I do like some aspects of the 2004 film–it’s a film of one of my favorite musicals, after all, and the instrumentals and sets are fabulous. And some of the character moments are touching. Gerard Butler was a better actor for the Phantom than singer; I have no objection to him portraying the character, but I wish the filmmakers had dubbed his voice over with John Owen-Jones’s or some professional singer. Also, I think Patrick Wilson was underused in the film, and is under-appreciated for his portrayal of Raoul, which I discussed in this post.
Point being, the 2004 film has a few good points–but a lot of flaws that could be corrected in a remake. So here’s what I’d like to see should anyone undertake that task:
- #1 requirement: a cast who can sing. This should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it’s not. Half of the story’s beauty and power would vanish if Christine and the Phantom lacked professional and polished singing voices. And hey, since it’s a musical, the rest of the cast also needs to be able to sing! Melody and vocals are the storytelling medium here, and part of what drives the plot.
- #2 requirement: a cast who can act. Since this would be a film version of a stage musical, both singing and acting abilities are essential. And it’s not a shot for the moon to require both: in the 2012 film Les Miserables, Aaron Tveit was a polished singer and talented actor; in the 2000 Broadway production of Jane Eyre, James Barbour not only had a powerhouse voice (and very versatile) he portrayed Mr. Rochester almost perfectly. Same for his portrayal of Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.
- #3 requirement: a deformity that looks hideous. This is essential to the power of the story. If the Phantom is only moderately ugly when unmasked, it destroys the whole reason he was outcast from society, and destroys the power of Christine’s compassion and sacrifice. The cool thing is, with all the special effects filmmakers have at their fingertips these days, they could make the deformity really horrific and gross.
- #4 requirement: no Love Never Dies set-up. No longing looks back as Christine leaves, no over-aggressiveness or pushiness from Raoul, no hints that Christine and the Phantom got too cozy down in the lair—nothing of that sort. The idea of a sequel actually undermines the mystery and tragedy of that last Phantom scene—and LND not only destroyed that power and mystery, but it ruined the characters as well. For example, in LND, the Phantom still pines for Christine–understandable–but also ignores the choice he made to let Christine and Raoul go, and pulls almost the exact same kidnapping and threats he performed in the last musical in order to keep Christine near him. Seriously? That completely ruins his sacrifice in the original musical. Would the Phantom miss Christine? Of course. Would he perhaps dream about “the way things might have been”? Possibly. Would he try to take her back? I don’t think so–I think he would have stuck with his choice. And I’m not even going to mention what LND did to Raoul, or I might explode.
- #5 requirement: filling in of “missing scenes.” The following are what I particularly want to see:
- What, exactly, did Raoul do after discovering Christine gone from her dressing room? Given the lengths he goes to protect her in the musical, I don’t see him thinking, “Whelp, she’s gone. Might as well go home and get some supper. Like, on my own…thanks, Christine.” He’s going to get to the bottom of the matter. It could be set up something like this: after Christine vanishes into the mirror, Raoul comes back and looks around in bewilderment. During the opening notes of the title song, the Phantom and Christine head through the passages to the lair; then the scene cuts to a quick shot of Raoul speaking to two or three people, his face worried, and they answer by shaking their heads. Then the scene cuts back to tunnels, and Christine begins to sing the title song. The sequence continues until after “Music of the Night”—the camera cuts to Raoul in entrance to the Opera House, and the managers tell him, “We’ll send word if we find her. Go home, Monsieur le Vicomte.” Raoul looks over their shoulders to the policemen conferring inside, and then puts on his hat and reluctantly leaves. As he crosses the street, a tower clock strikes 3: 00 a. m. (I don’t think the timing is too far-fetched: if the opera started at, say, 8: 00 p. m. and lasted until 11:00 p. m. or 12:00 a. m., it would probably take an hour or so for everyone to become aware of the disappearance and summon the police, and another hour or two to realize that nothing further could be done that night.) Then Christine wakes up in the Phantom’s lair, and “I Remember” starts.
- How long was Christine missing after her debut? The musical indicates it was only one night, but the newspapers somehow got wind of it–as I mentioned in my Raoul Defense posts, I have a head canon that a journalist showed up to interview the new soprano, but before he had a chance, he ran into a worried Raoul, and, well, there you go. (This discrepancy in the story’s time line probably occurred by ALW’s condensing how long Christine was kidnapped. In the book, it was two weeks, giving everyone plenty of time to notice and discuss her disappearance.) There aren’t huge questions or gaping plot holes, but a film could devote a few lines to answering them.
- What happened in the 6-months the Phantom was absent? Did Christine continue to sing? If so, was it as a soprano or as a background vocalist? This would be interesting to answer, as both she and Carlotta are at the masquerade, with apparently no enmity between them—possibly suggesting that Christine sung as a chorus girl or understudy. Which then begs the question: why didn’t the Phantom do anything about this?—all these questions could be answered in some dialogues between the managers or cast members wondering where the Phantom is and scenes of rehearsal in which Carlotta rubs the role reversal in chorus-girl-Christine’s face.
- Lavish sets. ‘Nuff said. But I’ll say more anyway. The stage versions of the musical just can’t convey the power of atmosphere and color that a film could. A film has the opportunity to show the glitter of the stage; the richness of the theatre boxes and the (non-ghostly) occupants; the bustle and messiness of backstage; the roof of the Opera House, so high above the rest of the world and drenched in moonlight; the dark elegance of the Phantom’s lair lit with hundreds of candles and strange inventions in the corners; the underground tunnels and lake…
- Nods to the Leroux novel, such as the Phantom’s violin-playing. It would be amazing if, after Christine’s swoon, he plays a little of Music of the Night on his violin before finishing, “help me make the music of the night…”. Perhaps also, Raoul could mention (with some disgust) his elder brother who’d gone to see a mistress in the north of France, and Christine referencing the family that took her in after her father’s death and provided for her education.
- Raoul swimming the lake to get to the Phantom’s lair. A strange wish, maybe, but it’s a cool piece of action, and it would heighten the tension by showing how frantic he is, what danger he is willing to risk in order to find Christine. It would also show that, no, he is not a sissy.
So that’s my Phantom film remake wish list. What would you all like to see in a remake?