December 22, 2004

Phantom (again)

It's not that long ago that I first saw The Phantom of the Opera onstage, and today I just caught the movie version. The trailers seemed really promising; a show with such spectacle ought to have been a great fit for a silver screen adaptation. It was disappointing.

Not everything was bad, of course. The black-and-white 1919 scenes, and the transformation of the opera house as we slip into the story, were great. A few added scenes here and there fill in the blanks of the story in a very welcome way. Some of the sets and costumes were quite nice. (A few of the scenes seemed designed to showcase their extensive set of the backstage of the Opéra Populaire; a minor transgression, and those sets really were excellent.) Most of the minor parts were well done---I quite liked Madame Giry---and Minnie Driver's Carlotta was fabulously diva.

But the central, focal character, Christine Daaé, just wasn't up to snuff, and the rest of the movie couldn't hold together without her. Christine is not an inherently unlikable character---quite the contrary---but I can't remember seeing a show with such a thoroughly dislikable leading lady. Emmy Rossum's entire claim to "acting" in this show was to put on an utterly vacant expression and let her mouth hang open. Entranced, I'm told, but I wasn't convinced. It's clear that she was cast for her voice alone.

And while I'm on the topic of voice, let's talk about the sound. For the love of God, if you're going to make a movie musical, you should at least make the tiniest effort at making the music sync up with the lips! In every single scene with singing, it was painfully obvious that the soundtrack was dubbed in; not just an occasional, forgivable flub, but a constant failure to line up audio with visual. Even less attention was paid (if that's possible) to synching the motions of the conductor and orchestra with the soundtrack. This proved a constant distraction throughout the movie.

Nor were the errors limited to the audiovisual. The show was rife with continuity and realism errors. Nothing so subtle as a glass of water with changing water levels, either. In the late scenes of the film, Raoul gets cut by the Phantom in a swordfight, and when we see him days later (or at least many hours later) his sleeve is still bloody. He got all dressed up in his finery for the opera, and wore a slashed, blood-caked shirt? Or how about when the insipid Christine glides out of her dormitory in her nightgown, but arrives at the cemetery in a black velvet gown? Which, by the way, exposes at least a square foot of cleavage, which given the snow on the ground would have to be pretty damn cold. Of course, the snow was just one step this side of potato flakes, no realism at all; even in the earlier scene where the snow was falling, it looked bizarre and fake, sticking to their hands and faces until it blew away. Generally, the characters were not very aware of their surroundings; aside from the snow problems, all of the characters breezed right past the ubiquitous gas-flame lights with nary a care that their huge flowing costumes would catch fire. (Really makes you understand why every other building before 1900 seems to have been destroyed in fire, though; it's everywhere.) Meg Giry, who I otherwise liked, is shown at one point traipsing through a dank stone corridor in her toe shoes, walking right through the puddles on the floor. Ruining the shoes. You'd think that even if her curiosity drove her onward, she'd at least steer around the open water.

Plot believability I'm not going to bother to address here, both because it was basically inherited from the stage play and because there isn't really very much plot to believe in the first place. It is, as my dad points out, all about the music; I'd add that it's about the relationships as well, and that's where most of the failure comes in. Raoul was fine and the Phantom was believable if not as sympathetic a character as he's supposed to be. But even knowing the story, it was hard to see where Christine was at any given point. Entranced by the Phantom? Vacant mouth-breathing. In love with Raoul? Vacant mouth-breathing. Pitying the Phantom but wanting to run away with Raoul? Vacant mouth-breathing. You can see my problem here.

Which is not to say that you will necessarily dislike it. Mom, Dad, and Kathy all really liked it, although they at least shared some of my individual complaints. But it's at least an adequate adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical drama about the creepy violent stalker and his brainwashed victim. If you close your eyes and just listen to the music, it's even pretty good!

"The answer is really complicated. I'm going to start with a little economic theory, then I'm going to tear the theory to bits, and when I'm finished, you'll know a lot more about pricing and you still won't know how much to charge for your software, but that's just the nature of pricing." --Joel Spolsky

Posted by blahedo at 5:41pm on 22 Dec 2004
Did you see this site? I just posted about Maskerade. I don't see that comment. Did you see that comment? Posted by lee at 8:19am on 23 Dec 2004
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