Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is interesting in that it creates the largest variation of reactions in different types of people. Ask a classical musician, for instance, what they think of it and they will laugh you out the room, saying it’s too simple, uninteresting and bland. Ask just about anyone else, and they think it’s glorious, romantic and inspiring. And after all, billions and billions and billions hard-earned pounds can’t be wrong…?
I didn’t really like the theatrical version of Phantom. Sure, it looks wonderful, but this had been my only enjoyment of the production, disliking both the slow-moving story and the over-emotional love songs which make up Lloyd Webber’s score. So knowing live special effects (the only part of the musical that I’d enjoyed) wouldn’t be present, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing it.
I still have problems with some of the music, but ultimately, the medium of film has given the musical a new image, one which I enjoyed a whole lot more than the stage production. Although on stage it’s a lush, extravagant affair with full orchestra and large cast, on film the orchestra and chorus are barely present, focusing most of our attention on the six lead characters and presenting it from their viewpoints rather than a voyeuristic angle (the stage production makes a lot of the audience’s role as the Paris Opera’s audience). This gives a ‘chamber’ feel to the score, and allows Lloyd Webber’s recitatives (the sung phrases outside of songs) to take on a realistic meaning missing from the stage production.
Director Joel Schumacher made a wise decision to steer clear of famous faces in the main roles. Both leads are cleverly cast: Emmy Rossum, playing everyone’s favourite heroine Christine, has pristine higher registers, and it’s almost as if the part was written for her. Gerard Butler’s Phantom is scary, booming and weak in all the right places. A number of more recognisable people appear around the edges, such as Simon Callow and Minnie Driver, who excels as Madame Giry.
Of course, the medium of film allows for a greater variety of set-pieces and locations, and although most of the action remains in the opera house (staying true to the Gaston Leroux story), Schumacher retains a pensive air of mystery wherever the action is taking place. The story has its elements of fantasy, and Schumacher has stylised it in such a way as to allow us a glimpse of its characters’ innermost thoughts as a conscious reality, while always keeping us just out of reach and unable to do anything about it.
Because of its slow pace and a lack of any real special effects, I fear the film will appeal only to a small portion of the public. For those expecting an all-singing all-dancing horror adventure, turn away now: this is more Dogville than Sound Of Music. But those who go along for the ride will not be disappointed.