Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor (kistaro) wrote,
Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

Notes on a sort-of-movie

I'm currently watching the movie rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber's rendition of The Phantom of the Opera. (It was on the list of "stuff I wanted to see but never got around to and now reached the top of my Netflix queue".) I saw a performance by almost the official cast (The Phantom was played by the understudy's understudy, but was performed excellently anyway) at the Fox theatre back in St. Louis years and years ago; I remember bits and pieces, but I was still in elementary school then. It was an excellent show, though.

So that's the one I find myself using as a baseline as I watch the movie version of the show. And I think I understand why it so harshly divided people who were fans of the original, and got low marks from movie critics.

As a movie, the pacing is severely wrong. The positions of musical performances don't make a lot of sense, the overture sequence is far too long, and things that, at the outset, make no sense are given a pass with no immediate examination.

But all of these are consistent with musical theater. The tradition of American musical theater has always given the musical performances first priority, allowing characterization, logic, and plot to suffer somewhat in setting one up. And that is the source the author of the screenplay had to work from- and there would be hell to pay if any of the musical numbers or the truly iconic lines ("Until you stop these things happening, this thing does not happen!") were altered. the disbelief people are willing to suspend for a live performance is significantly greater than the disbelief people are willing to suspend for a movie- or, at least, this is what I observe in myself.

Because I find myself of three opinions: it seems poorly-constructed as a movie, it seems like an incongruious combination of a movie and a musical theater performance, and it is still quite enjoyable and entertaining. It's that last one I'm choosing to focus on, and I suspect that's how most people who enjoyed it, enjoyed it: it is somewhere between musical theater and movies, but neither fits quite right; allowing it to just be what it is makes for an enjoyable experience. People who are expecting something similar to a traditional movie are much more likely to be frustrated, and people who are expecting the stageplay will find it mutilated.

Because the director and screenwriter obviously saw the ways in which the performance that works in the theater really doesn't work for movies. The dialogue matters a lot more; implausible characters are fine and generally good for a show, but they have to behave plausibly and consistently. A stageplay brushes over a lot of details that a screenplay can't.

The upshot to this is that it's not the original, and has some fairly rough transitions between the original and the updated-for-movies modifications. It's obvious when performers' lines (especially the New Management) transition from "written by the screenwriter" to "taken from Webber's original script". This isn't the fault of the screenwriter; he can't remain true to Webber's characters without having characters that are too inconsistent to stand up to the scrutiny of a movie audience because they weren't consistent in the first place, but he certainly can't drop the original major lines.

That pretty much everything in-between was rewritten, however, is definitely going to have pissed off a lot of the original performances fans. I think the result of the process is something better, but that's definitely up for (quite a lot of) debate- and it's certainly something oddly nontraditional, which people who regularly watch only one of the two forms of media- musical theater and movies- are probably going to be jarred by, lacking the other frame of reference.

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Tags: entertainment, movies, music

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