The Phantom of the Opera continues to be a phenomenon on-stage but the film version is generally considered an embarrassment for failing to even touch upon any kind of achievement. There are a number of obvious reasons for this; watching a chandelier fall on-screen and is far less impressive than seeing it fall to the stage from above your head, Joel Schumacher (the man responsible for bat nipples) was directing. Also they shoe-horned fake breasts into 18th century costumes.
To be fair, the show was a bit lacking in breasts
I put up with the film for a long time because it was the only way I could get my Phantom kicks. During these many viewings I managed to get past the initial terribleness of it all and appreciate the things they managed to get right or even insightful ways they tried to add to the stage production. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t touched my DVD since the 25th anniversary concert screened and I could still produce a long winded rant about the film at the drop of a hat, but credit is where credit’s due and the movie deserves respect for the following…
4. A good looking Phantom
This is not me being shallow. This is all audiences being shallow and Hollywood being monetarily motivated to thus put pretty people in films. Casting Gerard Butler opens the forum to a whole heap of abuse but the man is atheistically pleasing.
At least he was then.
Look at Michael Crawford as The Phantom and compare the two.
See how tiny Gerard’s mask is? And the visible parts of his face show no signs that the covered area will be any different from the rest of his face. Then boom! It’s all the more shocking on the reveal and all the more tragic that he was so close to being loved and appreciated as a handsome man. And of course the stage version can’t do this because it needs a big obvious disfigurement that can be seen from the back row.
3. Madame Giry
In the show Madame Giry has knowledge of the opera house and an authority over its occupants that is only matched by The Phantom himself. There appears to be some understanding between the two characters as she delivers his messages, warns people not to speak of him and knows his secret hideaway but it’s not entirely clear why she does this. No one could ever convince me that the flashback to young Madame Giry visiting the circus and setting free the young Phantom was a good idea but they used this backstory to develop her character in some interesting ways.
That is one of many shots of her gazing wistfully at The Phantom with Christine. Using close ups like this and the brilliant subtlety of actress Miranda Richardson, you can see that she is actually in love with the Phantom. This explains why she does his bidding and doesn’t immediately tell people the whereabouts of his lair after the first murder. It also adds to the complexity of The Phantom’s hamartia. The Phantom is so convinced that his face is responsible for his unrequited love and pretty much everything else bad that’s happened to him. Yet here is a woman who has seen his face, knows him as he truly is and loves him. He doesn’t even notice her affections because he couldn’t conceive of a woman loving him after seeing his face.
2. The Ending
The constant flash backs to the black white future are pretty high on the list of complaints I have against this film (just under Raoul’s wig), but I will admit that the added ending is particularly good. The show has the same opening as the film, older Raoul buying an organ monkey, but apart from the reappearance of the organ monkey, this opening is never referenced again. At the end of the show the audience is usually far too blown away by the finale and The Phantom’s exit to really give much thought to the opening. Few people stop and wonder “why did Raoul buy the monkey organ decades later? For all the great memories?” Well for the people who wondered that, the film has answered. After the Phantom’s less than impressive disappearance on-screen, the magic of editing allows Old Raoul in the future to gently place the Monkey on Christine’s grave. And there on the grave is also a rose from The Phantom. A little scene that adds tragedy and mystery to the story of the Phantom.
1. It wasn’t camp
Now I’ve discussed a couple of things they did right but here’s something they managed to not do wrong. Why should I reward a film points for this? Look at any other adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera and notice how tacky it looks.
Or the original music video.
This is what we call camp and it can be a good thing but when you’re trying to present a more serious musical, accidental camp can be death. The man responsible for bat nipples somehow managed to make the Phantom look kinda badass instead of hilariously gay. I think that deserves a mention.