Revisiting Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom Of The Opera

Was bringing Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom Of The Opera to the big screen a good career move for director Joel Schumacher? Er...

Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom Of The Opera (2004)

Can you even dare to look or bear to think of me?” – The Phantom

The Recap

After failing to impress audiences with his biopic of the life of Irish journalist, Veronica Guerin, Joel Schumacher decided to go back to what he knew best, which is beautiful, over the top cinema. And what better subject to take on than The Phantom Of The Opera, one of the most famous and over the top musicals of all time?

The movie begins in Paris in 1919, where the old Paris Opera House is selling off final items in an auction. An old man, Raoul (Patrick Wilson) awaits an old music box with a monkey on top to come up for sale. After he buys the item, his attention is caught by a huge chandelier, which takes him back to 1870 when the opera house was at the peak of its popularity.

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Within the opera house lives a disfigured musical genius known only as The Phantom (Gerard Butler). After years of secretly coaching Christine Daaé (Emmy Rossum), he plots to make her the star of the opera. After almost dropping a piece of set on the opera’s lead, Carlotta (Minnie Driver), the diva leaves, creating the opportunity for Christine to take her role and fulfil The Phantom’s wish for her.

Having recognised Christine as his childhood sweetheart, a young Raoul runs backstage to meet her and the two arrange to have dinner that evening.

After the show is finished, Meg (Jennifer Ellison) finds Christine praying in the chapel to her dead father, whom she believes has been coaching her all these years, and is her angel of music, unaware that her coach has, in fac,t been The Phantom.

Back in her dressing room, The Phantom lures her away to his underground lair where she comes across a waxwork of herself in a wedding dress. Overcome, she passes out, and awakens lying on The Phantom’s bed. Wanting to see who The Phantom really is, she removes his mask, sending him into a fit of anger. He nevertheless remains hopeful she can learn to love him and returns her back to the opera house.

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After blackmail notes from The Phantom fail to be heeded by the owners of the opera house, he strikes his revenge by making the lead singer Carlotta lose her voice and murdering a rope man, John Buquet. Terrified by The Phantom’s actions, Christine and Raoul flee to the roof and declare their love for each other, not realising The Phantom is watching them. The Phantom swears revenge.

A few months pass and The Phantom has remained silent, until the evening of a masquerade ball, where his appearance leads the party to end in disaster. Having given chase to The Phantom, Raoul finds himself trapped in a room of mirrors, only to be rescued by Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson), who confesses she was the one who brought The Phantom to the opera house after, as a child, he murdered the man who put him on show due to his disfigurement.

The next day, Christine goes to the local cemetery to visit her father’s grave and is met by The Phantom, who tries to get her to leave with him. He is soon confronted by Raoul, and the two fight each other, with Raoul eventually leaving with Christine and The Phantom promising revenge on them both.

That evening, The Phantom kills the leading man of the opera and takes to the stage with Christine and professes his love for her. She, in return, takes his mask off for the audience to see who he really is, and they panic and run. Distraught, The Phantom brings a chandelier down and sets the opera house on fire, dragging Christine down to his lair while pursued by a hate-filled mob.

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Raoul finds them both before the crowd does. The Phantom captures him and gives Christine a choice: choose Raoul and have The Phantom kill him, or chose The Phantom and Raoul lives. Desperate to save Raoul’s life, she kisses The Phantom and this tender exchange makes him realise Christine doesn’t love him and he lets them both go.

When the mob reaches his lair, the only item left of The Phantom is his mask. Back to 1919, Raoul is leaving the music box on Christine’s grave, with the gravestone reflecting the fact she did, indeed, marry Raoul and have his children. Also left on the gravestone is a red rose, the calling card of The Phantom, along with an engagement ring.

Thoughts and Reaction

Although one of the world’s most famous and popular musicals, The Phantom Of The Opera was an incredibly hard project to get to the big screen. The story, in fact, begins back in 1989, when Warner Bros. optioned the rights. They handed over full artistic control to Andrew Lloyd Webber, and he instantly hired Joel Schumacher, as he had been impressed by his use of music in The Lost Boys. It was a big break for the director, and the two set to work.

They already had the original leads from the stage show, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in place, and filming was due to begin in the summer of 1990. However, all their best laid plans went out the window when Lloyd Webber, who was married to his leading lady Sarah Brightman, divorced, and they had to agree on a final settlement.

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The film languished in development hell for several years and, in 1997, Schumacher briefly considered returning to the project, but focused instead on the Batman franchise.

It wasn’t until 2002 that the two came back together and finally began work on bringing The Phantom to the big screen. By then, however, Warner Bros. were not as interested as they once were, and Lloyd Webber bought the rights back off them to make the movie himself, although he did give them an option to be the first studio to distribute the film.

Throughout the years, many actors had been linked to the leading roles, and big names such as Hugh Jackman, John Travolta and Antonio Banderas were all considered for the part of The Phantom.

Instead, the role went to the-then relatively unknown Gerard Butler, who was hired by Schumacher as he was impressed by his performance in Dracula 2000. Similarly, the leading lady role went to Emmy Rossum who, although a classically trained singer, was also unknown and was a replacement for initial frontrunner, Katie Holmes.

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The film itself is a beautiful, spectacular, and over the top production which takes the best of the theatrical show and makes it bigger for the cinema screen. Every little detail has been included, and for that alone Schumacher should be praised.

The downside is that it takes a very special type of director to make a musical come alive off stage, and although there have been some great examples of this (Chicago, Dreamgirls), this doesn’t really fall into that group.

Although the scenes are spectacular and the music epic, the acting is far from what is required, neither are the singing voices. The songs in this production are extremely challenging for any singer, and the only person who really gets away with it is Emmy Rossum, otherwise it can be very difficult to listen to in parts.

Although I understand the need to put so-called Hollywood actors (even those who are relatively unknown) into leading roles, the production may have been better served by casting theatrical actors and mixing the best of stage and screen.

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When it was released, the movie itself didn’t really set the box office on fire, and received mixed reviews from critics who, although impressed by its sheer spectacle, found the story to be slow paced and the acting not to be that great. Things did, however, get a bit better for the movie when it became the second highest DVD release behind Disney’s National Treasure in July of 2005, and was even nominated for three Oscars.

These factors led to the movie being considered a moderate success, and Schumacher was in better shape. But, as we have already seen, Schumacher does like to follow up a success with a stinker, and next time I’m going to be looking at one of those, The Number 23.

The Phantom Of The Opera Key Info:

Distributed By: Warner Bros./UniversalReleased: 10th December 2004 (UK)/ 22nd December 2004 (US)Budget: $70,000,000Box Office Gross: $154,648,887