a second time, with the final note jumped up an octave, but it's a valid take on the end of the number and I have no complaints.

 

When the Phantom (who apparently is able to navigate Ye Olde Giant Cemetery faster than Christine so as to get there first and ninja his way inside) begins singing "Wandering Child", he is apparently already inside the mausoleum, which begins to open and glow with a red light; the effect is extremely reminiscent of the red-curtained carriage in the graveyard scene of the 1989 Little/Englund film, though everyone in that film had the good sense not to make Englund sing anything. The image is a very powerful one, especially since this version of Christine believes that the ghost of her father has been haunting her since his death, and it makes her breathless almost-capitulation more believable; however, it also points out that, unlike most versions of the story, she still hasn't figured out that the Phantom and her Angel are in fact the same person (the only other time I remember anything like this happening is in the 1991 Perkins/Daughton graphic novel). Or has she? The film is frustratingly vague on this point, which really only has the effect of making Christine look like an airhead, not exactly the image we ought to be going for.

 

She's terrified of the Phantom (understandable), but hasn't managed to connect that, after he sings an "Angel of Music" reprise with her and takes her down to his underground bachelor pad, he might also be the Angel? The lines about her returning to her teacher have been cut from this film, so there's no compelling evidence that she's stopped her "angelic" lessons, but with the Phantom having vanished for six months while becoming progressively more demanding, it's difficult to imagine that he wouldn't have done something in all that time if he were still showing up daily to tutor her. If the Angel also vanished once the Phantom shenanigans started, wouldn't that be a clue? Since there's no firm moment where Christine figures out that the Angel isn't her father's ghost after all (I don't have any idea what she thinks is up when she's all petting on a dude who doesn't look at all like her father down in the lair earlier - this is another reason that youngifying the Phantom up doesn't help the plot too much), there's also no true moment of realization for that betrayal to come in, and the result is that she's a weaker and less intelligent-seeming character. This scene goes a long way toward rectifying that - she is believably caught in the web of her memories, and Rossum does a good job of portraying her longing and how easy it is for her to slip back into that comforting belief in her father - but in the end there isn't enough in the rest of the film to support it into entirely working.

 

The "Angel of Music" reprise here, while still possessed of a lovely melody, has been pared down to just the Phantom and Christine, removing Raoul's harmony (after all, he isn't even here yet); it suffers for it considerably, and again, the monotony of Christine and the Phantom singing mostly in unison isn't broken adequately by the orchestra's interjections as it was with the original lines. Symbolically, too, turning this into a duet instead of a trio removes the contrast and interplay between the Phantom, pulling Christine toward him as her Angel, and Raoul, trying to draw her back to the safety of reality. Raoul's agonized lines about Christine being drawn to the Phantom and his helpless attempts to call her back were a key part of the original scene, as they gave both his and Christine's characters a little bit more depth and explanation at that moment, and removing them lets things fall a bit flat.

 

Of course, they had to be removed so that Raoul could ride in half-naked on a horse instead. FOR SWORD-FIGHTINGS. Yes, there will be sword-fightings between the Phantom and Raoul, a very bizarre change from not only the original novel but from Llod Webber's musical, too, which preserved the Phantom's aura of power and mystery by not having him start physically tussling around with Raoul. Christine proceeds to stand uselessly in one place (come on - she's not even saying anything!) for the remainder of the scene while the Phantom pulls a sword with a gigantic skull-shaped hilt (thing must be SO unbalanced) and they go to town. All lines from "Bravo Monsieur" are removed in favor of grunting and the waving of sharp pieces of metal. After being stabbed in the arm and bleeding a surprisingly small amount, Raoul manages to knock the Phantom down and almost kills him, but Christine begs him, "No! Not like this!" and he relents, because he's generally a nice guy that way, and they run off in a carriage, leaving the Phantom lying in the snow on his back looking like an angry, upended turtle in a waistcoat.

 

After that debacle, the character of the Phantom has lost the last pathetic shreds of power and importance he was still clinging to, and his ranting after their escape doesn't help much since it makes him sound overpoweringly like a whiny, scorned ex rather than an angered force of nature. Behind the misery of woefully miscast singing voices, the Phantom's devolution to a grumpy pretty boy who mopes about like an emo kid and then shouts a lot in a distinctly impotent manner is probably the biggest issue of this film for me, and while I was still invested in the story and wanted to see it through to the end, it was a lot like the way I was invested in the 1990 Richardson/Dance miniseries; yeah, I cared about the story, but since the main character was mostly a nice and misunderstood guy and he had no supernatural trappings to speak of, I cared a lot less than I did about the rich and complicated tale Leroux (and even Lloyd Webber's original musical) presented.

 

Understandably not taking this shit anymore, Raoul returns to the opera house to start The Plan to capture the Phantom in motion, and things are really sped along; Giry's protests are cut and most of the sung recitative-style dialogue here is simply spoken, which does make it go by quicker but which again runs up against the problem of how silly it sounds when everyone is talking in rhyme (the worst bit is when Christine does the entirety of her introduction to "Twisted Every Way" as a sort of informal beat poetry event). My notes say, "God, can we just listen to Wilson since he's at least singing decently in a register that works for him?" but that's not entirely fair, since "Twisted Every Way" is by far Rossum's best sung piece in the film, so they both come out looking pretty good here.

 

And then it's off to The Plan, kicked off by the performance of Don Juan Triumphant! I love this performance in this film - it's evocative, well-staged, and both Driver and Preece, as the two halves of Carlotta, do a fantastic job of delivering a ball-busting performance. I also appreciate that Schumacher takes a few shots to show us the shocked and confused response of the audience, since Lloyd Webber's version of the Phantom's opera is far too modern in scale and tonal organization to please the average opera-going audience of the day. The weird demon-ballet going on to the side of the major characters is a treat (though again far too modern for the time period, it's meant to be that way). By the way, I haven't mentioned Victor McGuire as Piangi, but he, too, has a great command of his voice and a fantabulous ability to fool us into thinking that he sounds silly. Sadly, there's no avoiding the time for Rossum to roll in for her singing part in this song, and the introductory lines starting with "No thoughts within her head..." are an obvious struggle. It's a fiendishly difficult couple of lines, so I feel her pain; in fact, for this entire number I felt like a vocal teacher, desperately willing her to produce a good sound and then experiencing exhausted relief whenever she managed to get a decent note out without destroying it.

 

Of course, the real depression enters with Butler, who has taken over as Don Juan; again, he looks fantastic in the role, and as Don Juan manages to ooze sexuality very convincingly, but the vocal demands of the part are beyond his scope and the result is not easy on the ears. Incidentally, the black domino he wears for this role points out a trend in the entire film wherein the Phantom's deformity, somewhat disconcertingly, seems to move around and change size a bit depending on what mask he's wearing. The deformity that was peeping around the edges of the half-face mask a bit appears to have shrunk, since based on this wee domino it can't be more than about two square inches in size, but it will grow and expand again later after he's been unmasked. The makeup department, it seems, wasn't quite ready to commit. Sexy mask aside, it's hard to swallow the suspension of disbelief when nobody in the entire auditorium except for Christine, Madame Giry, and Raoul realize that the Phantom has replaced Piangi, begging the question of how exactly they think he suddenly lost a hundred pounds and started sucking vocally.

 

Both Giry and Raoul, instead of alerting the gendarmes that are standing, like, right next to them, instead just spend the scene staring in horror; in Giry's case, it may be her long-entrenched inability to act against him or tacit approval of his behavior, but in Raoul's case it just looks like failure. There's a lot of costuming silliness in this scene, as well, including the Phantom's neverending showboat cape-twirling, his impressively tight, package-enhancing pants, and Christine's sleeves continually somehow inching their way back up her shoulders so they can fall enticingly off several times, most of which is more distracting or (in the case of the cape-flipping) laughable than mood-setting. Nevertheless, there is decent chemistry between the two of them here, and Raoul's increasingly upset face as he starts to second-guess his plan is believable and sympathetic.

 

I've always been of the opinion that there are a few ways to interpret the "All I Ask of You" reprise that the Phantom sneaks into in the midst of "The Point of No Return"; it may be something that he deliberately wrote into the score, seeking to remind Christine of her relationship with Raoul but convince her to transfer those emotions to himself, or it could be thought to be an internal monologue that isn't actually audible to anyone but himself, or even impromptu improvisation on his part as the elation of having her near and seeing something that resembles acceptance in her spurs him to lay it all out. I tend to favor the second and third possibilities, myself, since he uses her real name instead of Aminta's, though it's possible he actually wrote it into the score and just used Christine's name in a moment of passion, since after all the entire opera is meant to be a metaphor for his life and Aminta is obviously representative of Christine herself. In this case, there's so much silence and suspense in the cast and audience surrounding them that I think it may be intended to be internal, though, as with some other ambiguous choices in this film, it isn't clear.

 

The chandelier is dropped here at the end of the performance, after the Phantom has been publicly unmasked (there isn't much to say about his deformity; it's mostly just runny-looking skin, and resembles a bad burn more than it does a congenital issue. Honestly, it's not nearly as horrifying and society-estranging as it needs to be, but it's pretty obvious by this point that Butler's Phantom is going to be hot, goddamn it, and no stupid "ugliness" problem is going to get in the way of all the fantasizing) and absconded with Christine; as before, we don't see any blood or even anyone affected by it aside from a lot of panic, since Schumacher is trying to keep this as squeaky clean as possible.

 

While Christine does the worst job ever of resisting capture, Raoul hooks Madame Giry and manages to get her to show him the way down to the Phantom's lair, which turns out to be via a massive, awesome-looking spiral stair into darkness. I'm very sad that that set lasted for all of one whole minute before he fell through a trap door and landed in a pool of murky water. While the water trap is an added idea for this film, it's slightly reminiscent of the siren of Leroux's novel, at least in using water as a vehicle for capturing and murdering intruders, and Raoul's near-demise in it reminds me forcefully of his brother's death by drowning in the original novel. Honestly, the scene itself is not spell-binding - while it's fun enough to watch Wilson, running around in a mostly-open shirt again, swim around and try to save himself via brawn, it goes on too long and there's no real question of whether or not he's going to live (this is not one of those movies that has the gumption to kill him off), so the intended tension really isn't present. Ho-hum.

 

The final confrontation in the lair is poorly staged and features a lot of Wilson trying very hard to communicate his distress while Butler struts around with little menace but a lot of tight pants and Rossum just stands there in total uselessness (you could have replaced her with a prop for most of this scene and it wouldn't have made a lot of difference). Again, a lot of it is accomplished in the same set with uncreative use of cinematography, which leaves me thinking once more about how much I wish this read more like a movie instead of like a stage show. The tension isn't mounting very well, so I spend the first part of the scene wondering if Raoul's arm is bleeding again or if he just didn't change his shirt from before, why Christine isn't doing anything - she's not even moving or talking or, like, looking upset! - and where the hell this hidden moat-rope the Phantom suddenly comes up with came from. Luckily, once he's got Raoul lashed down and is starting to strangle him, Butler and Wilson manage to come up with enough fire between the two of them to keep things alive, both desperately pleading their case to the wooden Rossum up on the edge of the lake (apparently Christine is allergic to water or something, because despite knowing it's only knee-deep she doesn't venture into it, even when a ranting stalker is over there strangling her fiance). As an aside, having seen it, I am no longer surprised by the number of fans on the internet who have used this scene as the basis for writing stories involving a gay relationship between Raoul and the Phantom; while I don't think there's anything here that points that way, I do have to admit that the two of them have a lot more chemistry with each other in this scene than either has with Christine, who, as mentioned above, might as well almost not be there until she finally decides to brave the water to go make kissyface with the Phantom.

 

Rossum tries, she really does, but her Christine has been a bewildered and childlike character from the beginning, and she needed to make a serious transition here to come up with the strength required of a Christine in this final scene; she didn't manage it, and as a result Christine's character doesn't achieve much in the way of visible growth, her kiss with the Phantom (which actually turns out to be a longish period of makin' out) seems born of desperation rather than true empathy, and the whole thing doesn't quite reach the metaphor it aspires to, despite the wailing strains of "Angel of Music" doing their best to elevate the proceedings. It is interesting that she kisses the Phantom not only protractedly, but twice; it seems like something she may have been wanting to do and is doing as much for herself as for him, making the first kiss for him and the second for herself to have that experience before she departs forever.

 

Butler's meltdown from ranting assaulter to bewildered and miserable wreck is done very well, and I really enjoy it; he can certainly put on the melodrama, and does a good job of treading the line between too much and just enough. The last scene, where he kneels brokenly in front of the music box and sings "Masquerade" to himself, is poignant not only because of the obvious fact that he has irrevocably lost Christine, but also because of the memory of his childhood toy - he is in effect a child again, lost and confused, and has returned to the relic of his childhood. Christine's return of his ring before she goes is symbolic of the dissolution of their relationship, as it was in the 1989 and 1998 films (though not as violent as in either) as well. The only thing to really mar the effectiveness of the closing scene is the very unfortunate choice to have Butler sing the final "Go now, go now and leave me!" lines that are usually spoken (well, shouted) in the stage show; their impact is severely diminished and they sound unrealistic with all the naked emotion going on around him, and Butler doesn't have the vocal power to get the same effect he would have if he'd just chosen to shout.

 

The Phantom smashing a lot of mirrors is intended to be symbolic, I'm sure, but I'm not sure in exactly what way; the best I can come up with is that he's smashing his empire (which he already kind of did since the opera house is burning down up above) or that he's rejecting his need to be obsessed by his appearance anymore, since Christine has exemplified tolerance for him. It's a bit of a mystery, and, while dramatic, his exit lacks the supernatural poignancy of the Phantom's disappearance in the stage show.

 

Back to the two-tone present we go, for a little epilogue. I should mention that there have been infrequent interludes in the present a few times over the course of the film, possibly in an effort to tie it all into a more cohesive whole and to remind the audience that we're looking at past events that had a serious impact on a lot of peoples' lives; however, they are generally pretty thoroughly uninteresting and do more to interrupt the flow of events than to enhance them, and since they feature no dialogue at all and just a lot of silences and shots of the aged Raoul and Mystery Giry staring soulfully at each other or random bits of Paris, I could easily have done without them. Nevertheless, it's a lovely touch to see Raoul visit his wife's grave and leave the music box there as a sort of homage to her and to the man that touched both of their lives.

 

I can't resist reading gravestones, especially when they are large and impressively carved and might hold information relevant to the plot. According to the inscription, Christine was a "Countess", deeply bizarre since her husband here is still a vicomte (oh, snap! Did Philippe steal her?) and I'm not sure why they switched to the English title (well, come to that, I don't know why the inscription itself is in English. Sigh). Her dates of birth and death are listed as 1854 to 1917, meaning that she was sixteen during the events of the saga we've just seen (well, no wonder the poor girl couldn't sing grand opera. Shame on everyone involved for trying to make her do so!), and also meaning that she died two years ago at the ancient age of 63, which is believable enough for the time period (assuming she had the consumption or something). She is also listed as a wife and mother, confirming that she did indeed marry Raoul and even suggesting the existence of wee de Chagnys running around somewhere.

 

Our final shot of the film, much to a stricken Raoul's surprise (though he also looks a little bit fatalistic about it, really), is the presence of a single rose also left at Christine's grave, tied with a black velvet ribbon, with the ring the Phantom once gave her holding the little package together. The obvious implication is that he, too, is still alive, and still mourning her; while he was, based on his backstory, at least a decade older than Raoul, if not more, it's still in the realm of possibility that he could still be around, and the implication that he might be a little less prone to the effects of aging, while not very rational, does help give him back a little bit of that supernatural glamor so missing from him in this film. Why he's chosen to leave the ring now, instead of when she died or at any time in the intervening two years, is something of a mystery, but considering the ages of all the participants, I like the idea that he may be on death's doorstep himself at this point, and is saying a final farewell. Not that there's any substantial evidence for that theory, but in this film, I'm pretty sure Schumacher wants his audience to make things up.

 

As the credits roll, "Learn to Be Lonely," the new song written by Lloyd Webber for the film, comes on; it's sung by Minnie Driver, whose voice is quite lovely in a pop setting, and has a pleasant enough melody. The lyrics, which mostly have to do with the singer urging someone to accept their fate as a lonely but noble outcast, are very, very maudlin, and the melody isn't lovely enough to make up for that, leaving the entire thing as a pleasant but ultimately forgettable endeavor for me. While, since it isn't used in the film proper, there's no way to know whether or not someone specific is intended to be singing this song, the distinctly mothering and pitying tone of it suggests Madame Giry to me.

 

Against my better judgment, because I aim to be thorough and difficult in all things, I also investigated the deleted scene from the film which was included in the bonus features. The scene involves the Phantom mooning around his underground lair singing "No One Would Listen", an earlier version of "Learn to Be Lonely" with lyrics so resoundingly emo that if they were any worse I would have imploded from the self-indulgent angst. The scene is pretty awful - the amateur charcoal art of Christine, the whiny nature of him sitting around whimpering about how nobody understands him but her, the ever-present spectre of Butler's painful vocal problems - but apparently Schumacher and company realized that, because it was removed from the final cut of the film. It's for the best; had it remained, there would have been no taking the character seriously as anything but a whiner.

 

This film has a lot of problems; it's easy to see why its critics dislike it so intensely, and why so many people are so vocal about that dislike. But it also has its good moments - a lush and fantastic visual aesthetic, interesting choices when it comes to character backgrounds and interactions, some excellent performances interspersed among the sub-par ones, and of course Lloyd Webber's score, which despite a lot of cuts and re-orchestrations is still pulse-stirring in all the right places. These things save it from true badness and elevate it to just the grey side of mediocre; it tries very, very hard, and in some places even succeeds, but too many corners are cut and edges are glossed over, too many critical ideas from the original novel and Lloyd Webber's stage musical are softened or glanced past, and the damning failure of the major characters to not only deliver convincing vocal performances but even to sing credibly at all is a misery impossible to overlook. In the end, it's notable mostly for unleashing a veritable tidal wave of materials that will be based on it over the next several years, and for having one of the heaviest influences of any recent version of the story.

All content © 2007-2020 Anne Myers

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