Thoughts on The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Warning: This review is honest and critical. You may wish to skip it if you are a die-hard fan!

Today I finished watching Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera, which is currently free to watch on YouTube. Previously I saw the 25th Anniversary musical production, and (in what feels like another lifetime) I once read Gaston Leroux’s novel.

For the uninitiated—The Phantom of the Opera takes place in 19th-century Paris. A young chorus singer, Christine, begins hearing a voice, which she thinks is an angel sent by her deceased father to look after her. The voice actually belongs to Erik, a musical mastermind who lives under the opera house and subjects everyone to his will. He gives Christine singing lessons and begins inserting her as the lead in the opera productions. When he finds out she has a boyfriend (Raoul), Erik asserts himself as her “protector” and determines to get rid of the boyfriend and anyone else who stands in his way.

I must be getting old and jaded because this movie did not strike a chord with me (pardon the pun).

Movie vs. Book

Though I haven’t read the book in forever, I remember how little it felt like the musical (and likewise, the movie). The book is written more as a Victorian mystery—think Sherlock Holmes. There is even an unofficial investigator-type character, called The Persian, who helps Raoul out. The romance is there, but from what I recall, it’s rather understated compared to Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. The movie, by contrast, puts the romance front and center, and Raoul is on his own, poor chap.

Movie vs. Musical

The movie is a direct adaptation of the musical, and as such it is pretty faithful.

There was one change made that really boiled my biscuits. In the movie, Christine has lived at the opera house since she was a little girl. This was mentioned one or two times and solidified by a line changed from “I thought it best that she went home” to “I thought it best she was alone.” What this means is that the Phantom, an older guy, has been watching Christine since she was a minor. It’s bad enough he’s posing as her dad, but this is a whole new level of CREEPY and it isn’t in the musical.

On a less egregious note, the movie is shot entirely in flashback and from Raoul’s perspective. I don’t feel like it added much to the story, but I didn’t mind it particularly.

I liked that the mirror room from the book made an appearance, albeit very brief. The added sword fight did nothing for me except make me laugh. (The quality of Hollywood fencing has really degraded since the days of Basil Rathbone.)

Overall Take on the Movie

When this movie came out, the biggest controversy was not its questionable messages but actually the casting.

I agree with those who didn’t love Gerard Butler as the Phantom. I didn’t feel like he had much in the way of looks or charisma, and his voice was nothing near operatic, barely Broadway if we’re being honest. His portrayal reminded me of a stereotypical incel. This probably sounds harsh, but that is honestly how I felt, probably due to the director and script more than his actual acting. Ramin Karimloo, who starred in the 25th Anniversary Broadway production, at least had a strong voice and amped up Erik’s maniacal side to great effect.

Emmy Rossum was surprisingly good as Christine, both acting and singing. She played the combination of young, entranced, and scared very well. Her character fits the Victorian archetype of “damsel in distress,” and they didn’t change that in the movie, which is just as well because the whole story would fall apart if she wasn’t naive.

Raoul, played by Patrick Wilson, was well cast. He’s supposed to be Erik’s opposite, and he is: calm, constant, and chivalrous, just a bit heavy-handed at times. Patrick Wilson was a Broadway performer, and it shows—the caliber of his singing is way above Butler’s.

I think my biggest quibble was the script and directing. There seemed to be a lot of overacting. The movie felt like a kids’ movie to me, yet I don’t feel like it is appropriate for kids. I think I have been spoiled by better costume dramas. It also bothered me they changed lines from the musical for no apparent reason.

Psychos and Narcissists

I just have to ask… why is our society so obsessed with psychos and narcissists? Serious question. I could not count the number of YouTube comments that shipped Christine and Erik. I’ve seen similar attitudes towards Christian Grey (and even the Joker). I’m genuinely baffled.

On the one hand, we can show some empathy for people with a tough past. The movie shows Erik’s childhood, and it’s not a good time. Understanding why someone is the way they are is critical, both for helping them and for preventing others from following their example.

The other side of this is not so good, and that is simply, we give a free pass to people who are “hot.” Imagine The Phantom of the Opera but with an unattractive, untalented, awkward guy. Suddenly no one would be rooting for the leads to get together. There’d be nothing to gloss over the ugliness of the relationship, which is based in lust, manipulation, and emotional abuse.

The thing about Erik is that someone has already shown him love—Madame Giry, when she saved him from his childhood. He hasn’t repaid her kindness very well. So I’m just not sure why anyone believes Christine could have “changed” him.

Well… I’ve ranted long enough. πŸ˜† I guess I was expecting more, and the movie just didn’t do it for me. It highlighted aspects of the story I really dislike and lacked some of the talent of the musical performers.


  1. There is most definitely a fascination with evil in our society. More than once I’ve heard people say the bad guy is more interesting than the good guy.

    Also, it seems to be fashionable these days to have a neurosis. Maybe it’s a part of our snowflake culture.


    1. Oh, I should mention the musical, I suppose. πŸ™‚ I saw it several years ago on Broadway. It was well done, but I’m just not a big musical fan.


      1. I’ve heard that, too. There seems to me a lack of effort put forward toward writing dynamic “good guys.” I’ve always thought really good characters are the most conflicted, because they don’t bend under pressure. Too many fictional good guys aren’t put under enough pressure (or something like that).


  2. I think my first awareness of The Phantom of the Opera was when this movie came out, I was 14 and we weren’t allowed to watch very much at all (I think I’d been to the movie theatre 3 times in my life, so naturally we didn’t watch it, however, surprisingly Mom took us to see the traveling Broadway version in our city. I remember I think there was lots of Phantom discussion in our small world and then several years later when I was in the blog world.

    I remember I watched the 25th Anniversary version on New Year’s one year, around 2011 maybe, I think this was in college, I feel like I was listening to this soundtrack constantly then.

    In 2013, I read the book per Goodreads. It’s famous because of the musical which is a stunning production. The book is NOT remarkable at all, frightening yes, but not brilliantly written.

    In 2015 I finally watched the 2004 movie, and yeah. I think I skipped or left the Gerard Butler scenes, after listening to Ramin Karimloo, it’s rather a mortifying experience. I wouldn’t say he could even sing.

    I was never “team Phantom” at any point. He was a evil murderer with a deformed face (yes, I was also shallow as well). He was evil and manipulative, he wasn’t conflicted at all.

    I think that the music combined with the basic story for the musical is what the hype is about, I do think artistically it is deserved, the book not so much, the movie, only selected parts, the true couple’s singing and the costuming was gorgeous. I don’t think it was supposed to be well-acted in movie acting, I think it was acted like stage acting, I think that was intentional. Whatever the type Gerard Butler was terrible at everything.


    1. Yeah, I think you put it well – the music *is* really a huge part of the fandom. It helps people overlook a lot of other things.

      My mom would not have let me watch it as a teenager, either, and rightly so. Being older I can appreciate the music while critiquing the story, though. I would still love to see the musical live someday, especially for that epic opening. πŸ™‚


  3. hmm i’ve had no experience with either genre and altho i’ve read some Leroux, i haven’t read ‘Phantom”… maybe i ought to see what all the fuss is about? or not… great critical post, tho…


    1. It’d be interesting to hear your opinion on the book! I’ve not read any other Leroux, though in the back of my mind I’ve always intended to read The Yellow Room.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s