She ran an international Phantom of the Opera fan club and published a Phantom fanzine, and put up the second ever Phantom of the Opera site on the web. She saw the show 83 times with 18 different Phantoms, in 4 countries.
Long version, see below...[pagebreak]Seeing the Phantom movie was probably the most intense mixed experience I'll ever have. After caring about it passionately for years (and being sure they'd most likely mess it up by changing crucial elements of the story and not having a good enough Phantom), here it was. And by the end I don't know whether I was more or less annoyed by it, for being so near in some ways, and yet so very far in others.
First, I'll rant. Why is it that Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote the darn show, just doesn't GET IT? "It's an extraordinarily fine document of the show, I just don't see how it could have been any better." By not changing crucial elements of the story perhaps? (Or casting a Phantom who can really sing, but more on that in a moment.) "Of course it's a different thing than the stage show, but it doesn't threaten the integrity of the show in any way." How it can be an extraordinarily fine document yet of course be a different thing somewhat eludes me... but as for the integrity, yes it bloody does, it changes the Phantom's whole backstory. And indeed Christine's. "It's not at all based on the theatre visually or direction-wise, but it's still got exactly the same essence... if anything, it's expanded it and given it perhaps an even deeper emotional centre." Oh come on, deeper emotional centre? By removing the Phantom's background so he was taken to the Opera House as a boy and cared for by Mme Giry, so he knows nothing of the world outside, has had none of Erik's years of pain and rejection except up to the age of maybe 14? How can he really think that's giving it the same essence, let alone deepening it? Tosser.
As I said, my main fears have always been that they would change the story in just that kind of moronic way, and that the Phantom wouldn't be good enough. So, Gerard Butler. On the one hand, I don't think he was a good enough Phantom. On the other, I don't want to blame *him* for that... I don't think he was in any way bad, in fact I thought he was mostly pretty darn good, just a long way from being *great*. And when there have been so many great Phantoms, when they could have given us a great Phantom, that is a major flaw. I think Butler is a fine actor, I've enjoyed him in other things, and I think he probably could have given us more if the director had told/allowed him to. But he didn't do it for me. He had some excellent moments, but like some Phantoms I've seen on stage, I'd just be thinking "Oh, yes, this is more like it," when he'd just go back to being okay again. Okay isn't good enough.
He's not a strong enough singer for the role. That bothers some people more than others, but it bothers me. His voice doesn't mesmerize me, there is no "soft sweet sound" that would make my spirit want to soar. I cannot imagine his singing enrapturing Christine. Given that he isn't a singer, again, I think he did a damn good job with the vocal equipment he has. Moments of his singing were lovely; just not quite enough of it. Too little breath control, too much uneven tone, and not nearly enough range. There were times when he entirely transcended his voice, but again, not *quite* enough of them. I cried when Christine kissed him, I loved his immediate reaction to the kiss, but then the emotional intensity just didn't stay strong enough. There was nothing like the level of devastation necessary. I thought the ending, with Erik having left a rose on Christine's grave, would annoy the hell out of me because to me Erik dies of a broken heart, as he does in Leroux. If I don't believe he would have died of a broken heart, he hasn't been heart-breaking enough. The ending in a sense didn't bother me because I didn't have any trouble believing that this Phantom would have lived on - but that in itself is a sign that the emotional core just wasn't there. Without Erik's background, it's hard to feel for him nearly as much, he has too little psychological reason for killing, it just doesn't work.
Those are my biggest two criticisms. There were other things I didn't like or which irritated me throughout, but there was also a lot that I loved. Sets, costumes, the majority of the design and photography, was wonderful. The sound mixing was first-rate, and you could hear lyrics that are often impossible to make out in the show. Most of the cast was excellent. There were some lovely things added. It's really only in the most important two elements that I felt severely let down.
Of the rest of the cast, I disliked Emmy Rossum for the first few minutes, then began to quite like her. Her "Think of Me" was so-so, and the early line where Meg says of Raoul "Christine, he's so handsome" gave me an early shudder which I'm glad didn't forsage anything worse along those lines. And speaking of Raoul, damn, if only their Phantom had been so good! Patrick Wilson is by far and away the best Raoul I have seen, and I have seen a couple on stage who did actually lift the role above its useful blandness. I am still recovering from finding it entirely impossible to dislike Raoul. Patrick Wilson was just amazing. Emmy Rossum quickly developed into a fine Christine as far as her acting went, very much showing her attraction towards Erik in Music of the Night, nice acting in Wishing, touching Lair. And for the first time in ages, I *enjoyed* "All I Ask Of You." Unfortunately she also shows evidence of her lack of training vocally, but I liked her over all.
That's the brief version. Now for the obsessive exhaustive fan details.
The beginning. Nice titles. Nice black and white old photograph look. Irritated by the Opera House not looking much like the Garnier from the outside, but whatever. Irritated by it being burned out and abandoned if the implication is that this is still from the fire 50 years before, but if I tell myself it was war damage I can deal. Good age make-ups, liked the way Miranda Richardson looked at Raoul. Sort of like the way that in the show it could be her or could be anyone, but don't mind it obviously being her. It works.
As the chandelier rose, as the colour flooded the interior of the opera house, as the camera showed us glimpses of the proscenium arch with the writhing statuary, I got a real chill. That's how Phantom should be. If I hadn't already known about the stupid story changes or heard the soundtrack, I would have been getting really excited. So I'll pretend I didn't, and revel momentarily in the "whoah, yeah" feeling it gave me. Whoah, yeah!
Goes into the story, irked for a second by the date being a bit off from Leroux but I *know* that is absurdly picky and doesn't really matter in the least. Loved all the backstage bits, the real atmosphere of an opera house at that time and place. Good, good, good managers, generally going well, Daae, any relation to the famous violinist? Came to study the ballet at the age of seven? What was the point of that change? Oh, hold on, so they could explain the big grave. It's still a stupid change; Christine's father was an unknown and poor violinist, she was raised travelling the countryside, that's part of why she's so innocent and naive. Not brought up in one of the most cosmopolitan, sophisticated cities in the world! Grrr.
All goes along fine and nicely through to the dressing room scene, except the silly crap with young Christine and younger Mme Giry; I like the moment where the camera dives through the grating to show us the Phantom listening for a moment. Like the lights going out because it builds up tension, but somehow not enough... I don't know what it was, but Butler's first introduction just didn't grab me. His "brava" was ho hum. Rossum's "Angel of Music" started off not enraptured enough for me but soon improved, her "there inside" was very good. And then the real introduction of the Phantom - again, just not good enough singing for me. If I was seeing a new Phantom on stage for the first time and that was his entrance, I would have been disappointed. Still, I liked the corridor, and our first look at Butler's Phantom was great. Hot, sultry, damn sexy eyes, nice suit, gives her very intense sexy smouldering looks. On some of his phrases I thought he did very well. I liked Rossum's acting on the boat - intrigued, attracted, compelled. I did miss the "sing for me" at the end of the title song; it emphasizes the importance to the Phantom of Christine's voice, of their student-tutor relationship.
Music of the Night. Key changes bothered my ears. Again, Butler was great in parts, singing bothered me in others. At first I wrote that his "soar" was lovely, considering my reservations about his voice in general. Then I listened to the soundtrack again with a musically-trained friend, who pointed out that his long notes in MotN are digitally enhanced because he couldn't actually hold them. I thought both their acting was excellent during this song, Rossum's mesmerized (but without that annoying doe-eyed bull) attraction, their interaction and looks. I enjoyed catching sight of what appeared to be the show's mask on a head in his lair, and indeed the whole lair set was beautiful and appropriate. Missed the mannequin not lunging but that's a minor flaw, and very glad that he caught her because if she'd fallen to the floor as in most of the US productions, I would have had to scream. Nice bit at the end of the song, with their faces close. Having Meg go into the corridor was a good way of showing that it doesn't really look as it did to Christine, which shows us again how mesmerized she is by him.
Unmasking. Mixed. I found him to be a bit too obviously following the beat; but his "gargoyle" bit was beautiful. Loved her acting here, his so-so. Just didn't feel his pain enough.
Continues well, love Simon Callow as Andre, some odd bits and pieces of altered lyrics (I like the spectre/expect a large retainer line, and it's changed). Like the thing with Erik having a doll theatre, certainly liked the close-up on Butler there; no one can say he isn't damn hot. Prima Donna was actually better than on stage in my opinion, I thought that the song was done entirely wonderfully; and on the subject of Carlotta, I feared I'd find Minnie Driver over the top at first, but came to really enjoy her performance (in spite of the bizarre accent). The dubbing was well done, and I know that some people feel they should have gotten a stage Carlotta who can really sing the role to do it, but surely that's a lot more important of the Phantom himself?!
On to Il Muto, very well done, very funny. The sheep were particularly hilarious. Though I do find sheep excessively funny in and of themselves.
Mixed on the killing Joseph Buquet sequence (and did anyone else notice that his drinking habits were right out of the Robert Englund version?). I liked seeing Erik up in the flies; I liked that it gave us some of his edge, some of those dark and threatening looks. But I felt it was a tad over-long.
Up to the roof. Rossum didn't sound very afraid; once on the roof though, she improved again. Loved the set, loved the snow, loved Patrick Wilson as Raoul, loved Rossum once she got going. "All I Ask Of You" was, for perhaps the first time, really worth paying attention to. So much better-acted than it so often is; and by this time, Raoul has become a truly rounded character, not a useless piece of scenery dressing, and I believed in him and was moved by their love. I don't think I've ever felt a jot for Raoul and Christine's love before. Care about Raoul's feelings? It... just ain't right!
Well no, actually it's great. And so to the Angel, such a beautiful moment in the show, capable of such transporting beauty. But... it just wasn't right. I just didn't feel it. Intellectually I could see that Butler's acting was good, that he was moved, that it was sincere, that he was feeling it. But I just didn't. It just didn't have a tenth of the impact it does on stage. (My husband cried, so clearly it worked for him.)
Nice time change, liked the way the jewels in the b&w version turned into the fireworks, loved everything through Masquerade. Then the Red Death. Starts well - he looks great. Seemed a little faster than in the show, not rushed but just a pinch faster. Then the Phantom gives one of his later "Notes" there and then, in some ways a good compression but even though he has a sword, they could so easily rush him and over-power him then and there it seemed a little silly. It gave Erik and Christine a very nice moment together though, the way they move together, one of the moments of first-rate performances from them. So I let go of my slight pickiness over the note bit. And I loved Raoul falling into the mirrored chamber, right out of Leroux with the lasso dropping, pretty much the one thing they added that I thought was an entirely positive addition.
Then there is the freak show (Elephant Man Or What? moment.) No problem with the main part of the sequence in itself, the girl playing the young Mme Giry was perfect here, really lovely acting. But. But but but but but. THIS IS THE THING THAT MAKES ME WANT TO PILLORY ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER AND JOEL SCHUMACHER WITH ROTTEN EGGS AND TOMATOES. (And dear phans, that's the polite version.) He's between about 9 and 15 years old here, and she takes him straight to the opera house. If he'd been older, if it had been more recent, if it had been *after* his lifetime of experiences of hatred, rejection, mockery, abuse and fear, it could have been alright. But no, that is all gone. No Shah of Persia, no Maze of Mirrors, no life story - just the same old shit that Kopit and Yeston gave us (as in the Charles Dance mini-series). And that takes away the most fundamental, psychological keys to the Phantoms character. And that just fucking kills it.
I could go on a rant here. I could go on a rant for a page and a half. I could scream with anger and then detail it all with references to psychology, mythology, original story, whatever the hell you want, and then scream again. My husband, being a calmer kind of person on these issues, just says "Who would have the gall to change this? Someone with a purile brain." So there you go.
Tootling on to the graveyard scene, stopping to note that Christine doesn't live in the opera in the book but noting that that is another of those picky little observations about things that don't matter: nice brooding, melancholy atmosphere. I'd go as far to say spellbinding, full of unearthly beauty, and haunting S&M statuary. (Hey, the show needs a touch of kink!) Love her costume here, satisfied with her performance. So to one of my other favourite moments in the show, "Wandering Child." It should be one of those transportingly beautiful moments that gives you chills up and down your spine and makes you swoon. He tried, he was intense, but his lack of voice continued to bug me. His acting I had no problem with - I suppose I can say that he did it as well as his voice allowed. Unfortunately, a lot of the acting in Phantom comes *through* the singing, and having to work so hard to keep his voice there too often means that Butler isn't able to put enough emotion into the singing itself, particularly on the high floaty notes. I loved that they gave him the "fathering gaze" lyric (where it used to be "far-reaching"), except that having such a young Phantom entirely alters that whole dynamic. So it was much less appropriate than when Peter Karrie first sang it, but what the heck, I love it anyway - and that was a phrase Butler did very well.
Sword fight. Another of those things I think they shouldn't have added, mostly because unless you have them being interrupted by someone else the Phantom has to lose or the story would end then and there. And that is just wrong. Can you see Erik in the show losing a sword fight to Raoul? Can you see it in Leroux? Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Nicely staged, performed, and filmed, in fact a very well done fight, but just wrong. Wrong enough to add to the tomato stockpile.
The high point of the film was probably "Point of No Return." Except for the fact that once he's unmasked you realize that with the mask he was wearing in this sequence wouldn't have covered his deformity (more on that in a minute), I liked it. It is damn hot, full of raging fire, instense and passionate sexuality, on both their parts. Butler's "raging fire" moment was superb. If the whole thing had been on this level, I would be dancing in the streets singing the praises of this film and taking back everything I ever said about it. In the show one has always wondered why Christine doesn't instantly recognize his voice, although I've seen it acted that she is immediately entranced and only "comes to" when she feels the mask under the hood - but I prefer it this way. I love the fact that she knows it's him, that she lets herself go, that she lets herself (in the emotional disguise provided by the part, true of a few actors I know who are very shy in person but not in a role). Love it love it love it. Of course, then you hate her even more for being such a bitch as to unmask him in front of everyone. Oh, and Gerard Butler's "say you'll share with me..." was absolutely as heart-breaking as it ought to be. Bravo on that one.
Loved the way they did the chandelier, too. Some critics have suggested that the fans wouldn't like the change in placement of the chandelier from the show, but it makes complete sense in terms of a movie vs. stage and the division of acts.
The deformity I felt was so-so. Obviously the stage make-up had to be greatly scaled back for a film, and on the whole I think it was almost decent, but it needed to be a few shades more disfigured. And of course we've seen his eye through the mask with no hint of the droop, and we would have seen forehead deformity with the black mask of Don Juan.
The Final Lair needs to be the best scene for the rest of the story to work, and I felt it was up and down. His "this face / fear and loathing" was lovely, but again, I too often felt he was held back by his lack of singing ability, and was just too shouty. He was okay, but he wasn't great.
And with a Raoul as fantastic as Patrick Wilson, it's all the more important that the Phantom be indisputably great. He's up against so much more than in the stage show. He's up against someone you care about too. He's up against someone who loves Christine as much as he does. He has to be the most powerful, the most passionate, the most pitiful, the most glorious, the most tragic, the most heart-broken, that you can imagine. And in the movie he just isn't.
We see Erik and Raoul next to each other, in similar ripped shirts (with similar ripped chests). This creates a dynamic not in the show which I did like, where we see Raoul as the other side of the mirror to Erik, the light to Erik's dark... the life of privilege to Erik's life of rejection, but it's sad to me when seeing Raoul's nobility is what casts the light on Erik's twisted version of nobility rather than getting it from the performance of the Phantom himself. It also doesn't make up to me the losses of having Raoul and Erik so close in age, of losing the depths and levels of Christine's association of the Angel of Music with her father, of the Phantom representing the Plutonian man to Raoul's boy, the forbidden intensity of their sexual/spiritual attraction.
The rest of the lair... I cried. That's good. The kiss made me cry. I think I started crying at "pitiful creature of darkness..." - Rossum lovely again. I don't think I could ever have forgiven Joel Shumacher there if I hadn't cried.
Then - immediately after the kiss, I loved Butler. There, he was truly Erik. And then, he wasn't quite there again. He was good, but yet again, he just wasn't great. He needed to cry more. He needed to be more overtly devastated. Again, *of course* it had to be massively toned down from the stage show, but they toned it down too much (and this very likely had nothing to do with Butler, I don't criticize him at all there). I never quite felt the intensity of his pain. Rossum, yet again, lovely, but Erik was just a bit too far away.
I miss the throne, it's in the script in the "Companion," wish it had been there. The Epilogue ending, with Raoul visiting Christine's grave, was beautifully done. As I said before, I'm not wild about the rose being left there, I don't believe Erik would live on after losing Christine - but this Phantom was young and very healthy, and so much less devastated than Erik really should be, that it didn't bother me so much.
So, I left the cinema, overall a good deal happier than when I went in, but with mixed emotions and some anger over things that I'm glad I was prepared for. As I've talked to friends about it this evening, my feelings about the film over all have gone up and down. As a film, as a whole, it was good. Some things it did outstandingly well. Some of the cast were easily the equal of any of their counterparts on stage, and one was enormous degrees better. There are things I absolutely loved.
And yet, in the end - in the end, there were those things I hated, and those that just weren't good enough. And they were small in number compared to what I liked, but so very much more important. They were the crux of the story, they were the depth, they are what drew me to Phantom and what made me devote so much of my life to it for so long. They were what made me change my damn name, they are what probably sometimes saved my damn life. And Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher fucked them up. Those damn sell-out rat-bastards fucked it up, and I am amazed after all these years that I can be so angry at them for that that I am actually fucking crying about it.
The funny thing is that perhaps excepting the children's animated version, it's the most faithful film of the story that's been made. And it still had to take out Erik.
(Addendum: My husband, who's also a fan, found Gerard Butler more moving at the end than I did, and was less bothered by his singing. He observed that in the show, it's clear that the Phantom is the main character. It is his story, the show is about him, he is the central character. In the movie, he is more like a very important supporting character. It is very much Christine's story - and I think it was Andrew Lloyd Webber who always said he thought that's what it was, and I suppose it's fair to say that that's what he has given us.)
"Fan Bio": I've been a fan of Phantom for about 15 years, have seen the stage show 83 times with 18 different actors in the leading role, ran an international Phantom of the Opera fan club for 3 years, had the second Phantom page on the internet, legally changed my name to Christine Daae when I was 18, but don't have my Phantom of the Opera tattoo any more.
Note: this was originally published in our news section.