*. This is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom, and that’s not a good thing. I’m not a music critic, and indeed I’m not even all that musically inclined, but I find the music here to be lugubrious and the lyrics beyond (or beneath) insipid. At times they are unintentionally quite funny (e.g.: “Am I to risk my life / To win the chance to live?”). There are a couple of nice movements in some of the songs, but that’s it.
*. The most memorable bits of ear candy are also the parts that Webber has been accused of plagiarizing (“Music of the Night” is said to derive from Puccini and “The Phantom of the Opera” from Pink Floyd). In short, I don’t think Webber was a musical genius. As an impresario, however, he has quite a track record.
*. I kept thinking that at some point we’d get at least one snappy show tune to liven things up, but the closest we get is with the gossip and scandal number (the opening part of “Notes”), and that is quickly shut down.
*. To be fair, I think it’s true that for most operas, musicals, and even albums, there are only a couple of highlights set among a load of fill. Even Wagner’s audience was only interested in “bleeding chunks” torn from his scores. And we are a long way from having the attention spans of nineteenth-century opera-goers.
*. As a film of the musical, director Joel Schumacher (not one of the greats, even on his best days, see below) is put in a lyric straitjacket. A number of scenes have to be padded out with visual stuffing just to keep things moving along until the song ends (see, for example, the characters who run through various sets during the two “Phantom of the Opera” numbers). Other set pieces like the “Masquerade” bit, seem totally pointless to me, with lyrics not worth the repeating (or writing, in the first place).
*. Horror has left the building. The phantom isn’t all that threatening or disfigured (he just looks like he has some burns around his one eye, which is odd given the backstory that introduces him as a kind of Elephant Boy). In fact, he doesn’t seem that masculine either. But then all of the leads here appear to have just stepped off the cover of a paperback romance novel. The hairstylists on this shoot must have put in some major overtime.
*. It’s not much of a mask, is it? But it’s interesting how such a minimal design became so iconic. It went well with the marketing.
*. Despite this being a filmed play, I still think Chaney’s 1925 version was more theatrical.
*. The story doesn’t make sense. Why would the owners of the Opera Populaire make such a big to-do to get their old diva back when (a) nobody seems to think she can sing; (b) she’s a total head case and impossible to work with; and (c) the public has already moved on and embraced her replacement, Christine Daaé?
*. Back to Joel Schumacher. There was no excuse for Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin almost single-handedly crushed any faith I had left in the film industry. Honest. If you want a director who can waste, and I mean really waste, a huge amount of money then I don’t think anyone can top Schumacher. He isn’t even a decent engineer of spectacle, on the level of a James Cameron or Peter Jackson. This movie is another example of his inadequacy. He tries to overwhelm the audience, but that was easier on stage, where Webber really ushered in an era of spectacular musical theatre. In film, it’s just not as impressive. The falling chandelier could wow a live audience, but it had been done on screen just as well eighty years earlier.