“Phantom of the Opera”: Because They Paid Me

Jan 20th, 2005 | By | Category: Columns

Sometimes, a small idea gets nurtured like a grapevine by a caring, skilled screenwriter. The idea is gently plucked in a wine harvest of writing, mulled and extracted into a rich merlot of character and wit, and (after a suitable ripening period) taken from the dark cellar of obscurity and poured for a grateful cinematic audience that has been longing for something subtle, rich, pervasive, and lingering.

This reserved, wry film is, as you may have guessed, The Phantom of the Opera.

This adaptation tackles the musical long-beloved of thirteen-year-old inadequate mezzo-sopranos the world over. It was only a matter of time before what little stage mystique remained was stripped away and shredded like all the historically accurate costumes that didn’t make it into the movie. The man responsible for this is, of course, Muckheimer, Inc. (company motto: Genevieve can no longer tell our horrible movies apart), who brought us such movies as The Way It Never Actually Happened, and Really Poorly Extrapolated from Meager Historical Fact.

Here, they have decided to combine the lushly repetitive Webber music with a Lifetime script about Stockholm Syndrome they had laying around the studio. Then came casting:

As Christine: 19-year-old Emmy Rossum, whose voice is lovely, and who suffers from more than 20 minutes cumulative footage of her slackjawed yet dewy expression.

As The Phantom: You know who would be great for this? The guy from Dracula 2000.

As Raoul: I’m sorry. I fell asleep when I heard him talking. The hair guy? Yeah, that’s Annette O’Toole.

As Mme. Giry: Miranda Richardson, who seems to be under the delusion that this is a film with merit.

As Andre: Simon “I’m Andre!” Callow

As Mr. Firmin: My boyfriend, Ciaran “What am I doing here?” Hinds.

The setting: The Paris Opera House, 1870. Also, The Paris Opera House, 1905. Also, a huge graveyard that is exactly three and half minutes long, but it’s not even worth mentioning until later.

Fade up: Old Gross Raoul wheels his geriatric self into the Opera House and buys a monkey with cymbals. We get it; you’re Liberace Then a huge chandelier takes everyone back in time; I half-expected Bill and Ted to wander across the stage, pluck Miranda Richardson from under her pancake prosthetic, and whisk her away. Please note: there are a lot of these, but they are so excruciatingly boring that I cannot even stand it. You get one more at the end. Everything else is straight Phantom.

The backstage production setting was amazing;as a costume geek, I grant it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, as someone who also read this book about history this one time, I have to point out that sparkly sports bras as outerwear are probably a little bit of wishful thinking.

Carlotta, the opera diva lip-synched awkwardly by the otherwise funny Minnie Driver, is introduced to the theatre’s new owners, Andre and My Boyfriend. She promptly throws a fit and storms off the set.

Disaster? Not so! Mme Giry proffers the frighteningly skinny Christine as a substitute, and lo and behold! Her synching is excellent, and we swing around the back of her head and pull back to–the wedding! Well, I’m impressed! That was incredibly efficient!

Oh. Wait. My bust.

Annette O’Toole, hereafter known as Toole, watches dewy-eyed from the box seats as Christine (who we find out through a reedy solo is his childhood best friend) brings the house down with her CGI hair clips and tremulous tones. He stands up and makes an ass of himself by clapping too soon, which is the most realistic moment in this entire movie. I have yet to attend a play where some jackass doesn’t decide to clap early. Yeah, I’m looking at you. Don’t deny it.

Moving on. Christine’s solo apparently closes the opera (and since she’s not dead and there aren’t any other dead bodies strewn about, I call bullshit), and she is wildly congratulated behind the scenes by Andre and My Boyfriend, whose pompadour is making me rethink the Boyfriend in that moniker.

Toole, overcome with passion, storms backstage, hair fluttering behind him.

Christine kneels quietly in the chapel. In the musical, this place did not exist. However, I’m letting it slide because it’s a reasonable extension of scope. It makes sense that this is a place where the Phantom would have found her alone, since the rest of the movie makes it obvious that no one is ever alone in the Opera House unless they’re about to die.

Meg, Christine’s friend, enters the chapel. She is Mme Giry’s daughter (good call, casting people) and a ballet dancer at the Opera House. Notice that she has large breasts and no personality. Both trends will continue.

She approaches Christine and begins to sing, and I spent the next minute and a half trying to figure out if I was slipping into a coma or if she was singing exceptionally slowly. I have no idea what prompted this, except perhaps the following exchange:

Studio Executive: Bob, we have to get Middle America to see this movie!

Bob: Yes, sir.

Executive: And we really need to make it accessible.

Bob: Yes, sir.

Executive: Because right now it’s looking a little gay.

Bob: Sir?

Executive: I need answers, Bob!

Bob: It’s like you’re speaking quickly in another language, sir.

Executive: Speak more slowly? Of course! Well done, Bob!

So, thanks to Bob, Meg and Christine sludgemouth their way through a musical number as they wander leisurely towards Christine’s dressing room. It looks remarkably like the stage set, which is a nice trick.

Oh, look! Toole! He and Christine do a spoken-word nostalgia piece that’s almost Shatnerian in its ability to confuse and frighten an audience that wonders why the music is swelling even though no one is singing yet. Finally, they take pity on us and have a little flirting session in song. Let me say right now that Toole and Christine have absolutely no chemistry, but they both seem like very nice people who like each other. They’re the biology lab partners of this movie. Upshot: dinner! Then nookie.

But no! The Phantom is here!

I must pause for this important announcement. We have now been introduced to all the characters. (Swedish) Christine and (French) Raoul have American accents. (French) Andre, My Boyfriend, and Meg are all Brits. (Italian) Minnie Driver is actually Italian. Mme. Giry (French) is also French, but it’s some crazy Christopher Walken French that frightens me. And now we have the (French) Phantom, who’s a Scot. If anyone knows the casting director and dialect coach for this film, please have them contact me.

Time in! The Phantom is here! Ironically, I think they just reused his Dracula costume, which is a refreshing example of frugality in the movie industry. He Scots for a while about how Christine belongs to him and that Toole is misguided. I agree, especially if he means that Toole’s hair is misguided. Christine apologizes, and he takes her down to the bowels of the Opera House on a pony.

No. Seriously. Somehow, fifteen levels down in the bowels of the earth, he has a pony, which he uses for one ramp and then abandons. Where does this horse get stabled when the Phantom isn’t hauling chicks all over? Why only the one ramp? Why wasn’t it waiting behind the mirror? Why do levels two and fifteen of the basement of the opera house look exactly the same? Also, a horse IN THE BASEMENT?

Okay. Moving on. Phantom’s lair. The Phantom sings about how he will make Christine totally famous if she sleeps with him, and a million moviegoers realize suddenly that this movie is about 1) Stockholm Syndrome and 2) Webber’s life story. Awkward. Christine is subjected to approximately 28 close-ups, according to Andrew, who disclaims any special interest in Emmy Rossum. She does tolerably well emoting silently.

Eventually, the Phantom’s voice lulls Christine to sleep (I hear it, sister).

He takes her to the bedcave and pulls black lace curtains around his round velvet bed. Phantom? That’s a little Fae, my friend, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. You saw Labyrinth. That’s where you got your shirt.

Back in the Opera House proper, everyone gathers in the lobby to enquire about the whinnying under the floor. Actually, no, they gather because they’ve received a series of shocking, insulting, and threatening notes. (Miramax, is that you?) Apparently, Christine is to be the new lead soprano in the Paris Opera. Andre, My Boyfriend, Toole, and Minnie Driver gather and bitch, while Miranda Richardson stands in a corner exuding a long past with the Phantom and wondering how she can work more French accent into her singing. Eventually, it’s decided that Minnie Driver will stay, and Christine is out of luck, because Stockholm Syndrome is really unattractive.

In the Phantom’s Lair, Christine wakes up and approaches the Phantom, who is passionately miming piano. However, he’s pretty handsome even with the Mardi Gras mask, and he’s doing a very good job of emoting under plaster, so I forgive the hysterically bad attempt. She starts to caress his face; he is apparently a subscriber to the “nothing will happen in this abandoned farmhouse; let’s split up!” school of thought, because he leans into the touch and then gets a serious case of PMS as soon as she pulls the mask off. She hands it back, and he immediately settles down and decides to take her home, presumably because she’s too much trouble. Hooray! It’s over!

Oh. Wait. My bust.

So we’re back at the opera house, and Minnie Driver is singing the lead in a sacque-back gown that weighs ten pounds if it’s an ounce. Christine, who frankly got the long end of the stick on this one, is in a little pair of Bermuda shorts and another of Jareth’s leftover shirts, and she gets to prance around and say nothing. Sweet gig. (Andrew points out that technically she is wearing a pair of well-fitting trousers with stockings that caress her shapely legs and a vest that pinches her delightful waist and showcases her porcelain skin. Not that he cares, he’s just saying.) Meg is also there, looking adorable, dancing with delightful precision. Still no personality, but look at her! So adorable with the dancing!

Oops! Minnie Driver’s voice is amphibian! (For serious. I dare you to sit through the end credits.) The Phantom was here! Also, he kills the guy from Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s all so poorly shot that I’m going to pretend it was nothing.

Everyone flips out, and Toole runs immediately to Christine, who brings them to the roof, because she claims the Phantom can’t find them there. This is a good plan except 1) if the Phantom can keep a pony in the basement then he can probably make it to the roof, and 2) I don’t care what you say, more people died that year of exposure than of Magical Lasso Syndrome. Kiss my ass, Daae.

Anyway, they talk about the big frog dissection due next week, and then about how totally awesome it will be if they get to be partners again in Chem next year, and then somebody starts talking about love and it’s all over. The Phantom watches really obtrusively from behind huge statues that are scattered all over the roof for no reason. Ah, Contrivance, what a simple song you sing! Oh, wait, that’s the song that’s playing.

Blah blah, see you in class, they go downstairs.

Phantom takes this moment to scream his forlorn passionate love, and it actually works, because what he lacks in projection he makes up for in earnest, loving obsession. Well done, Scotsman.

In the musical, this is where the actors have kindly inserted an intermission. No such kindness here! Moving on!

It’s a party! Andre arrives in some ridiculous getup, and I laugh and laugh until My Boyfriend shows up. He has huge gold horns on the sides of his head. I write him a very stern break-up letter, and so I miss the thrust of this conversation.

Musical number! “Masquerade! Lyrics don’t match footage now! MASQUERADE! Look around, it’s Maddona’s Vogue behind you!”

Bio lab! They dance, and for all Emmy Rossum’s many charms, a dancer she’s not. Then again, it might be the horrific prom dress. Or Toole. Good God, take some lessons, you two! I’m almost grateful for the gold horns, suddenly. At least they take my attention away from the feet. Oh, and the lab partners are engaged. It’s a secret! Except for the huge rock dangling like a millstone from her neck. Really subtle, guys.

Oh! Look! The Phantom! He’s written an opera, and he’s wearing skintight red velour. It’s not so much Red Death as it is Zorro the Gay Blade, but whatever. This movie long ago abandoned any historical costuming concepts. Christine is to play the lead in Don Juan Triumphant, and to demonstrate how great a creative experience this will be he grabs Christine by the wrist, Ike Turner-style. Oh! But he falls through a hole in the floor that has never been seen before, and certainly has never accidentally been tripped by the pressure of fifteen people pulling a Madonna on top of it.

So he dies in the fall! Bummer! The end!

Oh. Wait. My bust.

Christine goes to visit her father, and because the costume designer hates me she wears a summerweight black dress and tulle scarf. Exposure, Daae. Look it up.

She wanders through the longest cemetery ever, singing to keep her face from freezing, and she finally reaches her father’s grave, only to hear the Phantom singing behind it. She’s inexplicably overjoyed; the libretto would have you believe it’s the power of his singing, but my money’s on the skintight red velvet. Just saying. Christine makes a face (Andrew claims she’s overcome with longing, I claim she’s thinking about cheese sandwiches) and shuffles towards the mausoleum.

Oh! Tool! Bareback and jacketless on a pony! At this point Magical Lasso Syndrome is just an excuse. All of these people should have TB. Phantom tries to speed up the TB process by stabbing Toole; sadly, he doesn’t manage it, even though the entire viewing audience is loudly encouraging him to run a rapier through the well-tressed pretty boy.

The Phantom throws a serious bitch switch. Rock steady, my man. Only two hours left.

Andre, My Boyfriend, and Toole decide to put on the opera and shoot the Phantom a million times when he shows up. That’s French military strategy if ever I heard it.

So apparently they put on this opera without any further input from the Phantom, because here we are on the night of the show. Maybe some other stuff happened, and I fell asleep? It’s happened before, especially during a six-hour movie like this one.

Toole and Madame Giry talk about the Phantom. Madame Giry is wise, rueful, and wary. Miranda Richardson, you deserve so much better than this movie.

Bio lab! Christine is afraid. Toole assures her that this is the only way for her to be free of the Phantom. He doesn’t add the obvious, which is, “and bound to me instead.” They talk about homework.

Smash cut to the opera! The set is an anvilicious allegory of hell. We get a quick glimpse of the opera, whose plot is so flimsy that it actually sounds like a snippet of a real opera. Masks, identity theft, talking, the tenor hides behind a curtain to woo some chick. Got it.

Christine comes out in the worst costume ever. I saw that on sale at Halloween Zone for $39.95 last year. She sings nervously, which I actually respect, because getting a shake in your voice on purpose is no mean feat. Suddenly, the lead tenor steps out from behind the curtain! If you are surprised that he is magically ten years younger and sixty pounds lighter, then you have never seen a movie before.

Time for the Big Musical Number with Sexual Tension! I settle in, because I’ve heard great things, and there’s some very nice Victorian fondling, and then suddenly I am violently ill, because the stage fills with Zorro and J. Lo impersonators.

Studio Executive: Bob, we need to spice this up! Sex appeal, Bob! You know who’s sexy?

Bob: Zorro?

Studio Executive: . . . are you gay or something, Bob?

Bob: Er, I said J.Lo.

Studio Executive: I love it! Book ‘em! We’ll need a dozen! Use that routine from “Waiting for Tonight!”

Bob, I’ll kill you. Seriously.

Andrew points out that approximately one minute and twenty-seven seconds into this number, her strap falls off her shoulder. He’s a stickler for musical timing, I guess.

Anyway, Christine obviously knows it’s the Phantom and has realized that this lab partner thing is never going to pan out, because she works the smoky eyes and the fake flowers. The Phantom, of course, eats it up with a spoon, and keeps pulling the Fabio, the famed dance move involving a woman’s back against a man’s front and the presence of gently groping hands. They split up just long enough to ascend a set piece left over from the touring company of RENT, and then fall through the floor. Who else smells leitmotif?

Speaking of smells, Toole decides to go after her, and after Giry shows him down some steps he dives into the sludgy sewer. That’s romance. Miranda Richardson realizes she does not have to jump into the water. Her ignominy can end, and no one in the movie need ever see her again. She makes tracks, a smug smile on her face. See you in something better, Miranda!

Meanwhile, the Phantom tells Christine to change into wedding gear (kinky!) and whines about the horrible circumstances that made him insane. He ignores the fact that some wrinkled cartilage doesn’t turn you into an obsessive homicidal narcissist. Men! Typical.

Christine steps out in bridal white and asks, hilariously, “Am I now to be prey to your lust for flesh?” The Phantom delivers a truly priceless facial expression here. It is the absolute physical embodiment of the phrase, “Well, duh.” He stalks forward, humming his way through a very cheerful list of all the reasons he’s stayed celibate, and all the ways he’s planning to show Christine the Little Phantom. Christine gets more close-ups. (According to Andrew, it’s 32, but he blinked once, so he says it could be 33.) Things seem to be building! Tension!

Toole gets caught in a metal drown-you grid that was left over from when they shot that James Bond movie that one time. He’s okay, though. He saw that movie. He actually took hair tips from Teri Hatcher. The key is conditioner.

Back in the lair, Phantom is all over Christine until Toole shows up and demands that Christine be given over to him. Stockholm Syndrome: The Musical! The Phantom is understandably amused, because 1) his shirt is far puffier; thanks for the hookup, Jareth, and 2) Toole has forgotten the one instruction anyone has given him so far, and has dropped his hand from his eyes. Nice job, Napoleon.

Toole’s trussed up like a Christmas ham, and then there’s some back-and-forth about whether Christine will marry the Phantom and save Toole’s life, but frankly I was just wondering how Toole managed to belt it out if the noose was so tight. It’s something like this:

Phantom: Choose!

Christine: I’ve never made a decision in my life!

Toole: But I love her!

Christine: There! I decided.

Phantom: No, you love ME!

Christine: Oh. Sorry, Toole.

Toole: Let her go!

Phantom: You’re the one tied up!

Christine: Mm. Cheese sandwiches.

Andrew thinks this is unnecessarily critical, and points out that right before Christine offers to kiss the Phantom in order to convince him to release Toole, her voice hitches and her eyes well up with exactly one cubic gram of moisture. Thanks, Andrew! Editors-in-chief are so helpful.

The kiss is actually very nicely done, but it’s Too Little scrabbling desperately at the door of Too Late. Phantom knows it, too, because right after the kiss he unties Toole and tells them to go ahead and be happy. They disappear, and the Phantom stands alone. Hey! It’s over!

Oh. Wait. My bust.

They leave, and then Christine returns and hands the Phantom her engagement ring. It’s symbolic, but nobody knows why, before Christine turns and goes there’s a really interminable moment where the Phantom looks at her like she handed him her old Kleenex, and she looks at it like it’s a cheese sandwich. Awkward.

When he’s sure they’re finally gone, the Phantom breaks a few mirrors and makes tracks, because Giry totally has a coach waiting. They’re going to pull a Bonnie and Clyde.

Meg stumbles in for no reason, wonders what happened to everyone, sloshes through the wet set, and immediately goes to the smashed mirror, because wax figures of her best friend and submerged pipe organs and subterranean ponies are of no interest to her. She and her large chest bend over the Phantom’s mask, and there’s a moment of quiet contemplation.

Then there’s a huge close up of the monkey, and we zoom back into the present as Old Toole lays the offering at Christine’s grave. It’s very touching until we see that The Phantom has already been there and left Christine his signature red rose with her 80-karat engagement ring tied to it. I’m sure this is supposed to be a game of one-upsmanship, but all I could think about was that the Phantom waited fifty years to deliver his only memento the SAME DAY that Toole stops by with the monkey. That, my friend, is some good timing.

And the movie’s over!

It really is? Really? I am GONE, people.


Genevieve is a prolific writer of speculative fiction living in New York, but you’ll never find her there because millions of people live there and Genevieve likes her privacy. Examples of her fiction can be found in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Federations, and numerous other magazines and anthologies. Her first novel is forthcoming in 2011. Also? She has terrible taste in movies.

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