Pinewood studios, November 2003.
The scale and the grandeur of the film sets at Pinewood have to be seen to be believed, as I discovered on a recent flying visit to the studios in Buckinghamshire.
Although we were unable to visit the entire 8 sets (designed by Anthony Pratt) which are being constructed for the movie, as these are still in various stages of production, we began our visit as the light was beginning to fade on the Back Lot. This vast outside set is where a reconstruction of the exterior of the Grand Opera House has been built, complete with a sweep of cobbled street. In the background the lights of Paris, leading up the hill to Montmartre, can be seen twinkling in the windows of thousands of houses…
The interior of The Opera House is no less impressive. The Grand Foyer (where masquerade will be filmed on the stunning central staircase) has been specifically designed to allow filming from every conceivable angle – it’s a complete set in that respect.
Gilded in gold and with marble and alabaster friezes and panels, the interior is too vast to be accommodated on one sound stage, but has been “split” in half, with the bottom three tiers of the building on one set, and the top two housing the chandelier in another. Although filmed separately, the two sets will be seamlessly joined together for the final film.
And what a chandelier!! 22,000 Swarovski crystals each catch the light and produce glittering rainbows of colour. The effect is, quite simply, breathtaking. And this is without the special lighting and effects which will magnify the brilliance of the crystals and the gold frame holding this major work of art together. In fact the chandelier weighs over 2¼ tonnes and is worth in the region of £250,000.
A visit to the models of the sets provide an insight into those sound stages which are still under construction half way through filming. The Phantom’s lair will be an intricate and sinister labyrinth – it’s dark and gloomy atmosphere contrasting totally with the opulence and splendour of the Opera House above it.
There will be two versions of the graveyard constructed, each reflecting a different period of history… the necessity for which will be revealed in the film.
Finally, we were ushered into the auditorium where filming was taking place. This provided the opportunity to view the fabulous costumes (designed by Alexandra Byrne) close to. The attention to detail is stunning.
This short but sweet submersion into the splendour of Paris in the 19th century can’t help but create a longing to see the finished article. It seems a very long wait until December 2004 to the film’s release… the anticipation is almost unbearable!
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