Hardcore fans of the show were pretty outraged by this one, but they seem to be more angry about the implications involved in the changes than the actual final result. Joel Schumacher had some completely invalid and frankly stupid objections to the original story, and as a result the movie’s Phantom had a completely new backstory.
The real issue is that Schumacher didn’t like the idea of his romance being about a fifty-year-old man in love with a twenty-year-old girl, so he made the Phantom younger and cut out all his elaborate backstory to make him merely a deformed, prodigiously talented outcast who took refuge in the opera house. This doesn’t actually do that much harm to the story, since the Phantom’s backstory was never directly relevant to the plot of the musical version, but I completely understand why fans of the franchise as a whole were infuriated by Schumacher’s presumption.
What was actually more damaging to the movie as a whole was Schumacher’s decision to make Raoul into a more ‘viable’ hero by giving him a bunch of impressive action sequences. In the stage musical, Raoul is completely helpless before the Phantom and is kind of kidding himself by trying to take him on physically. This is kind of a key plot point, as it sets up the final confrontation, with Raoul tracking the Phantom to his lair and…surprise, surprise…getting instantly captured and held hostage.
Here, Raoul actually defeats the Phantom in a swordfight, has him at his mercy, and then instantly lets him go when Christine asks him to (which, by the way, is totally inconsistent with his behavior throughout the rest of the story; the real Raoul would at the very least have had to think about it first). This creates a pretty blatant inconsistency when the Phantom later instantly gets him into a noose to set up the final scene.’
All that said, I really can’t back up the people who talk about this film as if it were one of the all-time travesties. I’ve actually made a hobby of seeing all of the worst musical movies of all time, and trust me, this is definitely _not_ one of them. Granted, thanks to Schumacher’s changes the story no longer makes any semblance of sense, but Phantom is a show that never ran on story logic to begin with. The real appeal of the show lies in the score, and it’s actually fairly well served in the movie, with the monumental studio orchestra sounding absolutely fabulous on the instrumental side, and one of the best Christines of all time in Emmy Rossum.
Rossum’s voice is considerably softer and less showy than the average Christine, but she tailors her vocal style to convey the _character_ of Christine, rather than to show off the spectacular soprano that she supposedly has in-universe. The result is beautifully sung and incredibly touching, and if it makes no sense in terms of plot, neither does literally anything else about this film version, so I don’t see the point in complaining.
Broadway veteran Patrick Wilson in the part of Raoul is perhaps a bit too formidable in his portrayal, but nonetheless sings and acts the best of any of the three leads, despite looking ridiculous throughout due to a misguided choice by the costume department.
As for Gerard Butler, the most common complaint is that he’s too good looking for the part. This is true, but it isn’t really the main issue with his performance (and it wouldn’t be an issue at all if the makeup department had done their jobs). He’s actually a very charismatic actor and a rather compelling singing performer, but he’s got the wrong kind of voice. Butler is a harsh, guttural singer of the kind favored by heavy metal, and the Phantom, who let’s not forget is supposed to be able to hypnotize people with his voice, is supposed to have a smooth, pretty vocal sound.
But as out of place as Butler’s vocal style is, he does give interesting and enjoyable renditions of all his songs, and Schumacher could have done far worse than to cast Butler (I remember a time when the leading candidate for the Phantom film was John Travolta; imagine that for a moment).
I think the real issue with this movie is not that it’s terrible (it isn’t), but that it’s a just-okay, underwhelming film based on one of the greatest and most polarizing musicals of all time. You’ll find your share of people who hate Phantom, but pretty few who are indifferent to it, and indifference (or at least semi-indifferent “fondness”) is the most common reaction to this film by those who don’t have an ax to grind. It’s a decent, moderately pleasant film, no more, no less, and of course, we now have a film of the stage show that is already taking over this movie’s niche as the go-to video resource for those who need one.
As someone who lived through the often insanely vicious controversy there was in the Nineties about the prospective Phantom film, with absurdly passionate debates and cries of doom at every new announcement, I find it massively ironic that it turned out no Phantom film was going to replace the stage show anyway.