Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I ran a negative reaction to this film the other day, and afterwards, I traded a few e-mails with David Poland of Movie City News, who hosted that screening. He said his impression of the screening... not of the film, but of the overall audience reaction... was totally different than what the person who wrote to us suggested. David reported that there was a huge round of applause for all the featured players in the cast when their names came up, and a standing ovation for Joel Schumacher when he walked out for the Q&A afterwards. In addition, Joel stayed for over an hour talking to the evidently enthusiastic audience. I can tell you that the Q&A is a good indicator of how an audience really feels about a movie, having hosted both good and bad ones. For example, at the KINSEY screening I did about two weeks ago, the crowd stayed despite a late start time and were quite engaged when talking to writer/director Bill Condon.
David sent me this to help clarify what he says was the predominant reaction to the screening:
Here are the only two posts from Oscarwatch that are from people who were there...
and the fourth post here is rather remarkable in its detail, including the accurate note that Doogie was in the house.
No problem, David. And in addition, I’ll point out that more reviews are coming in, and the reactions, as I predicted, are all over the place. Here’s a pretty positive one:
In September, I was working in Denver and lucked into an opportunity to see what possibly was the first public screening of the film “The Phantom of the Opera.” I happily accepted the chance, as I have been waiting to see this on the big screen since I was given a recording of the soundtrack for Christmas 16 years ago. I will not claim that what I saw was perfect, but unlike some reviews I have read recently the plusses far outweighed the minuses.
The big item that everyone is harping on is that Michael Crawford is not playing the Phantom. Can we all just get over it? There was a conscious decision to cast Christine as age appropriate. Emmy Rossum is now 18, and was likely 17 during filming. She does her own singing and she does a fine job. I am very pleased with her voice, especially for a 17 year old. I prefer this casting to someone in their late 20’s trying to play 17. Michael Crawford is currently 62. Could he still sing the role? Absolutely, would you want to see him seducing a 17 year old? God I hope not. Butler is only 35 which still carries a bit of an ‘eww’ factor, but is far closer to what I am comfortable with than an 60 year old phantom.
This may be considered blasphemy to some, but as much as I liked Crawford on the soundtrack, there were points in my life that I thought he sounded a little too whiney, driving home the point that the Phantom is to be pitied. Remember that film is a subtler are than stage acting, where you have to emote to the back row. In a movie, you only have to emote to the camera a few feet in front of you, and projector magnification does the rest. Butler does an okay job, in fact I think he surpasses some of the touring company Phantoms that I have heard. The vocal arrangements used are not identical to the ones that Crawford used. Butler seems to have a slightly lower range, but you know I am fine with that because I think I remember a Bass Phantom on one viewing. Butler sings for himself unlike many musicals in the past, so cut him some slack.
Minnie Driver is great as Carlotta. She is a bit over the top, but that is the role. I was never a fan of the number ‘Prima Dona” on stage, but the film allows the groveling to go outside of the office space and is a great fun moment in the piece. I do agree that she may pull a supporting Oscar nod. The only thing going against her is that her character is not around as much in the second act so her impact is a little diminished. That might not hurt her that much though since the role did win the Tony for best Supporting actress, and there have been Oscar winners in this category with far less screen time than Driver.
I am a huge fan of the production design. I think anyone who has any doubts of this will be won over about 30 seconds into the overture. For better or worse what I am talking about is visible in the latest trailer that I have seen online. If I made the rules I would have left that as a surprise until audiences were in their seats. In the stage productions there is the sudden start of the playing of the organ, huge flashes of light and some pyrotechnics that literally made audiences in the Orchestra seats flinch. I wondered how they would recreate the experience without the feel of the heat and what they came up with was just stunning. I personally tracked down at least 2 people who looked like they were with Warner Brother or the production and thanked them for the overture alone.
I realize that this statement will seem rather odd describing a film where much of the “dialog” is sung instead of spoken, but the film was a lot more grounded in reality than I expected. The Phantom’s deformity is vivid, but not horrific. It is the first phantom that I believe looked like he could have existed. Also the Punjab Lasso is not some mystical ability, but is much more believable and much less of a parlor trick. Thirdly at the graveyard, the Phantom does not shoot fireballs, but engages Raoul in a swordfight. A pretty good one at that
The biggest thing that I liked is that there seemed to be a decision to leave some touches of the theatrical staging in place. For one there is a pose that I remember from the lithographs that were sold around the opening of the show in New York that is struck in the film at the end of ‘Music of the Night’ The Phantom is standing behind Christine and she is reaching up and touching the side of his face. Perfect. Another is almost a contradiction to the previous paragraph. In the stage production, when the Phantom and Christine arrive in his lair, the way the candelabras are brought on set was to lift them through the floor which at that moment was depicted as a lake of water. A necessary bit of stagecraft as they needed to change sets as the action was happening. I can happily report that the candelabras rise from the water and magically light as soon as they are clear. Given the reality that is striven for throughout the rest of the film, it can only be a nod to those who have seen the show on stage.
As someone who has a little bit of experience with theatre sound, I must say that this film had the best use of surround channels of any film I have heard in years. Any time the Phantom is heard but not seen, his voice seemed to live exclusively in the surround channels. It was using these effects channels in a completely believeable way. The surrounds are meant to be indistinct, somewhat non-directional. It gave the Phantom the appearance of being anywhere and everywhere. It was great. I will say that the overall volume level was loud, but I guess that will be cleared up before the final edit goes to print.
So what did I not like? Well there was only one thing that came to mind, but I have come to terms with it. There is one major plot point of the stage play that gets moved to another part of the production. I won’t spoil it but I want to say that you will know it when you see it, and don’t worry it will happen. That choice led to some lyric changes because well, they refer to an event that hasn’t happened yet. My concern in watching the film was that somehow it had been cut entirely, but don’t worry it is still there. My only guess as to why it was changed is because there is a difference between the 2 act structure of a play and the intermission-less building of a cinema experience. A second item is very minor but the new song that was added which will play over the end credits was not included at the screening I witnessed in September. I will hear it soon enough, as I will own this soundtrack the week it is released.
There are other changes, but I sort of liked them. There are 2 deathtraps that have been added to the film and I especially appreciated that one was pulled from the original book. I also like the fact that film allowed the production to show more of the origin of the Phantom, which was a nice addition. Finally I also enjoyed the expansion of the use of the time period of the prologue. In addition to the auction at the start of the show there are a number of flash forwards in time. All of these are enhances to look like grainy hand cranked footage, and it works well. It also allows these scenes to bookend the film.
OK, the other knock against the film by those who have not even seen it is that it is directed by Joel Schumacher. I frankly forgot about my trepidation very soon after the film started. There were only maybe 2 items that leapt out to me as “Batman and Robin” moments, and both are during the ‘Masquerade’ number. One of the harlequin dancers was well, Vogue-ing, which as far as I know was not a known dance in the 1880’s. I could be wrong though. The other was the fact that at the Masque ball, there are what I can only call gilded people; one trio of women and another of men. But other than that I can see nothing that reminds me of his previous sins when it comes to an established commodity.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I think that based on what else I see on the release horizon that “Phantom of the Opera” will be a heavy favorite going into the Academy Awards. I don’t see anything else being easy Oscar Bait. See this film. If you haven’t seen the stage production it is a good enough film. If you are a fan of the stage production (and get over the fact that M.C. was simply not castable in this production) I think you will really enjoy this as well. If you just don’t like musicals, well, why did you read this in the first place.
I agree about the musicals thing. For a lot of younger filmgoers, they have very few musicals they can refer to, since many of them simply consider the genre unhip, and rarely go back to enjoy the classics. When someone can only reference CHICAGO or Baz Luhrmann in trying to discuss a musical, chances are that’s all they’ve seen. I think the review I’m most interested in reading is Harry’s, quite honestly, because he is a big honkin’ musical queen. He loves them. He adores them. He just can’t get enough. And considering his love/hate relationship with Schumacher’s work, I think his take should be fascinating. Anyway... here’s another point-of-view, this time from someone who was at the Poland screening, and aside from the fact that they confused “balling” with “bawling” to hilarious effect in the first paragraph, this is a pretty darn good review:
I felt compelled to write and let you know that the previous reviewer of Phantom from last night's screening didn't quite get it right. I don't think that the consensus of the entire audience was negative. (Two women sitting next to me were balling their eyes out during the credits to the point where I wanted to smack them) In fact I think it is a brilliant film. A very brilliant, yet very flawed movie. Fellow geeks, I feel your pain. I too have been burned by two pretty horrible Batman films (among others) from Mr. Schumacher, but let's not get carried away completely and throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is the same guy who also directed "The Lost Boys", "Flatliners", "Falling Down" etc.
Some spoilers do follow-
Schumacher gets most of it right. I saw Michael Crawford in the late 80's stage production, and the film is quite faithful to the original with a few minor revisions for cinematic effect, and yet there are some changes that just weren't made for adaptations sake, but to talk down to the audience in my opinion. In the stage play the Phantom has a supernatural, mystical quality that induces fear in the audience. He has a magical lasso that finds it's victims out of nowhere, he shoots fireballs from a staff, he is able to disappear into nothing etc. What Schumacher has done is show us EXACTLY how the Phantom executes each trick, and takes the audience out of the mystery. For example, in the show the Phantom is able to mysteriously make the resident diva Carlotta croak while singing, ensuring that his muse Christine will take over. Schumacher takes it a step further and shows the Phantom secretly exchanging a bottle of throat spray with Carlotta's. Whenever he pulls a disappearing act, we see exactly where he goes. Did the audience really need to see that, or could we have wondered how he did it? It's kind of like watching a David Copperfield show in Vegas from backstage. It's interesting, but I'd rather see the trick and be mystified as to how he did it. Schumacher addressed this a bit later in the Q&A which I will get to towards the end.
Let me talk for a minute about the good:
I couldn't disagree more with the last reviewers assessment of Emmy Rossum. She makes this movie for me. Besides the fact that she's absolutely stunning and sings beautifully, she has a tremendous vulnerability and strength that comes across on screen. Think Kiera Knightley with the voice of a Godess. If she looks like a deer in the headlights and mesmerized, that's because she is! Her character is being almost brainwashed by a guy who lives in a sewer! I really should have thanked Schumacher for ensuring that even in scenes where it's snowing, she's showing cleavage. Perhaps he should thank me for including that last line because I just heard a couple of previously protesting boyfriends out there suddenly agree to go see this movie. Bottom line- she's hot, not given the easiest material in the world to work with, and pulls it off very nicely.
I liked Patrick Wilson's Raoul, and I'm not really sure I should. I never really liked the character. I always kind of sided with the Phantom. Raoul is the captain of the high school football team, and the Phantom is the pimply AV geek. He's got the looks, the money and the girl. Fuck him! Sorry... I got a little carried away there. Anyway, I enjoyed Wilson in Angels in America and he's really good here. I wasn't expecting him to have the vocal chops and he performed admirably.
Minnie Driver, as previously reported, is hysterical. It was noted that she was the only cast member to not perform her own vocals on screen. Since she actually is a singer (just not of the operatic variety) Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber actually wrote her a song which she sings during the closing credits. Listen for it at the end.
The production elements are AMAZING. The sets, the cinematography, the costumes, are all absolutely stunning. The opera house, the rooftop, the graveyard. Wow.
Now to the unfortunate bad section:
This is the one element that really brings this movie to an somewhat enjoyable end for me rather than the cinematic nirvana it could have been. I could probably spend the rest of my life attempting to figure out why Gerard Butler got cast in this film. An old friend of mine has played both Raoul and the Phantom on Broadway and on tour. I KNOW that there are some insanely talented undiscovered actors who could have played this part and yet Joel picked him, and Sir Andrew approved him. I have no idea why. He is a very handsome, charismatic guy who could pass in something like Rent, but he seriously lacks the vocal prowess to command this role. When the previous reviewer mentioned that the music drowned him out at times. They were on the money. It drowned him out because they were afraid to let you hear how some of those notes sounded. He almost refuses to cut off a sustained note, instead letting the end of his sung statements droop into nothingness. Much of his scenes have been musically altered to handicap for him. They have him sing some sections an octave lower than what was written, and have him speak other parts. It was rumored for a while that Antonio Banderas was considered to play the Phantom. I dreaded that rumor. Now I wish they used him. Nearly the entire time that he sang "Music of the Night", I kept thinking of Billy Crystal telling Debra Winger in "Forget Paris" "C'mon. It's 'School Days'".
The film is a bit long and you especially feel that by the "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" graveyard scene.
The lair of the Phantom in the stage show is quite dark and mysterious and his face is mostly obscured and shadowy (Wearing a hat and a larger mask at times helped I guess). I couldn't help but be bothered that everything is so well lit in the Phantom's Lair and that we see so much of him early on. I wanted the really slow reveal as the piece went on. Remember being quite shocked at the makeup at the end of the show when the Phantom's face is finally revealed? He was missing most of his hair, and the part behind the mask was quite gruesome. When he is finally revealed in the film, I kind of thought to myself, "Well, he's actually blonde, and he apparently had pretty bad acne on one side of his face." Not the real shock of the stage makeup.
There is a scene where The Phantom trades places with the rotund (and now dead) Tenor Piangi during an opera. In the stage version Piangi is wearing a large hooded cloak and a mask (which sort of hides his girth), and it gives at least the appearance that The Phantom could possibly exchange places with him undetected. In this scene in the film, there is no coat, simply an exchange of a 270 pound man for a 170 pound one, and yet no one in the opera audience notices the difference? Just stupid in my opinion.
Another point of irritation. There is a magnificent masquerade scene in the middle of the film with tremendous choreography. During this scene, there is a featured dancer who begins to "Vogue", as in the Madonna craze. Why? Why on earth would you feature that in an otherwise exquisite scene? Someone asked Joel during the Q&A if it was in fact "Vogueing". Schumacher replied "Yes." He thought it was modern and great. IT'S A PERIOD PIECE!!! Good Grief Charlie Brown!
These elements were tremendously annoying, but they didn't completely ruin the film for me.
Mr. Schumacher stayed an entire hour after the film was done to answer some questions, and the majority of the questions were not really questions, just people telling him how wonderful it was. He did mention some very cool tidbits.
Schumacher talked briefly about his history of 15 years with the project. Apparently, Webber had seen and enjoyed "The Lost Boys" and wanted him to direct the movie. It was going to star Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. They had done preproduction and were to begin shooting in a matter of weeks when the producers of the show balked because they feared ticket sales for the show would drop as well as Webber and Brightman's breakup and divorce about the same time. Over the years Webber had come back to Schumacher to direct, and he just gave Webber a list of Directors who he thought could do it. Eventually a friend of Schumacher told him that if he could remember the passion he had for the play in the past he should do it. So he decided to do it himself.
He talked a bit about how up to 75 people actually lived in the Paris Opera house and how it must have been quite bohemian which inspired much of the behind the scenes action that takes place in the film.
Emmy Rossum was only 16 when they began the film (I started feeling a bit dirty at the point this was mentioned. I assure you she's legal now. Ahhhheem!). She almost wasn't submitted for the part because her agents assumed she was too young for the role. Even after meeting with Schumacher, she almost refused to be screen tested because it conflicted with a long planned family reunion. Joel discussed that having a teenager play the role really intensified the blooming in the Christine character of both romance (Raoul) and sexuality (The Phantom). He also talked about the ballet dancers in Degas' paintings and how they were all young girls. It seemed proper for Rossum and all the dancers to be very young in the film.
Regarding some additional scenes that weren't in the stage production, Schumacher said something along these lines. Stage audiences can somehow accept things without it being explained, while it's important for movie audiences to see everything. (I couldn't disagree more, and wish we didn't see so much in terms of the Phantom)
He mentioned that the day they shot the "Music of the Night" scene, there was an audible gasp from the Female crew when Butler starting moving his hands over Rossum's body after taking her on a boat ride to his lair. A gay member of the crew was heard to say to them "I don't know about you ladies, but I would get in that boat!".
Patrick Wilson did all of his own swordfighting and stunts with the exception of one that was too dangerous. He got a nickname from Lloyd Webber that was something to the effect of The Annoyingly Perfect Patrick Wilson.
The massive chandelier was made for the film by a rather posh outside company for product placement because it wouldn't fit in the budget. I think he said it cost 1.5 million.
I think I may have just reached my limit. No question that it is definitely worth seeing. Whether or not it is a great movie will be up to the individual I'm afraid. Musicals aren't for everybody, and this isn't your typical musical.
Call me Arvin Sloane
And finally, a quickie review from Spain, because not everyone’s going to like this one, no matter how handsomely produced:
I saw a special screening of the Phamtom this morning. I just wanted to confirm you some details from the reviews you ran:
It is a old fashional musical. It has some moments where the directing tries to get it near Moulin Rouge, but nothing really great, just flashes. Overall, the directing was clasical at best, almost like a staged opera which is ok for me, but today audiences need something more.
The film is almost identical to the musical, with its great moments and flaws. It's a pity becouse, film is diferent that stage and that seems forgotten by the Schumacher. He didn't want to take any risk and translated literally the musical to the screen.
The cast is ok, nothing really stand out but Emmy Rossum sings like an angel and has a really sexy presence on screen. There is no doubt we have a new star on his way.
For the Oscar awards, I think the film will get many technical and desing ones, but not best picture, it is a great musical, but just a average piece of filmmaking.
Hope this thoughts help you.
Thanks, everyone. I’m sure I’ll be seeing this soon enough, and I’ll definitely weigh in on my own when I do.