PG-13 mostly for a serial killer who keeps murdering artists because he's a bad dude who is oddly romanticized. Honestly, that's mostly it. Okay, you probably have to have conversations with your kids about the dangers of grooming and toxic masculinity. But if you don't, you're probably like most people who watch Phantom and love the romance of it all. There's a little blood and I guess the Phantom's face is a little gross, which shouldn't be part of an MPAA rating.
DIRECTOR: Joel Schumacher
Warning: what little quality of writing that I aspire to is going to go through the toiilet today. I have time to write today and I really don't want to write over break. So I'm going to write a whole bunch of posts today and shove them into my drafts folder. If you see me cutting corners, it's probably because I'm in marathon mode of writing today. Also, you know, I'm writing about The Phantom of the Opera, the movie adaptation of the Broadway show that I didn't necessarily love to begin with. Listen, it's my daughter's fault. She got the song for piano lessons and then really wanted to see the movie.
The oddest reaction to having seen the film version of The Phantom of the Opera is that I now really want to read the book. Most people who see a movie and say that they want to read the book are such fans of the adaptation that they want to read the source material. Not this guy. This guy wants to read the source material because I can't imagine that the original story is that bad. I do believe that this is probably one of those stories that glosses over some really problematic romance things, but I can adjust for old-timey novels. Most of the movie (which I'm not sure if it is the same length as the stage production; I'm an expert on neither) feels like a summary of a much deeper work. Okay, now, I didn't like the movie. I didn't like the story. I'll get to why I didn't soon. But something happens when you tell a story too quickly, at least complex stories.
Characterization goes out the window. If the stage production of Phantom is the only thing you know, characters come across like complete psychopaths. I'm not exaggerating. Almost none of the choices in the musical make the slightest bit of sense. I can see making sense if you let the story breathe a bit. Insane choices make sense when we get to know characters. But as of right now, characters just make banans choices. This blog is going to turn very quickly into a list and I apologize, but none of this movie makes sense. Normally, I tend to leave the greatest example for last, but I am too insensed to do that. Christine comes across as a nutbar. Yes, I'm aware that she has been groomed to be who she is by the Phantom. I completely respect that as her characterization (that the book probably did better). But Christine has grown up with the voice of the Phantom as her teacher. Cool. She follows this weird voice into the sewers. I'm not throwing stones yet. She has this big romantic song with the Phantom in the bowels of the theater. But then, she seems confused about who the Phantom is for the rest of the play? She has these over-the-top, no-subtlety love moments with Raoul and then she reloves the Phantom?
Okay, feel free to write that off as a love triangle. Here's the moment that drives me nuts. About three quarters of the way through the story, Raoul and she flee the opera when the Phantom issues his ultimatum. Okay. She visits her father's grave. There, she hears the voice of the Phantom. Okay, let's really shut our brains off and pretend thart she hasn't heard this voice for her entire life. The voice claims to be the voice of her dead father. Okay, this is a world of phantoms. Maybe ghosts exist too. But, the voice claiming to be her dead father refers to himself as the Angel of Music. You know, the same thing that the Phantom called himself. And that's where nothing makes sense. You met the guy! You know he's not your dad. Why would you think that he's your dad? This is typical for the play. People SEE the Phantom. The Phantom hangs a guy in front of everyone and it's just an accident? Moments before murdering that dude, the Phantom announced himself in the middle of a show and the owners of the theater just say "It's an accident"?
And people are thrilled by the notion of a phantom haunting this theater. What is happening? This guy murdered someone in front of everyone. He was a stagehand! What? How are we all cool with forgetting that guy's death? Sure, he looked kind of goofy, but so did the Phantom. I genuniely don't understand the logic of anyone. Even at masquerade, they are celebrating three months without incident. Part of me wants to yell that it's only been three months. The other half of me wants to yell, "Did you accept that you have a phantom problem because you are celebrating three months without a phantom incident?" Also, that hole in the floor. The hole in the floor the first time makes a lot of sense. He's this rich dude under the opera and that someone built him a Batcave underneath all of this stuff. Fine. I get that. But the first time he uses it, board it up afterwards. He uses that hole trick in the floor so many times. These are preventable moments. And not to get all Scott Evil on the story, but shoot him. Just shoot him. There's nothing that implies that he's immortal. From anyone's perspective, he's just a terrorist whose address is very well known.
Okay, you are reading that I'm exasperated. I think I have every right to be. But this all leads me to my main point: what makes this romantic? I really want to lay this out clearly. That dude is the most unromantic person ever. There's the notion that beneath someone's scars and deformation is someone beautiful. Beneath the Phantom's physical scars is someone way grosser than anyone else in the story. Yeah, he became a bad dude because of his childhood. But he is a bad dude. I'm going to play out a lot of scenarios right now and we're going to hopefully end up at the same level of frustration. The Phantom's isolation is self-driven. Okay, traumatized child finds comfort in the isolation underneath the opera house, where the music settles his soul. (Not that much, because he regularly murders folk.) Imagine Christine returns his love, which the story plays with regularly. That means we have a guy in desperate need of mental help using someone who is groomed be the perfect mate, who is significantly younger and has been traumatized into his sadism.
Alternatively, Madame Giry is the Phantom's contemporary. She is the one who frees him from his torture. She is the one unbothered by his horrible scarring. She recognizes his personhood and they come from the same place. Why aren't you pursuing Madame Giry while she was still Mademoiselle Insert-Maiden-Name-Here? The only person you would have killed is your slaver. That actually would be really healthy instead of preying on this little girl who lost her father and you groomed into becoming dependent on you. There's a romantic story in this play that is completely snubbed. And maybe, AND MAYBE, in the book, we found out that Madame Giry rejected him. I doubt that because Christine regularly states that she loves Raoul and he still stalks her. I'm sure that he would stalk Madame Giry if she rejected him. Also, the whole ignoring of Madame Giry takes away what little sympathy that the Phantom's garnered. His personality is entirely based on the notion that people would find his visage abhorrent to them, yet there's someone who clearly doesn't look at you that way. But she's not good enough?
All this leads to my frustration that this play isn't romantic in the least. I don't think that there's much wrong in the film adaptation (as far as I can tell from my little comparison). Some of the songs are bops. Electric piano is a bit dated. I'm super impressed by the singing in this. I used to rail that musicals were all spectacle and no substance. I've since changed my mind. They often have spectacle as a grounding element for entertainment with larger depth. But The Phantom of the Opera is so much spectacle and so little substance that it drives me up the wall. I was using Phantom as my Exhibit A for the prosecution in those days. And because so much of Phantom is spectacle, some of it doesn't land when it comes to film. We expect to be bedazzled with cinema, which can do anything it wants visually. (On a similar note, I didn't see Avatar: The Way of Water this weekend.) If anything, Phantom should only been seen live for the appreciation of real world special effects. I don't think Schumacher did anything wrong outside of agreeing to make a movie based on a play that has limited appeal live.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.