'Phantom' film puts stage musical in new spotlight

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 23, 2004 | Publication: ABS-CBN | Author: Editors
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LOS ANGELES - It may be hard to believe that anybody has not seen "The Phantom of the Opera" after more than 65,000 performances in 18 countries since 1988, but on Wednesday the curtain rose on a film version of the hit stage musical.

The movie "Phantom" goes by the formal name of "Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera," and is based on Lloyd Webber's stage musical that has so far grossed more than $3 billion and was, in turn, based on Gaston Leroux's 1911 book about a haunted figure lording over the Paris opera.

Even before opening, the movie earned three Golden Globe award nominations, but many critics panned it on opening day, saying that what works on stage doesn't necessarily work on film.

But one movie marketing maxim is that audiences who enjoy populist fare like "Phantom," rarely listen to critics.

By Hollywood's reckoning, those who loved the stage show about the tragic romance between budding singer Christine and the Phantom will want more of the same and that those who never saw the play will crave their first "Phantom" experience.

So, in an odd twist on Hollywood's tendency to tinker with old tales, the makers of this "Phantom" -- Lloyd Webber and director Joel Schumacher -- strayed little from the popular musical.

Musical fare, cinematic flare
Key differences are the glimpses of the characters' histories, told in flashbacks and that the film takes audiences outside the confines of musical's 1870 opera house onto the cobbled streets of Paris and across the French countryside.

The movie goes deep into the labyrinthine tunnels where the Phantom lived by a subterranean lake and composed music by candlelight.

"Part of what we felt we owed the audience was this kind of shameless and swooning glamour of the period," said director Schumacher, "the exquisite costumes of the time...very elaborate sets, the parts of life that have to do with the fantasy of the fable."

"Phantom" is nothing if not a fantasy, but the statistics surrounding Lloyd Webber's stage musical are all about reality.

The stage play has earned more than $3.2 billion in box office sales and won over 50 major awards around the world. The original cast album of songs, including "The Music of the Night," sold over 40 million copies.

In true showbiz tradition, Lloyd Webber is currently working on a shorter, 90-minute version for a Las Vegas hotel.

The movie has lofty ambitions, too. Its three Golden Globe nominations were for best movie musical or comedy, best original song for "Learn to be Lonely" and best actress in that film category for Emmy Rossum, who portrays Christine. "Phantom" also hopes for Oscars, the U.S. film industry's top honors, but Schumacher says that "makes me nervous."

Critics have praised the sets and costumes yet groaned about the story.

"This kind of spectacle might work onstage...but this screen version, for all its wailing emotionalism and elaborate production design, lacks both authentic romance and the thrill of memorable spectacle," wrote the New York Times.

"I just hope the audience enjoys it," said Schumacher. "I hope during the holiday season, people go and escape, because we seem to be in a very stressed-out, frightening world now."

And, in the end, that is what Hollywood movies are all about, escapism and fantasy, made and sold to mass markets.