Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Phantom Brings Broadway to Hollywood

A beautiful naïve young girl in need of rescue, a hero on a white horse, a villain with a hideous face, all the perfect fodder for a fairy tale – or movie. Diverse adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s gothic novel, The Phantom of the Opera, have been around since the early 1900s. In 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber brought his variation of the story to the Broadway stage and then in 2005 his musical movie creation hit the big screen.

The rivalry between Hollywood and Broadway is as old as the movie business. When acting jumped from the stage to the set, the actors were caught up in a nasty divorce between the theater and movie business. There have been some attempts at reconciliation. Movies have been converted to plays and more commonly, plays have been brought to the big screen. Most of these attempts have fallen flat and left the audiences disappointed. Knowing this problematic history, Andrew Lloyd Webber took a chance and spent over ten years to bring Phantom of the Opera, his most successful stage production, to the big screen.

His efforts paid off in a big way. Not only did the movie gross well at the box office, it spun off a large merchandising market that has covered its pricey production expenditures, the highest ever for an independent film. More importantly the story transitioned beautifully from stage to screen because of its experienced production crew and talented actors.

Andrew Lloyd Webber personally selected Joel Schumacher to direct his film. The veteran director of such hits as The Lost Boys, Batman and Robin, A Time to Kill and Phone Booth also co-wrote the screenplay with Webber. It is this collaboration that created the perfect environment to make a successful movie.

Schumacher knew the opening scene was crucial in creating the same rich, visually sensual mood for the movie as is felt with the stage production. From the opening credits, the viewer is swept into the backstage story of the French theater of the late 1800’s. The soundtrack is what carries the film. The heavy rock beat interlaced with classical opera provides the backdrop for most of the dialog. The actor’s voices are perfectly suited for the parts they play.

Gerard Butler, recently seen in the movie adaptation of the graphic novel 300, plays the title character with finesse and sensuality. His unrequited love for Christine drives him to madness which eventually destroys the theater. Butler presents these complicated emotions convincingly, stirring the conflict for the viewers as they simultaneously both sympathize with him and hate him.

Equally as strong in performance is Patrick Wilson who made the leap from Broadway after being nominated for a Tony Award for his role in The Full Monty. A classically trained vocalist, he shows his talent in the love scene with a flawless performance of the song "All I Ask of You."

Conveying emotion convincingly is pivotal to the film and the ability to do this is the only flaw in Emmy Rossum’s performance as the heroine Christine. The actress, just fifteen at the beginning of the filming, truly is the “voice of an angel,” but she struggles to deliver the conflicted emotions of a woman torn between two men. The scenes where she must speak lines and act out emotion without musical accompaniment fall a bit flat and drag. When the music begins again, as it does frequently throughout the movie, Rossum takes back her presence.

A wonderful cast of supporting characters adds color and spice to the storyline. The only well-known actor in the movie is Mimmie Driver and she gives a humorous and outstanding performance as the aging opera diva. She also voices the only song created just for this movie.
The storyline is a simple which is what makes the music such a powerful part of this movie. Set as an operetta, with over eighty percent of the script sung instead of spoken, the musical score had to be clear and understandable. The technical direction in this area is essential and hits the mark. The plot is so finely tuned with the lyrics that the viewer often forgets they are listening to everything being sung instead of spoken. The movie is unique in its ability to expose an audience probably unfamiliar with the particular genre of opera in such a way that it is understandable and accessible.

The one big disappointment was that of the Masquerade scene. In the play the costumes were breathtaking taking in every color in the spectrum. Instead the movie played the scene in gold, black and white scene. Technically it worked but it failed to present the pivotal highlight that was needed to transition the conflict.

For a screen adaptation, this was the best that could be done. While there is not a movie made that can bring the feeling of the theater to the screen, this version of the Phantom of the Opera came close. The powerful music stirred the soul and brought the emotion forward. When the screen darkened and the credits rolled the audience was still and quiet for a moment and then broke out in applause. While Phantom of the Opera might not go down as a blockbuster hit, it deserves praise as one of the best transitions from Broadway to Hollywood.

internet movie database
Phantom of the Opera -- Warner Brother's Offical Site

1 comment:

Amanda A said...

yes, and not bad to look at!