The Phantom of the Opera: What Joel Schumacher Did
As they say in movies, for every “Chicago” that earns the accolades upon crossing over to film, you get a “Nine” that earn universal scorn. Could this be acceptable reason enough to shoot these Hollywood versions with pre-recorded performances?
Several issues rise to the surface the moment Joel Schumacher’s take on directing the Hollywood version of “The Phantom of the Opera” gets discussed. And I would try addressing both the performances and the story itself knowing that when it comes to musicals, no matter how many loopholes you find in the story, if the music is good, you will enjoy it eventually.
Is the Opera Ghost (OG, for brevity) even intended to be scary? For a man presented as abandoned by his parents to first languish in freak shows and later in cellars to grow up with rats, he’s a relatively fine-dressed man. Seriously if that is how an underground lair looked like, then I live in a dump site called bedroom.
That line really confirms even just slightly that Andrew Lloyd Webber really wrote this musical for Sarah Brightman. He can easily relate to a composer’s need to find a great voice to get his music interpreted the way he envisioned it. Sometimes I preferred to think it’s also what pushed him to write “Love Never Dies” since his marriage to Brightman didn’t work out.
But back to the film adaptation. This is, after all, presented in the vision of Joel Schumacher. There are instances anyway where “going big” has its perks like that part in the movie where Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur Andre try to appease Carlotta to start singing for them again through the song “Prima Donna”. Offering her gifts from fine confectionery to jewelry, it can easily be interpreted as a diss to some prima donnas in traditional theater (no names, just guess which sopranos) that gave birth to the “diva attitude”. The fact that Carlotta was intended to be funny for parodying such women got the point across.
I’m not saying that simply because some sopranos can sing in tune or have the talent, they have the right to go throw their weight around and walk out of their contracts if their demands are not met. But in Carlotta’s case, you can clearly see why divas like her evolve into monsters – because desperate producers like Firmin and Andre tolerate such whimsical attitude.
In the Webber version, they did not specify how long had OG been mentoring Christine. Meg Giry just presented her forward as a replacement for Carlotta (because Carlotta threw a hissy fit) knowing that Christine can sing too. But it really gets you thinking how long had OG been mentoring Christine for him to have a collection of artworks and dolls in homage to his student. I get it that he’s an artistic prodigy but going as far as having a mannequin built? That made OG a creepy stalker to me.
Too bad, Emmy Rossum was not convincing enough in that fainting scene. In fact I don’t find her face expressive enough. It’s a shame that for a medium that often focused on facial expressions to come up with a believable performance, she is not well-equipped with depth and believability to play Christine. And mixed emotions are part of the repertoire for playing that part authentically.
I had to find a clip of her singing “All I Ask of You” just to see if it’s really her voice used in the movie. The film version was pre-recorded of course but it’s still different when listened from a program clip. And it turned out fine. She can sing and her duet with Patrick Wilson (playing Raoul) was sweet. But the acting? I found it lacking. I don’t find it enough. Maybe because regardless of whether she’s sad, happy, frightened or just trying to cope with whatever she is supposed to feel at that time, her facial expression is the same. So this may be my least favorite among the Christines that I have seen so far. Before Kristen Stewart became the poster girl for actresses devoid of facial expressions, there was Emmy Rossum.
When she sang the title track, “The Phantom of the Opera”, I was bracing myself for the worst. It had a lot of high notes to hit especially in the end and I find them too thin to the point of screechy. If music can be used to move people, it’s her version of this track that I will not recommend if you need to move people to awe and fascination.
As for the guy they chose to play OG, he makes me forget that he played King Leonidas in “300”.
His part during Carlotta’s berating of Christine for breaking character and talking when she’s supposed to play mute was where it became obvious that they intended OG to be malevolent. He called Carlotta a toad under his breath and you can sense the anger seething within. For most of the movie, he looked like his suppressing his anger to the world even when facing Christine during the song “The Phantom of the Opera”. In this version, Schumacher booked an actor that can act the part, not an actor that can sing the part.
His duet with Rossum, “The Phantom of the Opera” revealed the weaknesses in his voice. But he managed to redeem himself music-wise the moment he sang “The Music of the Night”. Also the demonic tone needed in the songs “Why So Silent” and “Point of No Return” was provided. For a guy masked for most of the movie, he made up for physical acting. The holes in the masks he wore were not too big nor too small to let his acting-through-eye-movement approach shine through. Add the body movements that expressed “I am going to do something evil to you” and you have a performance that gets stuck in your head long enough to remember this guy.
So, I must say that my speculation about Schumacher (or maybe the producers) to get someone to play OG that can act the part instead of getting someone that can sing the part hold some ground. Besides you’d never realize how big Butler’s eyes are until they demand your attention behind that mask. I liked Butler’s approach to the role. Maybe because he already anticipated some flak for his singing. At least compared to Rossum, he could make up for his singing shortcomings for being an incredible actor.
I feel like recommending to everyone that wanted a Phantom that is so devilishly sexy, he makes evil so seductive. (Wait … where’s my panty? Haha, see the part where Butler sings “Point of No Return”) Film, being a visual medium, highlights the nuances and other little details suggesting that this man enjoys being evil without going over the top. If the gothic production design of “Don Juan Triumphant” hasn’t given you the idea yet how dark OG viewed the world, then maybe you need to watch the film again. Watching some scenes again makes you realize what you may have missed the first time you saw them.
Acting vs singing? Your pick. I like watching performance artists suit their emotions and facial expressions to the songs they sing (read: hugot). More insights shared for sure granted that you like our official Facebook page, MusicalsOnline.com, and follow us on Twitter @musicalsnews. Thanks for reading.