Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Phantom of the Opera (1990)

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical is by far the most famous adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera but there are many other adaptations. Another stage musical adaptation of the book is Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's Phantom. This musical has a very interesting backstory. Yeston and Kopit were working on their musical in the USA at around the same time that Andrew Lloyd Webber was working on his in Britain. Unfortunately for Yeston and Kopit, Webber finished his musical first and it became a smash hit on the West End. When this happened the Broadway investors of the Yeston & Kopit musical then got cold feet and pulled out of the project. Yeston and Kopit had to abandon their musical. But they still didn't give up on their project. Arthur Kopit rewrote their musical as a television miniseries and took out all of the musical's songs, the only music that would be used in the miniseries would be opera music. The miniseries was aired in 1990 and was very well-received. A few years later Yeston & Kopit were even able to use the money that they made from the miniseries to bring out their musical. Their musical has never made it to Broadway but it's been performed at high schools and has had several successful regional productions.

This post is only going to be a review of the television miniseries which I really love. In this miniseries, a deformed musical genius called Erik lives beneath the Paris opera house and secretly co-ordinates its seasons with the aid of his father Gerard Carriere (Burt Lancaster) who is the opera house manager. Carriere is then sacked from his job. He's been replaced by a man called Choleti (Ian Richardson) who has taken on the job in order to boost the career of his wife Carlotta (Andrea Ferreol). Carlotta then becomes the opera house diva but she's actually a very bad singer. Meanwhile, a poor young woman from the countryside called Christine Daae (Terri Polo) then arrives at the opera house. She's after singing lessons which have been promised to her by the count Philippe de Chagny (Adam Storke). But when Christine arrives she discovers that Philippe is a playboy and that she's not the only woman he's promised singing lessons to. She does, however, manage to get a job as a costume girl. Later that night, when the opera house is empty, she starts to sing. Erik overhears her and immediately falls in love with her voice. He approaches Christine and offers to give her singing lessons - but only if she doesn't reveal to anyone who's teaching her. Christine accepts. As Erik spends more time with Christine he begins to fall in love with her and attempts to boost her career.

Although the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical will always be my favourite Phantom of the Opera adaptation this miniseries isn't very far behind. Yes I'm willing to admit that as an adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel this miniseries is far from perfect. As you've probably already gathered it's a very loose adaptation of the story. Erik is more mild-mannered than he is in the book and his madness is toned down. He has a completely different backstory and you don't really get much of a sense of his loneliness and isolation in this version. Christine Daae bears an uncanny resemblance to Erik's mother in this version too. Their roles are even played by the same actress! Now surely I can't be the only one who finds this really creepy and Freudian?! My biggest issue with this miniseries though is that Raoul isn't even in it! He's been inexplicably swapped with his older brother Philippe! Why?! How can you do a Phantom of the Opera adaptation without Raoul?!

However, despite this version's annoying inaccuracies I completely forgive it. Since I'm such a huge fan of Leroux's novel you might think that I'd nitpick this version to death but I'm actually going to come out and defend it! This version has so much going for it! It does a superb job in capturing the ghostly atmosphere of Leroux's book. It captures Erik's dark sense of humour extremely well. He gets some really funny lines in this version and is known as the "Sassy Phantom" by fans :D Erik is very sarcastic in the book anyway but this is emphasised in this version. Since they toned Erik's character down in other respects I definitely appreciated this and laughed many times. Erik also does a number of cruel practical jokes in this version, mostly aimed at Carlotta's expense. He even tips a box of rats on her for ruining Christine's debut! Speaking of Carlotta, I love her in this version! In this miniseries she's married to the new manager of the opera house and is very entertaining. She's egotistical, selfish, cunning and very nasty. She's a great villain.

This adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera is the only one that was actually shot on location in Paris and at the opera house itself. It's the only non-musical adaptation of the book where the Phantom actually sings. Christine is a blonde. This adaptation has great cinematography and is very visually appealing. It uses music from the opera Faust which I certainly appreciate as a Leroux fan. The actors are great in this version. Charles Dance is especially great as the Phantom. Dance's Phantom is very endearing and he and Terri Polo had a very touching chemistry. So much chemistry in fact that I actually ship the Phantom and Christine in this version! This is a big deal for me! Usually I'm a very staunch Raoul/Christine shipper. But then again Raoul isn't even in this version. Also, although Philippe is nice and falls genuinely in love with Christine, he doesn't get to risk his life for her by rescuing her from the Phantom's lair. He therefore loses some valuable "hero" points. Finally, because this version is three hours long, it doesn't need to rush the story and can take its time. The first hour of this miniseries is quite light-hearted and focuses mainly on the romance and comedy. In places it's very funny. The tone then starts to become more serious in the second hour and the final 30 minutes or so of this miniseries are really quite sad, focusing mostly on Erik's pain and heartbreak after Christine's rejection of him. 

Some of my favourite scenes in this miniseries are:

  • A scene set in a bistro in which Carlotta tries to upstage Christine in a duet. Christine is having none of it and completely outsings her.
  • Carlotta gets so angry that Christine outsang her at the bistro and won the role of Marguerite over her that she gives Christine some sort of throat-destroying drink that ruins her debut. The Phantom then gets so furious that he brings the chandelier down, giving us a glimpse of his inner rage and madness. I love the Chandelier cutting sequence! It's even more dramatic and exciting than the chandelier scene in the ALW version!
  • After Erik cuts the chandelier we then get a scene where he takes Christine down to his lair. The journey to the Phantom's lair isn't as dramatic as the scene in the ALW musical but it has a very magical feel to it, like they're entering into a new world.
  • In this version Christine manages to persuade the Phantom to show her his face voluntarily. She believes that if she truly loves Erik that she'll be able to look upon his face without horror. I can't imagine Leroux's Erik ever consenting to that! I do really love this scene though. The fact that Christine manages to talk the Phantom into revealing his face makes it more suspenseful and psychological. There's more of a build-up. And when Christine isn't able to look upon Erik's face without horror and faints, the scene becomes very sad and even more powerful.
  • After Christine escapes from the Phantom's lair she feels guilty for demanding to see Erik's face. She also has a premonition that Erik is dying. Christine then decides to perform for Erik one last time in Faust to let him know that she still cares about him. We then get a very emotional scene with Erik and Christine both singing a duet from the opera.
  • After Christine and the Phantom perform their duet the Phantom gets shot at by the police. He then makes one last-ditch attempt to kidnap Christine. The final confrontation between Erik, Christine and Philippe on the rooftops of the opera house is great. The police then turn up and try to arrest Erik. Erik then gets shot by his father to fulfil his promise of never allowing his son to be put on display. In another very moving scene, Christine gives Erik one last goodbye kiss as he dies. She and Philippe then go off to start a new life together.
I really do love this version. As a Leroux fan I certainly don't approve of all of the changes that were made but I still love this version regardless. It's entertaining, moving, very well-made, and makes for an interesting alternative to the Andrew Lloyd Webber version. The fact that it isn't a very faithful adaptation will certainly put some viewers off but viewers who aren't hardcore book purists should find a lot to enjoy in this version. In fact I'm sure that viewers who usually would consider themselves to be book purists would find a lot to enjoy in this version!

Rating: 5/5

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