Monday, October 15, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera (Media Legacy)

   Wow, from a novel written by Gaston Leroux, to a classic silent movie starring Lon Chaney, to a famous Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, to a theatrical musical adaptation directed by Joel Schumacher, “The Phantom of the Opera” has had quite a history. Living up to his name, this is a character that never dies and always finds new life in the media for every new generation. So for a special Halloween treat, let’s take a look at the ever continuously growing legacy of one of Hollywood’s and Broadways most famous monsters.

The Phantom of the Opera” (1910 novel)
  My personal score is 8 out of 10

We begin in the year 1910, with the novel, written by a French author named Gaston Leroux. This is a rare case in which the book is less famous than any of its other adaptations. Ask anyone where “The Phantom of the Opera” originates from and they’d probably say either the classic Broadway Musical or the classic silent horror movie. But no, this is where the classic story all began. In this version, the Phantoms name is Eric, a physically-deformed and mentally-disturbed genius who was one of the architects that took part in the construction of an opera house and secretly built a home for himself in the cellars. Anyone who knows this story will immediately recognize the lead characters like Christine Daaé, the woman whose beautiful voice steels the heart of the Phantom, and her boy friend Raoul who stands in his way. If you haven’t read it, then you may find it interesting.

The Phantom of the Opera” (1925 silent movie)

   My personal score is 6 out of 10

With the birth of film and silent movies of the 1920’s, the Phantom then made his first appearance in a motion picture, the classic 1925 film “The Phantom of the Opera”. This film is often regarded as the best of all the Phantoms different film adaptations and one of the greatest classics in the history of Horror movie cinema. First of all, there was a terrific color sequence complete with an amazing set peace which stands as one of the greatest technical accomplishments of the time. But the big attraction to this film is Lon Chaney in the role of the Phantom, who conveys so much passion and emotion in this performance without saying a single line. It’s the perfect example of a visual performance and still a lot of character comes out of it. Lon Chaney even did his own makeup, that face you see in the photo below was accomplished by the actor alone and is perhaps one of the coolest monster faces I’ve ever seen. While this film was certainly a great marvel for its time, common audiences today don’t have much patients for this kind of film, even I would admit that while I enjoyed watching it, this isn’t a film that I’d ever want to sit though a second time, which is something that I just can't say for some of the latter adaptations of this film.

The Phantom of the Opera” (1943 Universal Classic)

  My personal score is again 6 out of 10

After the silent movies of the 1920’s, Universal made the first classic sound horror films including “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man”, and in 1943 Universal released the first sound version of The Phantom of the Opera” and this one’s often regarded as the second big classic rendition next to the original silent movie. In this film, we see the Phantom as a regular guy who’s face was then horribly burned by aside, which he covers up with a white mask. This is where the Phantom got his modern look and feel that people usually associate with the character. But in all honesty, this is my least favorite of all the classic Universal monster movies and one of my least favorite adaptations of “The Phantom of the Opera”. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I had seen so many other renditions of this film before hand, so this film just felt old to me. Most of the characters you could care less for, there’s some really lame hummer, especially with these three guys that are crazy in love with the lead heroine, it’s just an annoying love square. Now the film isn’t all bad, a lot of the sets and interiors are true spectacles to look at and Claude Rains is fantastic as the phantom, it’s just that there’s much better versions of this film that I would recommend over this.

“The Phantom of the Opera” (1962 Hammer remake)

  My personal score is 7 out of 10

Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s a studio called Hammer film productions remade all of Universals classic monster movies like “Dracula”, “The Mummy” and so forth. So naturally in 1962, Hammer released their own version of “The Phantom of the Opera”. This was actually the first non-musical film version of the Phantom that I had ever seen and I honestly like it more than the first two classics. The characters are a lot better and this film still keeps the Phantoms mystery alive while also giving him more of an emotional focus. The source material is still in check, just with a few new twists, the three lead characters have different names and the Phantom gets his own hunchbacked assistant in this version. The climaxes dose an excellent job delivering a tragic end to the character without over dramatizing it. All in all, it’s just a nicely constructed film that’s worth checking out.  

The Phantom of the Opera” (1986 Broadway musical)

  My personal score is 9 out of 10

Several years latter in 1986, a man named Andrew Lloyd Webber took the bare ingredients of this character and turned it into a completely original, musical phenomenon. The Broadway musical adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera” was a huge success and has gone on to become a classic in its own right. In fact it changed the way people view the character, originally the Phantom was just regarded as a classic horror monster but now people only regard him as a classic character in a famous musical. Audiences even credit Andrew Lloyd Webber for creating the character when Gaston Leroux was the original architect behind the Phantom. Heck, people regard Michael Crawford has the iconic actor to play the Phantom instead of one of the movie stars like Lon Chaney or Claude Rains. I’ve never had the privilege of seeing this play on Broadway but I have seen local, on stage versions of this play, and I've seen plenty video's on YouTub. It’s honestly one of my favorite Broadway plays. The music is unforgettable, the story is great, the set’s can be so elaborate, I don’t even need to say anything, anyone who knows this play, already knows how great it is.  

The Phantom of the Opera” (1989 remake)

  My personal score is 6 out of 10

Shortly after the huge success of the musical, there was another theatrical “Phantom of the Opera” remake in 1989 that tried to bring the Phantom back to horror, and this version goes all out with the horror. There’s lots of gore, creepy sets and actor Robert Englund is the Phantom, this is the guy who’s famous amongst horror fans for playing Freddy Krueger in “The Nightmare on Elm Street” series. This is easily one of my favorite performances of the Phantom, Robert Englund infuses the character with a lot of chilling menace but he’s also very poetic and intelligent, which makes the character all the more interesting to watch. You also grow to like Christine Daaé in this version, the remaining characters all do a good job holding your interest and the passing is very good. It’s unfortunate that the story losses itself with one too many confusing plot points, including some demonic elements that have nothing to do with the source material. The period piece setting doesn’t make much sense either, sometimes the story will take place in the 1800’s, then it’ll take place in the 1980’s and the way the film makes the transitions between these two time periods makes even less sense. A part of me wants to label this film as one of the best versions of “The Phantom of the Opera”, because it is engaging to watch but regrettably, the stuff that doesn’t work in this film ruin all the good that the movie has to offer. 

 The Phantom of the Opera” (1998 remake)

  My personal score is 1 out of 10

So how many remakes does it take before a good story gets stupid and unwatchable? Well, in 1998 there was yet another Phantom remake that amid again for horror and its complete garbage. Not only is this film the worst rendition of “The Phantom of the Opera”, it’s one of the most pointless films to ever be made. I don’t even need to comment on this, just look at the trailer, it’s enough of an indication that this is going to be a bad film. But I suppose I need to say something, first of all, the Phantoms origins are all wrong. In this version he’s not born with any human deformities and he doesn’t have a burned face that he covers with a mask, instead he looks perfectly normal with no scaring at all. In a flash-back we learn that this films Phantom was abandoned in the sewers as a baby, before falling down a waterfall, he was rescued by a sewer rat that latter raised him from birth, I swear I’m not making this up. So he grows up into this creepy rat person that’s also a sexual predator and the only two things we’ll see him do throughout the rest of the film are sleep with rats and rape woman, it’s as far removed from a quality film as you can possibly get. The movie also drags at a dull pass, there are lots of stupid, random scenes that have nothing to do with anything and it all concludes with one of the worst endings ever committed to film, I think I’ll leave it at that. 

The Phantom of the Opera” (2004 Musical motion picture)

   My personal score is 8 out of 10

After two failed Horror remakes, director Joel Schumacher helmed a different project, a theatrical musical rendition of “The Phantom of the Opera” that’s adapted from the classic Broadway play. This film first came out in 2004 and while it was a modest success, it unfortunately got some really negative reviews from critics. From a personal objective, this is my favorite film version of the Phantom. Sure it has scenes that drag but when this movie gets good, it’s a sheer spectacle. The costumes are good, the cinematography is great, the visuals are impressive and the sets are just amazing to look at. The cast play their parts well and all look the part. A lot of the musical numbers are done very well and still leave you humming a few notes after words. I dare say it’s even one of my favorite musicales adapted into film. Is it one the greatest musical motion pictures ever, no, does it have problems, yes, but it’s still very good for all that it aims to be and for any fan of  The Phantom of the Opera”, this is the one film version that I’d certainly recommend viewing.  

    There are a few other Phantom related films and events in the media but it would take all day if I mentioned everything, I’m just looking over the big, stand out films and events that have some meaning. So this ends my little trip through the history of “The Phantom of the Opera”, hope you enjoyed it or found it informative.
        The End

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