Friday, October 6, 2017

My Top 10 Halloween Episodes from Animated Programs

For every TV series I grew up with or still watch today, I always look forward to the annual Halloween episode. It’s a special time when an all too familiar TV program can get a dark makeover and swim with the best of what my favorite holiday has to offer. Originally, I was going to countdown my top 10 favorite Halloween episodes from any TV program, but then I realized that there’s more than enough live action Halloween Sit-com episodes to fill its own top 10 list. So, to make sure that I highlight as many great Halloween episodes as I can, I’m going to keep it simple and just stick to episodes from animated programs. Also, I’m not including TV specials like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” or “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure” because they weren’t actually episodes from a TV show, they were just specials featuring the popular characters. With all that said, here are my personal top 10 favorite Halloween episodes from animated TV shows. 

#10 “When Halloween was Forever” from “The Real Ghostbusters” (Season 1, Episode 8) 

The Ghostbusters practically seem tailor made for a special Halloween episode, and to be fair their series has had more than one themed around the holiday. However, it’s the first Halloween themed episode from “The Real Ghostbusters” titled “When Halloween was Forever” that I think holds up the best. Ancient Irish ruins have arrived in New York and they appear to date back to the very origin of Halloween itself. After coming into contact with the spooks of Manhattan, the ruins unleash a demonic pumpkin-headed entity who sets monsters and ghosts lose throughout the city and aims to make Halloween night last for all time. I must admit, of all the ways a supernatural villain could bring about the end of the world, an eternal Halloween night sounds pretty awesome. Aside from some really cool creature designs, I love how this episode actually focuses on the ancestral origin of Halloween, and even features a villain that’s connected to the holiday’s inception. Honestly, with a sub-par Ghostbusters sequel and reboot, it makes me wonder why they couldn’t have a live action movie based on this set up. I’d love to see that pumpkin headed monster in a live action Ghostbusters movie.      

#9 “Ghost of a Chance” from “Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers” (Season 2, Episode 9) 

Back when I was just a little kid in the early 90’s and grew up with the Disney Channel, my favorite program by far was “Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers”. Regrettably they never had a specific Halloween themed episode, but they did at least have a number of spooky adventures that could pass for one. A personal favorite of mine is “Ghost of a Chance” in which the team’s strongest member Monterey Jack meets the ghost of his great ancestor and must do a brave deed in order to save his trapped soul. What follows is an exciting venture into a spooky castle, a battle with a giant ghost-cat monster, and a confrontation with the shows best villain Fat Cat. The castle setting gives the episode its atmosphere, and there’s even a tense climax with our hero’s caught in a slow moving death trap. This episode also has a humble message about concurring ones fear, and it’s cool to have a supernatural venture with a Ghost that needs to redeem himself for past failures.  

#8 “Chi of the Vampire” from “Jackie Chan Adventures” (Season 2, Episode 35)

Jackie Chan Adventures” was a unique little show from my childhood that combined martial arts action with global adventures. The show had two episodes specially made for Halloween, and one of them was actually set on the holiday itself, but that’s not the one I’m highlighting on this countdown. In the season 2 episode titled “Chi of the Vampire” the Chans venture to a spooky castle in search for antics for their shop, unaware that they’ve become the prey to a special bread of Chinese Vampire. What makes this vampire so unique is that he sucks the spiritual life force out of its victims as opposed to blood. With our hero’s slowly being drained they must in tern share their own life essences, which leads to fun sequences of personality swapping. Aside from the comedic character moments and exciting creature action, this episode makes my list for expanding on the mythos of vampire lore and culture. It’s cool to think that different breads of vampires live in different parts of the world, and this bread of Chinese vampire is very unique. With its creepy scenery, gothic castle setting and a welcome expansion of vampire lore, this episode manages to overcome Jackie Chans typical annoyances and is worth checking out.      

#7Scare Tactics” from “Dexter’s Laboratory” (Season 3, Episode 13) 

Dexter’s Laboratory” was one of those shows that I found very appealing at a certain age, but hasn’t really stuck with me over the years ... that is with the exception of this funny little 10 minuet short. When our boy genius discovers an ad in the TV guide for a late night scary movie, he decides to stay up after hours against his parents permission to watch the film. His dad secretly joins in for the ride and they both find the movie more terrifying then they expected. Thus it becomes a difficult task to even get back to bed as their over active imaginations are now making the littlest of house hold items seem terrifying. The brilliance of this episode is that nothing supernatural ever happens, yet both Dexter and his dad still have a funny and spooky adventure running through their house. The comedy is great, and it goes to show the power of one’s active imagination when fear takes hold.    

#6 “Eye of the Beholder” from “Gargoyles” (Season 2, Episode 7)

It’s not uncommon for superhero shows to have Halloween themed episodes, but I think that the Gargoyles lend themselves to the season better than any of them. If you’re unfamiliar with Gargoyles, the show revolves around stone warriors brought to life every night to protect New York City from any dangers it may face. On Halloween night danger comes in the form of a savage Werewolf monster, which has gotten the attention of the human detective Elisa and our heroic Gargoyles. However, there’s more to this beast then meets the eye, as it’s soon revealed to be the wife of our hero’s human enemy David Xanatos. Now in order to save her from this monstrous form enemies must put their feuds aside and work together. For fans of the show, this episode offers great character interaction and development, while casual viewers looking for a cool Halloween episode will be pleased with all the exciting monster action on display. This episode also knows how to take full advantage of its Halloween setting, with decorative scene transitions and other special additions we wouldn’t normally see in the show. A stand out moment is when the Gargoyle leader Goliath gets to have a dance with his female human friend Elisa, who just happens to be wearing Bells yellow dress from “Beauty and the Beast”.  

#5 “Halloween of Horror” from “The Simpsons” (Season 27, Episode 4)

Every Simpsons fan knows of the annual anthology “Tree House of Horror” episodes that air every Halloween, but here is a special case in which the Simpsons had a strait forward twenty minuet long Halloween episode. On the Eve of Halloween, Lisa Simpson ventures into a spooky fun park that’s more terrifying then she bargained for. The event traumatizes her to the point where she doesn’t even want to celebrate Halloween any more. Thus she spends the holiday at home with her dad, while the others attempt to celebrate somewhere else. The night soon takes a dark turn when three burglars break into the house to get vengeance on Homer Simpson after he unintentionally got them fired from their job. While this episode isn’t on par with the great classic episodes of the 90’s, I do still find it better than most of what they’ve delivered in the new millennium. Most of the novelty comes from just seeing the Simpson family celebrating Halloween. 
I love the decorative details, I love seeing how the holiday plays to their individual emotions, and it’s nice to see Lisa and her dad bond while trying to survive a tense situation. Most of the jokes I actually found quiet funny. There’s some amusing moments aimed at the movie “The Purge”, and there’s an especially funny song number set to the melody and beat of “Time Warp” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. Over the years, I’ve found the annual “Tree House of Horror” episodes virtually unwatchable, but this little episode in of itself was quiet the welcome breath of fresh air and something that I may want to re-watch again in the Halloweens to come.   

#4 “Fear Itself” from “Teen Titans” (Season 2, Episode 5) 

Of all the superhero teams I grew up with, the Teen Titans were my personal favorite by far, and the stand out member of the team for me was always Raven. She was the shadowy hex-casting member of the team who always seemed unfazed by any obstacle she faced. Well, in this spooky adventure we see that even a girl who lives in the shadows will still be scared by the things that go bump in the night. After the team defeat a new villain, they decide to kick back and enjoy a scary movie night. Shortly after our young hero’s find themselves at the mercy of several monstrous creatures that have invaded their home tower. Soon our heroes are slowly being picked off, and Raven must discover the frightening troth as to where all the shadowy creatures are really coming from. In the end, some heroes are brave because they can fight monsters, while others are brave simply by admitting their scared. The visuals are great, the jokes are funny, the mystery elements are interesting and it’s just exciting to see the Titans home towner transformed into a haunted fun house. 

#3 “The Boy Who Cried Ghost” from “Quack Pack” (Season 1, Episode 28) 

Now unlike “Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers”, I was never really a fan of “Quack Pack”. Having said that, whenever Disney had a marathon of all their Halloween episodes, it was the “Quack Pack” episode “The Boy Who Cried Ghost” that always stood out as a personal favorite of mine. While Donald Duck escorts his nephews to a Halloween dance, the always troublesome Dewey is driving everyone crazy with his spooky pranks. His antics lead to a car crash, forcing them to stay the night at a mysterious old house. The place turns out to be the home of classic Halloween monsters including a vampire, a werewolf, a zombie and a ghost who all aim to scare the new arrivals to death, and their serious about that “death” part. With no-one believing him, Dewey has to utilize all his prankster skills to protect his family from the monsters. This episode boasts some quality animation, lots of great Halloween visuals, and even some really funny jokes. One of my favorite gags revolves around Dewey’s “tough conscience”. As a kid I loved this episode so much that I actually got a VHS tape titled “Quack Pack: House of Haunts”, which allowed me to re-watch this episode more times than I should have. Needless to say, it’s been ingrained in my mind as a personal animated Halloween classic.

#2 “The Puppetmaster” from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Season 3, Episode 8) 

Like many episodes I’ve mentioned on my countdown, this episode has nothing to do with the holiday itself, but it’s still rich with a haunting atmosphere that it can certainly pass for an episode to view on Halloween. Now this series revolved around a group of hero’s who all had their own elemental powers, and one of the members named Katara had the power to control water. In this chilling episode Katara meets a kind old lady who descended from her very own water tribe and offers Katara the chance to advance her skills further. The training seems good at first, but soon things take a dark turn when the old woman reveals a way to take over another person’s body … a technique which is so colorfully referred to as “Blood Bending”. Once Katara learns that her friends are in danger she must make a frightening decision to use these unnatural powers to rescue them or deny something so evil in its very design. While I didn’t grow up with “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, I can still imagine seeing this episode as a kid and being pretty disturbed by it. Some of the imagery in this episode is quiet effective, especially this one moment in which we see the old Witch literally suck the blood dry out of some rats. 
Even when she uses her powers to control the bodies of our hero’s it looks really disturbing, and almost demonic. Also the setting of the woods at night help create an eerie atmosphere. The shadows are heavy, the angles are twisted and it just has this haunting effect. Finally, Voice actress Tress MacNeille gives a chilling performance as the villainess puppet master, and just has the perfect vocals for a Witch. Now she’s also voiced many popular cartoon characters in her career, and personally I’ll always remember her best as the voice of Gadget from “Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers”, which is quiet the contrast to this.    

Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some quick honorable mentions …

The Headless Horseman of Halloween” from “The Scooby-Doo Show

The Uncertain Principle” from “The Spectacular Spider-Man

Grundy’s Night” from “The Batman

Fright of Passage” from “Dragons: Defenders of Berk

Frankenbravo” from “Johnny Bravo

#1 “Summerween from Gravity Falls(Season 1, Episode 12) 

Upon discovering the TV show “Gravity Falls”, this was the episode I was looking forward to the most. I was beyond excited to see the possibilities of what the spooky and imaginative world of “Gravity Falls” could bring to my favorite holiday. Now while the show is set during the summer time, the people of Gravity Falls love the holiday so much that they celebrate it twice, and one of the events is during the summer in which it’s lovingly called Summerween. That premise alone is ingenious and makes me wish I could have grown up in that town. As the episode continues we see that one of the shows lead child hero’s named Dipper is ready to grow up, and spend Halloween with the older guys as opposed to his sister Mable. This causes a rift between the two as Mable wants to savor every Halloween she can with her brother before they become teenagers. To make matters worse, the kids are soon chased by a deadly entity called The Trickster who threatens to harm all who don’t keep the holiday spirit alive. 
The details in this episode are great as it creates a perfect Halloween atmosphere, and feels like a special I’d watch yearly around the season. The back-story behind the Trickster is brilliant, the spooky action sequences are great, and there’s yet another really sweet sibling story going on between Mable and Dipper. More than anything, I love that this episode actually features kids trick r’ treating, which is a charm lacking in so many other Halloween episodes. This is one special that just seems to combine everything I love in one perfect package, including nostalgic child hood ties to the season, a mythos surrounding a mysterious creature, thrilling monster action and no shortage of funny jokes. “Summerween” is a solid treat for the season and personally my all-time favorite Halloween themed episode I’ve ever seen from any animated TV series. 

The End

Night of the Living Dead (1968) (Movie Review)

     Now here’s a movie that’s been highlighted time and time again as not just one of the great classic horror movies, but a film legend in its own right. While I wouldn’t call this one of my personal favorite movies, or even one of my favorite horror movies, there’s still no denying the significance of the 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead” … and hands down one of the greatest horror movie titles ever. Director and screen writer George A. Romero set a modern day template for zombie movies with this film, but in doing so he also bridged the line between classic B&W chillers and modern gory horror. He even managed to sneak some sly political undercurrents and racial themes underneath all the horrific zombie action. This is also one of the first low budget independent films to receive worldwide recognition. In fact upon its original premier in Pittsburgh it was famously dubbed “The Best Film Ever Made”. So why all this praise for a movie about flesh eating zombies, is it really that great … well, let’s take a closer look at this 60’s horror classic to see how much of it still holds up.

     I distinctly remember seeing this film for the first time way back when I was mid-way through High School, and the event was Halloween night itself. It was a good day all around, and staying up that night, alone in the dark while watching “Night of the Living Dead” was the perfect way to close out my favorite holiday. At the time I was just getting interested in the horror genera, and while I rarely ever got scared watching them, I do still remember how this film initially left me with chills all over. The plot is very strait forward, there’s a zombie epidemic raging outside and a small group of survivors are trapped in a house. Aside from the iconic opening cemetery scene, the whole movie is set in the single house location, which helps make the audience feel trapped along with the survivors on screen. The tension and looming danger is very consistent because even though these people are in a house, they never feel safe or 100% secure. In fact many of the characters talk like their time in the boarded up house is the equivalent of a time bomb about to go off.

      The zombies featured in this film are often credited for shaping the modern image of zombies in our pop culture, but I don’t fully agree with that. First of all, these zombies actually have a degree of intelligence as they know how to pick up objects and use them as weapons. There’s a scene when one of them tries to break into a car to catch a woman, and the zombie actually has the impulse to pick up a rock and break the window with it. Also, these zombies look much more like regular humans that are under a form of hypnosis rather than reanimated decaying corpses. The most striking thing to me is that these zombies actual display some reserved emotion. Most notably is that their scared of fire and still have the instinct to back away from it whereas all other zombies would probably just walk into fire mindlessly. It’s a nice little call back to Frankenstein as he too was a zombie of sorts that was scared of fire. It actually made these zombies feel more frightening with just those little touches of humanity on display. The only two things consistent about these zombies and the ones of today’s media are that they eat flesh and their bites turn human victims into the living dead, which were both concepts that originated from this film. Even though this wasn’t the first movie to feature zombies it was the first to lay out all the rules, like how a bullet to the head is the only thing that can kill them, and so forth.

    One thing I love about this film are all the little horror details that you typically wouldn’t see any other Zombie themed films. Usually these movies go for strait forward gory scares, but this film still has some subtle, quiet and effectively creepy moments. I love this brief moment when one of the surviving woman is quietly wandering through the house, and suddenly a little music box turns on. Nothing supernatural is happening to effect the box, yet the simple jingle mixed with her emotionless gaze create this haunting atmosphere. I also love how after the first zombie attack, she runs into the house and the raw camera work on display help give the illusion that she’s in a living nightmare. All those tense close ups and zoom-ins of the stuffed animal heads certainly feel like they came from a bad dream. While just about every horror movie of the new millennium owes something to this movie, I can’t help be feel that this was mostly a major influence on Sam Ramies “Evil Dead” series. Of course one of the film’s most memorable images is that half eaten corps at the top of the stairs with the eye still hanging out. The violence and carnage on display are actually quiet tame by today’s standards, but back then seeing zombies eating guts was unheard off and very disturbing to view. It goes without saying that the film was made on a minuscule budget and didn’t even have the backing of a movie studio. Yet everyone just put their all into this project and even though it looks really cheap it still feels like art. I just love all the technical details on display, like the heavy shadows, and how certain parts of the frame are lit while the rest is complete darkness. Even the crud camera work and noticeable rough jump cuts add to the films flavor.

     Another thing this movie did was brake away from typical horror movie trappings of the period. For example, this was probably the very first horror movie to feature an African American actor in the role of the main hero character. He’s played by then newcomer Duane Jones, who’s convincing in the role and has a fairly commanding screen presence. It’s interesting how this movie sets up this one blond girl to be the films lead, but she slowly becomes a useless extra, and subsequently delivers the weakest performance of the whole film. Another unconventional thing on display for the time is that the horror isn’t just coming from the monsters, it’s also coming from the de-humanizing effect the experience is having on the characters. This is where George A. Romero’s subtle political undercurrents come into play, as the scenes with the survivors are almost like a study of the human condition, kind of like what “The Twilight Zone” series did with its scary setups.

     Now while I definitely consider “Night of the Living Dead” a great classic, that still doesn’t mean I think it’s without some shortcomings. One thing that gets kind of tedious are all the repetitive exposition scenes with the TV and radio stations. Seriously, long periods of this film are spent with the characters just watching TV or listening to the radio while the people on the stations are just dropping all kinds of information on us. Personally I think the film would have been more effective without any connections to the outside world, and the less we knew of the zombie epidemic, the more frightening it would be. Also upon my first viewing I was so sucked into the situation and the experience that I didn’t realize how many long meandering scenes take up the run-time in this film. No joke, there is a long unbroken scene of our main character boarding up the house, and while the scene is actually shot very well, it’s also kind of boring to watch. Never the less, the zombie attacks themselves actually come in a nice variety of different setups and are still quite exciting, despite some corny moments to make fun of. 

       Now spoiler alert because I just can’t review this movie without highlighting the most effective moments of the film, which all happen in the exhilarating third act. To be honest, it’s actually kind of rare for a horror movie to feature scenes that legitimately scared me upon my first viewing, but “Night of the Living Dead” dose have two stand out moments that absolutely terrified me. The first revolves around a little girl who was established earlier as the child of two survivors and is very sick. What the parents don’t realize is that she’s slowly turning into a zombie herself. During the climactic zombie attack on the house, the mother goes down to the basement only to discover that her daughter is actually eating the father. Then in one of the most shocking scenes ever featured in a horror film, the zombie daughter grabs a sharp tool and begins stabbing the crap out of the mother. Honestly, I think this moment puts the famous shower scene from “Psycho” to absolute shame. Not only are we seeing a zombified little girl stabbing her own mother, but I’ll never forget the disturbing sounds of the mothers screaming. It might just be the most terrifying sound design I’ve ever heard in my life. The second scene that left a real sting on me was the twist ending itself, and here I must give another spoiler warning. After the zombies raid the house, our lone hero is the last survivor, and a search party is just outside cleaning up the mess. Unfortunately, our hero in his beaten shape is mistaken for a zombie and gets gunned down. I still remember what it was like seeing that for the first time, and I just couldn’t believe it. What makes this shocking death all the more disturbing are all those still photo shots of the people hooking up his dead body with all the other carcasses. It’s almost like seeing a documentary with raw footage of a World War 2 death camp, and the people with the hooks all seem to represent the grim reaper sending the characters to their demise. 

       In short, “Night of the Living Dead” is still a great horror movie and has earned the right to be called a classic. It pushed boundaries for its time, it didn’t throw in a pointless romantic sub-plot (which studios were demanding), it got things rolling for the zombie sub-genera and it wasn’t afraid to have a dark ending. My only problem is that on repeat viewings, some scenes do feel very boring and repetitive but even at its dullest, the movie is still a worthwhile experience for us horror fans. George A. Romero followed up on this film with an equally classic sequel in 1978 titled “Dawn of the Dead”. Personally, I found that film far superior with better characters, a more subtle social allegory, and it was consistently entertaining, but I’ll admit it never scared me the same way it’s predecessor did. Then came “Day of the Dead” in 1985, which I haven’t seen but heard it was a decent finally to what is now known as George A. Romero’s “Dead” trilogy. More and more sequels came out over the new millennium, and all of which I’ve had no interest in seeing. I’m perfectly content with the first two classics that both reshaped the horror genera. Even though “Night of the Living Dead” still isn’t one of my absolute favorites, it’s still a must see for any long time horror movie fan and a perfect example of how art thrives on limitations.

I give “Night of the Living Dead” 4 stars out of 5.         
The End

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Phantom of the Opera (2004) (Movie Review)

     Movie musicals have gone through various highs and lows over the years, and at one point between the mid-80’s and the 2000’s it seemed that musicals were shinning brightest on stage, while the movie musical was all but dead. Then at the start of the new millennium, the musical genera sprung back to life with gigantic hits like “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago”. Over the years many of the classic stage musicals were given the big screen treatment, and most of them turned out quiet successful including “Sweeney Todd” and “Les Miserables”. One musical adaption that didn’t do so hot was the 2004 movie “The Phantom of the Opera”, and is often regarded along with “Burlesque” to be one of the weaker musicals of the new millennium. I’ll admit I didn’t care much for this film upon my first viewing, but it’s kind of grown on me over the years, to the point where I don’t think it’s that bad. It has short comings, but it’s not without some highlights. In general, despite the flaws I’d still personally rather watch a movie based on the musical as opposed to all the other horror movie versions of the character.

    I’ll do my best to review this as a movie on its own, and not in comparison to either the stage musical, or the original novel or the other horror movie versions. Adapted from the hit Musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “The Phantom of the Opera” tells the story of a dark and mysterious person who hides away in the dreary catacombs under a famous Opera House. In secret he coaches a new young actress named Christine Daae how to be a talented Opera singer, and dose all in his power to make sure no-one else takes her spot light. Many at the Opera believe him to be a Phantasm of some sort, while Christine is under the delusion that she’s communicating with the spirit of her long lost father. Over time the mysterious Phantom begins to fall in love with his winning student, and in return she begins to develop feelings for her mysterious teacher. Soon an old friend from Christine’s child hood named Raoul arrives at the Opera house, and it doesn’t take long before the two of them form a relationship of their own, which enrages the Phantom. Now it’s a battle between lovers with the Opera house caught in the middle. In the end, it becomes a classic tale of recognizing the ugliness within ones soul, and identifying what makes a man a monster.   

     Let’s start by looking at our star, The Phantom of the Opera played by Gerard Buttler. Let me start by saying that I like Gerard Buttler a lot, and he’s a powerhouse actor when given a character that’s suited for him. As far as his portrayal of The Phantom is concerned, he’s good in spades but not as a whole. His best moments are when he acts through his emotions or with his facial expressions, as he can certainly convey both the pathos and subtle menace of the character. When he’s lurking through the shadows or on screen without any lines he dose convey something of a presence. 

As for his singing voice ... well, Gerard Buttler never had any singing experience prior to this film, and it kind of shows. To be fair I think he sounds a lot better than most other celebrities that are hired on to musicals because of their popularity, and not due to any real singing talents. I also like the effort to make the Phantom more intimidating with a deeper, more baritone singing voice as opposed to the high pitch voice of Michael Crawford from the Broadway musical. I don’t mean to slam Michael Crawford because he’s got a phenomenal singing voice, but personally, I just didn’t think his vocals worked for the character. With all that said, the one thing I could never get behind was the overall look and design of the Phantom in this movie. Sure he has the famous mask and is draped in black attire, but he’s just too polished, clean and nice looking. I always pictured the Phantom as this dirty, frightening and mysterious figure from the sewers, and not a handsome, well dressed guy with a third of his face covered. Heck, when he appears in the iconic “Red Death” costume, which is supposed to be really intimidating, he still looks more like a swashbuckling action hero. Even when his face is revealed it just looks like a guy with a bad sunburn as opposed to a horrifically scarred face. 

    The remaining cast is kind of hit and miss. The two British Opera house managers are delightfully over the top, Miranda Richardson is good as the quiet yet mysterious Madame Giry and of course Minnie Driver fits the role of the Opera Houses prima donna named Carlotta like a glove. Patrick Wilson plays the dashing Boy Friend Raoul, and he really puts his all into making this character as interesting as possible. Even in the Broadway play, the character Raoul was always the least intriguing, so kudos to the actor for giving him some dimension and even a passable singing voice. Of course Emmy Rossum plays our lead heroine Christine, and she’s perfectly fine, but maybe a little too wide eyed and cute for the characters own good. Again, I always pictured Christine as someone beautiful and talented but also terrified, yet capable of taking action when needed. While this portrayal of Christine certainly looks good and has a pretty voice, there’s not much else to her. She kind of gets led by the noise and doesn’t take any real action of her own choice until the very end. Her voice is also very nice, but she doesn’t have the same commanding vocals I feel the character needs. It’s like comparing a sweet singing voice to a strong one, and you can definitely tell the difference. In fact I honestly remember watching a High school production of “The Phantom of the Opera”, and the actress playing Christine had these downright captivating vocals that entranced the audience.

   Now Andrew Lloyd Webber, the creator of the Broadway play was also the producer and screen writer for this movie, but I think he was in the mind-set for a stage production when he wrote this. Obviously when adapting any source material, filmmakers need to make it faithful to the original, but there’s also limits to how much of its source should be translated over to film. If something works in a play or book, that doesn’t automatically mean it works in a movie and should probably be tinkered with. This leads me to my first real issue with the film, the narrative structure is kind of a mess, and even the tone gets a little inconsistent at times. Case in point, there’s a scene in which the Phantom sabotages a play in order to make sure Christine is the one performing on stage. Then he chaises down this guy, kills him in cold blood and then proceeds to hang his body in full view of the theater attendance, which subsequently ruins Christines chance to perform for them. I get that he was trying to send them a message, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to let her perform first, and then when the audience leaves, the guys body is discovered in the manager’s office with a warning note attached. This horrific death scene is then abruptly followed by a romantic scene on a roof top between our two lovers, and the tones just don’t mesh well at all. Heck, no one even seems that phased by the guy being hung, they just sort of continue on like it was a mild inconvenience. Also the relationship between Christine and Raoul can’t help but feel a little forced. It’s addressed that they knew each other as kids, but that’s the films only reason as to why they’re both falling in love, and that’s just not enough. I’ll say this, the two actors are at least capable of conveying a romantic chemistry.

     Now let’s talk about some additional scenes and content that were added in for the movie version, most of which I’m actually quite pleased with. First of all, I like how this movie occasionally cuts back and forth between the colorful present day story and a gloomy black and white future. Those little snippets of the future help segue certain scenes, and it gives the movie a gothic atmosphere knowing that no-matter what the outcome of the present day story, there’s no escaping this depressing future that lies ahead. The greatest transition of all is the opening scene itself when the once broken chandelier is raised followed by the scene shifting from the dark future to the beautiful past, and all while matched to the sensational overture music. Not only does this scene look amazing, but it also builds on our excitement of seeing this story told, and what lead to that chandeliers, as well as the Opera Houses demise. 

I also really like how the movie is book-ended with a candle flickering on and off, and even though that’s a minor point, it’s those little details that I feel add a lot to the overall viewing experience. There's an original song titled "Learn to be Lonely" that plays during the end credits and that was another welcome addition to the film. It even gave the movie an Oscar nomination of best original song. The Phantom is also given a much darker back story where as a kid he was caged and beaten by the people of a traveling carnival. It works in getting us to sympathize with the villain for a little, and I like how the flashback establishes his connections with another member of the Opera house. There’s also some small action scenes added in to give the film some excitement and some times it works. I actually like the addition of a sword fight in the cemetery, and even though it’s not in character for the phantom to be a swordsman, it’s still cool to see him clash blades with our hero. Having said that, I do think the sword fight could have been shot, edited and even choreographed a little better. 

    Now this adaption of the play was directed by Joel Schumacher who also directed “The Lost Boys”, which is one of my favorite 80’s horror movies. In that film, Joel Schumacher directed it with a sense of euphoria, giving all the songs and transitions an atmospheric dreamlike quality. Some of that carried over into this film very nicely, most notably during “The Phantom of the Opera” song number itself. In this scene, our lead heroine meets the titular Phantom for the first time, and she seems to be in a perpetual dream like state. They walk through this hallway with candlestick holders that move on their own, but then vanish in the following scene when another character walks down the same hallway. This suggests that she has a very operatic imagination, which I found a welcome touch and it’s just a plain cool visual. I also love the build up to this song as we see all the lights and candles going out in the Opera house leading up to his appearance in the mirror. This was also my favorite song from the play, and it was cool to see it brought to life in film form. Although much like the previously mentioned sword fight, I think it could have been shot and staged a little better.

    This actually brings me to my biggest issue with the movie, while the production quality of the film is outstanding, I found the actual film-making on display kind of mediocre. Joel Schumacher is a director with a talent for showing-off his big elaborate set designs with lots of wide shots. Again, the set designs are great spectacles to behold, and the film rightfully got an Oscar nod for best Art Direction. Unfortunately, while the wide shots do help submerse us into the setting this also leaves little variety to the actual cinematography on display. Most of the time it feels like the camera is only stationary while the cast just casually walk around their surroundings. While this works for a stage production, it makes the movie feel a little dull and tired at times. Personally, I feel that musicals shine best when the filmmakers play around with the camera, how it’s positioned and how it moves. Here’s a perfect example, the set design of the cemetery during the song “Wishing you were Somehow here Again” is a thing of beauty to look at, but nothing else about this song number is engaging me on either a technical or even emotional level. The song “Music of the Night” of course is the most famous of all the numbers from the play, and while it’s a good song on its own, it’s also the most boring part of the whole film. This scene just drags itself on and on, with generic staging and little else to engage the viewer. Once in a while “The Phantom of the Opera” has some good cinematography, most notably the scene in which our female lead takes a carriage ride to the cemetery. This scene was shot very well, and boasts some great atmosphere. Moments like this were just enough to give Cinematographer John Mathieson an Oscar nomination. 

    One thing this movie absolutely succeeded in was making the Opera house a character in of itself. It’s always a busy environment, with lots of movement, lots of costumes, and lots of details in both the foreground and background. In this respect the film reminds me a lot of “Moulin Rouge”, which had an equally busy environment with lots of detail, but the one glaring difference between the two is that “Moulin Rouge” had a far more appealing color scheme. This leads me to yet another short coming for “The Phantom of the Opera” as it just couldn’t decide what kind of color scheme should characterize the film. At times it’s not dark enough and other times it’s not colorful enough, instead it’s this horrible in-between colorization that’s not very appealing. The only way I can describe it is faded black mixed with the worst shade of yellow. Take the “Masquerade” ball number as a perfect example, it’s once again a lavish production with a very lively environment, but all the color is sucked out in favor of this ugly overblown yellow coloring. Now once in a while there are some fairly welled colored scenes, like the roof top song number “All I ask of You”. During this number, Christine’s bright red dress is a terrific contrast to the colorful dark-blue sky and glittering snow fall.   

     Now we come to the third act of the movie, which like the film itself is a mixed bag. On the one hand the final “Past the Point of no Return” song number, in my opinion is one of the best musical sequences of the film. I like the hellish red stage design, and it’s satisfying to have a closing musical number with both Christine and the Phantom on stage together. I especially love that the falling chandelier was saved for this finally as opposed to the middle, and it is a gorgeous spectacle to view on screen. Unfortunately things wind down to a typical boring climax where the girl is snatched by the villain, and the boy friend rushes to the rescue. The movie then waists perfectly good time with our hero fighting through randomly placed death traps that are neither suspenseful nor exciting and only slows things down. Even the final three way confrontation between our main cast feels kind of mediocre and seems to lack any real tension. Never the less, I found the resolution at the end effective enough, and it closes the movie on a good note.  

    I realize my opinion in this review has been all over the place, but that’s kind of the film in a nutshell. In the end, despite all its shortcomings, I do still like this movie. I’ve been a long time fan of the Broadway play and even though this film was far from perfect, it’s still very satisfying to see the musical brought to life in film form. To be honest, even though it’s not a classic like the first two horror movies based on the character, this is still personally my favorite movie rendition of “The Phantom of the Opera”. He just feels like a character that was meant for a musical as opposed to horror film, but that’s just me. Also the movie looks amazing, the songs are still good and I remember the cast in their respected roles. This is a special case in which I’ve gradually grown to like a film over time, and while it doesn’t represent the best of what musicals from the new millennium have to offer, I also don’t think it should be completely ignored either.  

I give the 2004 musical “The Phantom of the Opera” 3 ½ stars out of 5.

“It’s over now, the music of the NIGHT!”