Having succeeded before with Sherlock Holmes and Dracula it seems like a natural evolution for Anthony D.P. Mann to take over the reins of the Phantom. Mann’s rendition of The Phantom of the Opera has much more of an experimental feel than his earlier works, yet still carries the Hammer films charm that lives inside the director/actor.
Phantom is by far Mann‘s strongest direction to date, though, his worst effort in acting. Mann doesn’t seem to care to share the spotlight with anyone and tends to take the leads in his adaptations of original work and subsequently there are times in his films when this is disastrous. He would benefit from choosing either to direct or act. Taking on even more roles as composer and editor, Mann spread himself too thin again.
The cinematography is done well and works to support the plot of the film using angles and scenery shots in a different way than in the past. When I inquired about his decision to put a fresh spotlight on The Phantom of the Opera Mann quipped “Phantom is one of those stories that I have consistently returned to as an actor and writer (and not just because I’m told I look great behind a mask, lol. The theme of beauty and the beast, which Phantom is really a variation on, has appealed to me ever since I was a child. I fell in love with the musical in 1987, and discovered the wonderful back catalog of Phantom adaptations on film as a result. And the original version as written by Gaston Leroux is such a wonderful little thriller – I hope we’ve returned to that concept in this new film”.
The acting was relatively weak throughout, Mann‘s inability to trust his crew and delegate jobs is a major problem. Taking on too much made this a sorrowful adaptation of a fine story. Though this film was supposedly to be a violent slasher flick, it ended up a cross between a made-for-tv film and, a students art project. He is able, however, to recreate a thrill reminiscent of the days when classic Hammer films were at its best.
Barry Yuen stood out as one of the best actors, while Noelle Piche missed the mark much like her performance in Sherlock Holmes and The Shadow Watchers. I would assume her character was intended a Gale Weathers type, but came across lacking in believability. For a role like that one must be damn sure in herself to pull it off. This would be where a good director would take his actress aside and discuss the role and not allowing her to continue on with this difficult to understand performance.
Christine was given heart by Savannah Kimmerer, a 17 year old found through a local talent show. Having Mann‘s attention I probed for information on what he thought of this process and if he would do it again in search of new talent. “Casting Christine: The Phantom Reimagined was a great success for us, and kudos to my friends and mentors at TVCogeco for getting on-board the series. I felt that the fact I was attempting to do an adaptation of Phantom on our budget was in itself a feat of great defiance, so why not turn the who project into a major event – that’s how the series was born. It was so important to find a very special actress to fill the iconic shoes of this very special role, and we put out a call far and wide and then left it in the hands of viewers to vote… I’m so happy that the stars all aligned perfectly, and we did get the RIGHT Christine in dear young Savannah“.
My next question had to do with Kimmerer’s age (17) and if that had something to do with the new avenue taken with the plot, Mann replied “Savannah’s casting allowed me to act upon an idea that I had long before I had finished scripting the film… I won’t reveal the twist, but I think it only enhances our fresh take on the material. Again, that whole business with stars aligning, LOL!” Lol indeed.
Not only did Mann re-write parts of the story, he re-imaged the tortured soul with a full red mask. This worked like a charm giving the audience something to “Ohh” & “Ahh” over, and that we did. The red mask seemed less fragile and supported a more hardened Phantom, which really wasn’t what the character ended up being at all. You will understand this when having to sit through what is quite possibly the-worst-crying-scene-from-the genre–in-history.
The mask was the best part of the film. This is a good example of how to alter the appearance of a beloved Icon while not pissing off fans, until, the viewers find out that our Phantom is now a giant pussy in Mann‘s rendition of The Phantom of The Opera. When asked about the root of his decision and the bold choice to change the colour Mann thoughtfully answered “Yeah, I love the mask I wear in the film. It’s a traditional venetian mask, and probably more akin to what Leroux’s Phantom would have worn. It’s very dark and very theatrical – the mask needs to be iconic and foreboding. The half-mask from the Lloyd Webber show has become so attached to people’s idea of how the Phantom should look these days, but it was really a creation of Hal Prince (the show’s director) in 1986. I think audiences tend to forget or not realize that there was such a rich history of Phantom adaptations on stage / screen / TV long before the Webber show. That said, the musical is probably the best adaptation of tale, from a romanticized perspective anyway“
This is Mann’s fourth film using pretty much the same cast and crew in every film from Sherlock Holmes and The Shadow Watchers to Terror of Dracula to Ghostkeepers and now The Phantom of the Opera. I questioned further about how he feels this might affect him, if there was pressure to recycle the cast and how he felt about letting go, Mann remained optimistic “I have such a strong core of actors that I enjoy working with, but I’m always on the lookout for new talent as well. I think I’m getting safely beyond “local artist” right now, but it’s always a struggle. In fact, being a Canadian artist carries the same sort of branding in some circles. We now have 4 feature films in release with a California-based distributor, so the scope and reach are definitely international. I never feel forced to work with some familiar faces, but will occasionally write roles with specific people in mind. But it is always healthy to shake up the routine and cast new faces (and there are several in Phantom)”. Sadly, in his re-written upcoming remake of A Christmas Carol he has the same cast, again composed the music himself, again directed it himself and again, playing a lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge with a full on hair piece.
All in all the film is anther notch under Mann‘s belt. The jokes were out of place, and much of the dialogue for the younger characters came across as if Mann has no idea about anything in the world going on around him and can’t relate to people ten or fifteen years younger. It was pretty bad. The actors could have been pushed deeper into their performances but, with all that man had piled on his plate I’m not surprised this slipped by. I am criticizing unnecessarily. Well worth taking the time to get to know a new Phantom, if anything for a few laughs.
What are your plans, are you going to stay within horror or venture out into other genres?
“Am I truly a “horror” director / actor? I don’t know. I always thought of myself in that light, but now I question whether I’ve ever truly made a horror film. I think my work would better fit into the realm of the dark thriller. But don’t get me wrong, I love the horror genre and horror fans so much! That said, I would like to experiment in other genres, definitely. I’m currently in the process of raising funds to shoot an original musical film adaptation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, which has been a lifelong dream (did you know that I sing, play piano and compose music?). If all goes according to plan, we’ll be lensing that by year’s end… I’ve been doing a one-Mann version of the story on stage for 20 years now – time to play the old skinflint on screen, me thinks”.
Do you think of yourself more as a director or an actor? Would you be willing to act under someone else’s direction or direct without choosing to have a role in the film? Is this your nod to Stephen Kings cameos in his own features?
“I’m an actor first and foremost, this whole film-making thing really coming about as a great surprise to me. I learned a long time ago that it can be futile to waste your time on the audition circuit, just hoping to score that great part. If you want to act, then act – I have created opportunities for both myself and others as a result. I’m an overall storyteller, really – like a singer-songwriter who writes material, gets a band together and then hits the stage… I do very much the same thing with my films. Everyone shines, and I’m so delighted that audiences are enjoying what I’m doing. But acting is my number one passion in this whole business… I would LOVE to simply be an actor in someone else’s film, and let some other director deal with all the behind the scenes headaches and worries of film-making”.
Is there any chance for a sequel to Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow Watchers? I’m a sucker for The Sign of Four??
“YES PLEASE! I love playing Sherlock Holmes. I’ve played him on radio, stage, (community) TV and film now. He’s one of those characters that it pleases me to return to every now and then, and my approach to the part is certainly different than anything we’ve seen in recent years. Terry Wade was such a great Watson, too – I know he’s itching to revisit the character…. were an investor to approach with regards to another Holmes film, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat – I’ve had a few devilish mysteries brewing On the subject of “Shadow Watchers”, it has finally scored proper distribution with World Wide Multi Media, and hits on DVD / VOD everywhere in late August of this year”.
The Phantom of the Opera 2014 is to be released on DVD everywhere
October 14th, 2014 (Inc. VOD, pay per view, hotels).