Saturday, January 30, 2010

Movie Review #5: The Phantom of the Opera Mega Review

When I was 7, I was fortunate enough, by the good graces of my mother, to be taken to see Phantom of the Opera. It was my 3rd musical I had ever seen (at the time), and definitely would remain one of my favorites to this day. Though I didn't understand all that was going on, I knew one thing was true: The Phantom was a special person, that was misunderstood by everybody, even by the woman he loved. This, along with my favorite story ever written (Beauty and the Beast) would be a statement that would stick with me for years to come. A couple of years later, when I started getting interested in reading anything heavier then my Game-Boy, I began to read the many variations of this odd french thriller. Though the story itself is interesting, it is by far the romance and the character of Erik himself that always pulls me back in. Now around this time, I also dabbled into the many film versions of Phantom.... Which will be the subject of today's review.

Before I go deep into my review, let me give you a bit of background. The first noted film version of Phantom is an international 1916 silent screen movie starring a variety of Swedish actors from the time. This is considered at this point to be a lost film, and only is known by it's random mentions in other media. The most well known version in film terms is the infamous 1925 Lon Chaney Sr. silent film. It's both considered to be a masterpiece of filmmaking and one of the outstanding moments of Chaney's career. Though proceeding that, you might not believe this, but there are over 20 film adaptations and TV versions of this story. Some might just reference the general plot, while others dig deeper into the edges of the tale.

But rather then suggesting or going through each adaptation, I'm giving you all a mega "Phan" review of my top 5 favorite Phantom movies. Now, shall we proceed to the dungeon underneath the opera house? I think we shall....

First off I wanna give some special mentions that didn't make the cut, but I couldn't help but tell you about them.

Now I know many of you are going to be disappointed by this, but the Llyodd Webber version isn't in my top 5. Why? Well for starts, I wouldn't be a good reviewer if I was telling you about the versions you already know about. Second, though Gerard Butler is beautiful, no way in Phantom-y goodness hell does he capture Erik's character, visually. Because he's too much of a pretty boy to truly be the Phantom, and the make up they gave him for his "problem" on his face, it's just a disgrace to all of what Phantom of the Opera is. Aside from that, the cinematography is amazing as well as certain performances (Carlotta especially), and visually it is exactly like the musical. So for that alone, check it out.

Then I gotta mention The Wishbone episode. This seriously, funny enough, might be the most faithful version of the original novel I have ever seen. It has tiny elements (Such as Christine's missing scarf) that no other version has even begun to include. Also, Wishbone is just fun in general, so look for that one as well.

Now, lets go beneath the opera house... Starting with...

#5 The Claude Rains Version
Now, overall I put this on the list because it has one of the best selections of music I've heard in any of these film, which it even won an Oscar for. Story wise, it's a bit hit and miss. This is one of the first versions (but not the first) to begin the whole trend of being "scarred by acid" that makes The Phantom "The Phantom". Also, The Phantom and Christine's relationship was originally supposed to be a father and daughter form, but was changed to... 50 year old man loving 17 year old girl? Ok Universal. Claude Rains is one of my favorite actors from the classic film era, yet he doesn't exactly "shine" in this movie. But, Susanna Foster is a whole other story. To note, she's one of the only actresses to play Christine in these films who is actually singing, not dubbed. Her voice is fantastic and far superior then any other Christine's I have heard since. Also, the original music for the film is enchanting (check it out here).

#4 Song at Midnight/Phantom Lover Version
This one you probably have no idea about, unless you are a true "Phan". Both films are deemed the Chinese version of the story, but I really think both of these are more then that. Song at Midnight was the first to come out, with great direction and very powerful scenes. Though I must say, the original's make up aside, I prefer The Phantom Lover remake then the original Song at Midnight. Here's the plot... A famous male opera singer is in a deep romance with the daughter of a factory owner. When she is told to marry another in an arranged marriage, she plans to runaway with the singer. But instead, he is killed .... or so she thinks. Years later, another young male opera singer goes to rehearse in the famous abandoned Opera house. He is then haunted by The Phantom (who, we find out, was the famous male opera singer that was "killed") The Phantom asks the young singer if he can pretend to be the person The Phantom used to be for his love... who still believes he is alive. The way the story goes on is very gripping, but with a somewhat confused ending. Still I totally recommend it if you want to see a different take on the original story, but watch it dubbed (the subtitles are god awful).

#3 The Phantom of the Paradise
Just a warning before you go into wondering "Why the hell is this on your list?", this a cult classic, but is definitely one of the more awkward adaptations to film. But why is it number 3? Just because it's the most individual version. It has great rock music, some really funny and unique performances, and of course, Paul Williams (need I say more..)The plot is a mixture of both Faust and Phantom, which if you know in the original Phantom story, Faust is the opera they perform in the first section. I thought that was a cleaver tribute in a way to the original. Winslow is a struggling musician who writes a rock musical version of Faust, but Swan (Paul Williams) steals his music, and ultimately makes Winslow a monster. But the question is, who really is the monster in this tale? It's the audiences choice on the matter in the end. You'll also be interested to know that this is Brian De Palma's first film (the man who would later directed Carrie among others), and this is also my favorite film of his. Also, check out the music...this by far is my favorite song, along with this one. The music is the real star of this movie, so go and be impressed.

#2 Robert Englund Version
It was hard to chose between the last two of which order to put them in, but I decided to chose based on the entire story, rather then just which Phantom I favor. This almost "hammer horror" styled version, stars my favorite Phantom of all time, Robert Englund. Many of you probably have no idea who this man is, unless you are a horror film nerd of any kind, but this actually is the same guy that played Freddy Kruger in the Nightmare on Elm-street series. But why is he my favorite Phantom? Well personally, I think Robert took the role in a whole other direction that no other actor since Chaney had even tried. He brought the sarcastic humor, romantic charm, and powerful frightening behavior that makes Erik so compelling. I also happen to enjoy the twist on his back story in this version, that he made a deal with the devil (similar to Faust) to make his music famous, but in turn, his face was ruined. Unfortunately, he has to go through some pretty nasty stuff to keep up a decent appearance (think the victorian era version of a face lift) That possibly might be the only flaw with this movie, the violence. Though I'm a person that can handle the blood and guts it throws at you, many of you might not be able too. But if you want to see an excellent Erik performance, go get it!

#1 Charles Dance TV Mini Series Version
This, my fellow frillies, is my favorite version. Though it's very long and has a lot of story going into it, this version by far is the most enjoyable, romantic, heartfelt and beautiful. It features a very toned down but enjoyable Phantom (played by Charles Dance), and goes deeper into his backstory, including elements about his father and mother's relationship. Unfortunately it throws away a lot of the original story elements, but takes some tiny details and makes them bigger. The best example would be Philip, who originally was Raoul's brother, but then makes him to be Christine's other main interest and gets rid of Raoul entirely. Philip is a bit of a jerk, yet I can see why in some sense Christine would be interested in him. I can't not mention the most epic ending ever for a Phantom movie, it has you on the edge of your seat the entire time, and is so beautifully shot, I cried the first time I watched it. Here's a snippet of what I'm talking about....

So overall, what Phantom movie should you see? It depends on your taste. These movies just as movies aren't exactly the best, except for the last mentioned really is a brilliant mini series, and the other 2 from the top 3 are great for their own genres. I give them all, 4 headbows. They all have a special something to them that makes them shine, and therefore you really should check them out if you want to be engrossed in a great story that has lived for over 100 years. If you haven't fell under the Phantom's spell, I think it's about time you took a chance on it.

I really hope you enjoyed today's lengthy review !! as for next weeks , check out the trailer here.

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