In the past few weeks, I have watched two different video reviews of Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera. The first was made by the crew of the Nostalgia Critic in conjunction with Shark Jumping, and can be found here. The other was made by Lindsay Ellis, and can be found here. My first experience with Phantom was in late elementary school (maybe the fifth grade? I distinctly remember understanding who Micheal Crawford was when Chad mentioned him in High School Musical the first time I saw it), and I was somewhat obsessed with it for about a year and a half. My mom had the two-disc Original London Cast album and I would listen to it constantly. It was kind-of my Twilight. I was able to get my hands on an English copy of the book, which I also greatly enjoyed. And then there was the movie. I knew immediately that it was bad. And I knew that it was bad beyond just “Gerard Butler cannot sing” (though Gerard Butler can not sing). But as a high schooler I didn’t have the language to explain why.
The Nostalgia Critic’s review hits many of the major points that people talk about the movie. The choice of Joel Schumacher to direct (with the obligatory “Bat Credit Card” joke), the choice of Gerard Butler, etc. But a lot of what the review was commenting on (to the point where it seemed to be attacking the movie) was on the premise itself that was rather unchanged from the musical. The Critic is surprised to learn that Beth (one of the guests from Shark Jumping) is not a fan of the musical. Beth is a fan of the original novel, and is sad to see its cultural significance decaying with the overwhelming presence of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s work. For my part, the review fails to mention that Le Phantôm de l’Opéra was originally a serial dime novel, the plot of which was practically stumbled upon by Gaston Leroux. The book itself is filled with flaws– those that were of the times (“the Persian”? Seriously? Give him a name, Gaston) and not (is he an Angel or the ghost of your father Christine, he can’t be both). It’s not a bad book, but it’s hardly Ulysses. But Schumacher’s Phantom is not a faithful adaptation of the book because the original musical is not a faithful adaptation of the book. Criticizing it on that is not a fair argument. Ultimately, the review ends in a song battle between Gerard Butler and Michael Crawford (I promise that makes sense in context… almost) and the Critic does admit that the original musical has its flaws, which the movie exacerbated through it’s poor execution. Because of the formula that the Nostalgia Critic videos have taken since it’s return after The Review Must Go On, a lot of the criticism is based around skits and set pieces, which are entertaining certainly, but lack some of the depth of his contemporaries.
Lindsay’s review is far more casual, though longer. She calls it a “10,000 word Cliff-Notes version of ‘Why This Movie Sucks'” and it goes into the many failures of the technical aspects of the film, and how it is foundationally flawed as a movie, much less as an adaptation. Her talking points are based around the death of the movie musical following Hello, Dolly! and how the modern movie musical dances around diegesis citing in particular Caberet, Chicago, and especially Moulin Rouge!, which is used to compare choices made by both Luhrmann and Schumacher. The biggest complaint, interestingly, is that Schumacher is too restrained– both because of the failure of Batman and Robin and because of Weber’s iron grip on his work. Lindsay puts a lot of the blame on Schumacher and his production team– again, it’s the execution of the film that is its failure. Lindsay, however, goes into the nitty-gritty of film-making to explain why it is bad. At one point she says “And if you feel like I’m nit-picking… you’re right. I am.” But nit-picks add up. If I put a penny in a jar every time JK Rowling used an adverb, that would be a lot of pennies. And I like Rowling.
So this was a case for Phantom, right?
Well, I’m going to have to make a few points of my own for that. There in fact have been successful musicals since Hello, Dolly!. There was one in particular starring Idina Mendzel about a magical lady and her bubbly sidekick and a surprise villain and… (Wait, was I going to talk about Frozen or Wicked? No, and. I was going to talk about Frozen and Wicked.)
So despite the lack of any real successful live-action adaptations in the past few… decades, fans of Wicked seem to have rallied around the idea of an animated adaptation of their favorite musical. And with posts like this, it’s not hard to see why– the story would lend itself quite well to the medium. And considering the success of Disney’s Frozen (which, if you listen to the right people, was kind of their attempt to make Wicked— note the presence of a certain Mezzo), it would seem natural for Disney to take charge. There have been rumors flying around for ages that Disney is actually going to grow a pair of ears and do it, but I’m not certain about that, especially if they don’t think it’s particularly cost-effective. However, it does raise the question as to why more musicals don’t consider animated adaptations, especially considering that Disney has been churning out animated musicals from the beginning with relative success. The reasons why are another rant all together, but the reason why is probably that the Hayes code killed the adult animated movie quite dead and there is still a lingering stigma, especially because of the Mouse.
That being said, there are some trends in movies to take note, and the next part of my argument centers around Batman v Superman. Long story short, I didn’t like it. The trend I see with BvS is that audiences are reacting in stark opposition to the grim, gritty “realism” that movies have been using for the past… almost 3 decades now. We’re tired of it. I won’t say that BvS is the final nail in the coffin, but I might say that you could probably put the body in and carry it without the bottom falling out. The style that was choking the life out of recent movie musicals is on its way out. Will we see the triumphant return of the 60’s-style silver screen song fest? Probably not. But we could see people more willing to sit through a slightly less plausible film in order to see something that they would enjoy.
My case for Phantom is that it shouldn’t be left to wallow in the dust of the early-2000’s. The musical itself is a fairly solid foundation for something truly imaginative. It would need a talented director (I’m thinking George Miller) and a cast that could actually sing, but Phantom might be the musical to bring Broadway back to the screen. It’s certainly still a popular musical, even with the failure of the movie and the even bigger failure of a sequel. It’s got a good balance between darkness and light that could help with the transition into lighter things like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying or bring in newer shows like the smash hit Hamilton. Phantom is conventional enough while still being a compelling story that it could work as the Iron Man to the new Broadway Cinematic Universe.
You know, if Wicked doesn’t do it first.