So….*here we all pause awkwardly* I completely forgot that it was Wednesday and that I needed to write a blog post. And then it was Thursday and I still hadn’t written a post…hey, I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m not procrastinating or anything.
If you weren’t around last week, I’m currently doing a series every Wednesday (*cough* or Thursday) centred around popular books and their musical and movie adaptions, comparing them and then throwing in my opinion on which is best, and asking you for your opinions at the end! Last week, we looked at Les Miserables and this week we’ll be looking at (you guessed it)…
The Phantom of the Opera!
Like Les Mis, Phantom has three major incarnations–Gaston Leroux’s book Le Fantome de l’opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s astoundingly popular musical, and Joel Schumacher’s movie version of the aforementioned musical.
Across all three, the plot remains essentially the same. A wealthy, deformed genius lurks in the labyrinth beneath the Paris Opera House and falls in love with a beautiful young (somewhat naïve) ballet girl. Throw in some murder, a bunch of noblemen (or just one, depending on the adaption), a spoilt diva and a chandelier and you have a love triangle which accumulates in chaos and torture.
So, same as we did last week, I’ll highlight three differences between the book, the musical and the movie adaption of the musical. Ready? Okay, let’s go.
1. Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (and the Comte de Chagny too)
Raoul, otherwise known as the Vicomte de Chagny, was Christine’s childhood friend. They used to sit together and listen to Monsieur Daae, Christine’s father, play the fiddle, or tell them stories of the Angel of Music. Raoul is the youngest child, and was raised mostly by his elder sisters and his brother, Phillipe, the Comte de Chagny, since both of his parents were dead. Upon noticing Christine, years later, in an opera he and his brother were visiting, he falls head over heels in love with her. He does a bunch of other things, like following Christine to her father’s grave and having skulls avalanched at him by Christine’s mysterious tutor, and then later “playing at” engagement with her (what even?). He eventually is saved from burning to death, and then drowning, by Christine’s love. All this he manages to do with an impressive amount of ignoring his brother’s good sense, and by whining and just generally acting like a lovestruck fool.
People may criticise Webber’s Raoul and he may be the victim of much hate, but he is infinitely cooler than his bookish ancestor and I like him a lot. Musical Raoul is given more of a backbone, spends less time whining, and possesses a good deal more courage and common sense. He still has his faults, but he is, on the whole, a good person, who truly loves and cares about Christine and does his absolute best to protect her. In this version, he ends up almost being hanged by the Phantom, rather than burned in the maze of mirrors, or drowned. Comte de Chagny is left completely out of this adaption, though I didn’t even know he existed until reading the book, so I’ve never missed him much. Raoul has no solo in the musical (a huge letdown, Mr Webber), but he and Christine share my favourite romantic duet of all time–All I Ask of You. (He’s also less creepy and manages to avoid having skulls thrown at him).
What happened here? By the time the 2004 movie came along, Raoul seemed to have devolved into…a long haired, rather limpid, pathetic, whining…well, you get the picture. I have no fond feelings for Patrick Wilson’s Raoul. I mean…he just fails at being a hero, I’m sorry. Also, in this version, he speaks a lot of his lines, which are meant to be sung, and it just sounds really stilted and wooden.
However, the movie does include a scene (right after the “Masquerade” sequence), where Raoul falls into one of the Phantom’s mirror mazes, which was a nice little nod to the book.
Which Do I Like the Most?
This isn’t really a question of which I like the most, but which I like at all. The winner here is definitely musical Raoul. He’s sweet, compassionate, fiery (perhaps too much so sometimes), strong and he loves Christine dearly. He’s literally willing to lay down his life for her. Book Raoul was annoying, extremely annoying, and movie Raoul was wooden, weak and lacking in character. So musical Raoul wins by a mile.
2. The Phantom/Opera Ghost
The Opera Ghost (despite the book being called The Phantom of the Opera, the Opera Ghost is never referred to by the title of The Phantom) is a wealthy gentleman living beneath the Paris Opera house. He has had a long and distinguished career in all sorts of pursuits and he is a master of ventriloquism, architecture and music. He wears a black mask that covers a skull-like face (described frequently as a “death’s-head”) and Christine notes that he smells of death.
Despite all this (and despite his frequent murders), he is very polite, especially when threatening the Opera House’s new managers. He tells Christine that his name is Erik, but that he came upon that name by accident. He has no last name. He “once built for the Shah of Persia, a maze of mirrors”, and then the Shah attempted to kill him. Erik’s life was saved by a Persian policeman. He later came to Paris, got a contract to help with the building of the Opera House, and made himself a secret lair in the basements.
He forces Christine to choose between marrying him and blowing up the Opera House with a whole lot of gunpowder. He tries to murder Raoul in the torture chamber, and drowns Raoul’s brother in the lake. Last but not least, he sleeps in a coffin and has eyes that glow like the eyes of a cat(and if that’s not creepy, I don’t know what is).
Oh, and he dies of a broken heart at the end.
Webber’s Phantom is simpler than Leroux’s. While Leroux styles his Opera Ghost as an all round genius, The Phantom is merely a musical genius (though reference is made to his maze of mirrors and other accomplishments). Like Leroux’s Ghost, he convinces Christine that he is her father’s “Angel of Music” and helps Christine in her rise to stardom.
He’s rather less violent and creepy than his book counterpart (no mention being made of cat’s eyes or coffins), and he straddles the line between villain and anti-hero, making him more sympathetic and likable.
He writes an opera, “Don Juan Triumphant”, which he orders the opera house to perform, casting Christine in the lead. On the opening night, he murders the male lead, takes his place, sings a duet with Christine, who–upon realising who she is singing with–unmasks him. He kidnaps her, takes her to his lair and then traps Raoul, when Raoul follows them. Eventually, Christine shows him compassion, kissing him for the first time in his life, and he releases both her and Raoul, allowing them to leave and live a happy life together.
What happens to The Phantom at the end is not necessarily known. He simply vanishes. However, Andrew Lloyd Webber actually wrote a sequel to his musical, called “Love Never Dies”, which is generally hated, and which the fandom (for the most part) refuses to acknowledge.
Again, something was lost in translation with this movie. Somehow, The Phantom ended up super handsome and suave, and his deformity is more like a little burn to the side of the face. This makes him come across as much more petty. He also behaves in a generally more…well, seductive sort of way, which doesn’t seem to reflect either Leroux’s Ghost or Webber’s Phantom.
Which Do I Like the Most?
I like the book and the musical Phantoms for different reasons. More of a backstory is provided for Erik, as well as a name, and he’s presented more as a illogical madman than merely vengeful. The musical Phantom is more sympathetic, and forces the audience to care about him and feel sorry for him. He has no name (which I think adds to his mystery) and very little backstory is provided.
So I like them both, but differently. I’m not a fan of the movie Phantom whatsoever.
3. The Persian (or lack thereof) and the Ending
Leroux includes an interesting character in his novel, who is integral to the ending of the book. He is a character who is just as mysterious as the Phantom, he has no name and is known to everyone simply as The Persian. He is the Persian police captain who spared Erik’s life, and he knows more of Erik’s tricks and talents than anyone else in Paris. In the book, he also aids Raoul in finding Christine after she is kidnapped and keeps Raoul alive in the maze of mirrors, focussing on finding the way out while Raoul rambles on like a madman.
He manages to become my favourite book character, and appears as the only character with some semblance of sense.
The end of the book involves a scene that has become fairly famous, in which Erik forces Christine to choose between turning two keys–one called the “Scorpion” and the other the “Grasshopper”. One will blow up the opera house, and the other will release a flood of water which will drown the barrels of gunpowder. During this scene, Raoul and the Persian watch helplessly from the torture chamber while Christine correctly chooses the Scorpion key, which, as promised, drowns the gunpowder, but continues to rise, threatening to drown Raoul and his guide as well.
Christine’s pleas eventually cause Erik to let all three of them go. Some time afterwards, Erik visits the Persian and admits to him that he is dying of love, and requesting that, after his death, the Persian will place an advertisement in the newspaper, announcing his death. The Persian promises to do this. The last few chapters are all told from the first person point of view of the Persian.
The character of the Persian is omitted completely from the musical and movie, which I think is a shame, since the Persian could have had some interesting songs and scenes, and his role is instead given to Madame Giry (who played only a small role in the book). He serves as a sort of…opposite, I guess, to Erik, and as Erik’s only moral compass.
The ending, whilst having the same outcome as the book, is different and involves no gunpowder, no scorpions and no grasshoppers, or torture chambers. Madame Giry guides Raoul to the Phantom’s lair, after he kidnaps Christine, but does not enter with him. Upon being found by the Phantom, Raoul is caught and half strangled (the movie also includes a scene where Raoul falls into a water trap, a nod to the tortures Erik devised for him in the book), before finally being released after Christine kisses the Phantom, thereby showing him the first compassion he’s ever experienced.
After this, the Phantom escapes the angry mob coming after him, leaves behind his cape and mask and vanishes. As I said earlier, the sequel informs us that he did not, in fact, die, but ran away to America.
Which Do I Like the Most?
Both are interesting. I don’t like “Love Never Dies”, so the ending to the musical is kind of annoying, but it leaves a lot more mystery in the character of the Phantom. I also prefer the more personal ending of the musical, since it involves only the three of them, and is based more on Christine’s actions and compassion, than on her ability to guess correctly. Her compassion is also emphasised more in the musical, whereas it is only mentioned in the book (since that portion of the book is told through the eyes of the Persian, who is unconscious at the time). However, I also liked the character of the Persian a lot, and if anyone wants to write a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera in his eyes, than I’d absolutely love to read it.
Okay, so what’s my conclusion? Overall, the book had a more horror slant to it than the musical does (though it would hardly be considered horror compared to today’s standards), and it’s weird and creepy at times (there are a lot more instances than I mentioned previously). But it’s interesting, and it held my attention very well. It also had cool characters like the Persian in it, an actual name for the mysterious Phantom, and a lot of backstory for him too.
I grew up on the musical though, and so it also holds a lot of nostalgia for me. I feel that Webber did a really good job of taking the elements of the original book and then improving on them. I much prefer the characterisations of Christine (I didn’t touch on her here, but there were a few differences there too), Raoul and the Phantom, as well as a few secondary characters. I also like the music and the songs add another level of depth to the story.
The movie is, in my humble opinion, bad (with the exception of Emmy Rossum’s singing, which I really liked). And it’s easily my least favourite of the three.
So, I come to a conclusion! My favourite will probably always be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, and then Gaston Leroux’s original book. Last of all (way last of all) comes the 2004 movie.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Have you read the novel? What do you think of the movie version? What about Love Never Dies?