During Christmas Day my parents and I were part of the legions of people that went to see Les Miserables on the large silver screen.
Granted considering that it was Opening Day for the film the theatre was going to be jam packed with people that got there early enough to get the prime seats. So my parents and I ended up sitting third row from the front. Not terrible, but definitely not preferred.
So how to describe Les Miserables? Well for the non-musical non-drama people out there I would say it like this:
Les Miserables is about the Gladiator who spends almost two decades chasing Wolverine who in turn saves and becomes guardian to The White Queen’s daughter who is in the keeping of Borat and Bellatrix (who provide much of the film’s comedy relief and are apparently proficient at pickpocketing).
The Gladiator also has a bunch of college students that are trying to overthrow the monarchy and trying to cause another revolution… which doesn’t end well. Oh and a bunch of people die using the precursors to lightsabers and phasors.
To get you into the mood… here is something rather diverting from the Polish stage cast of Les Miserables:
Anyway… enough goofing around… for spoilers go beyond the break:
So to start… like what I did recently in reviewing for stage productions in the community theatre productions here are the quickies:
So before you all kill me for the above let me explain a few things first:
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
Is unbelievable! His acting and his interpretation of the character growth was more than just spot on, he pretty much ruined it for every other actor that will be interpreting Jean Valjean on stage. I wouldn’t mind seeing him on Broadway to see how much of his interpretation on screen will transcend on stage though.
Now his singing for the most part was very well done, most of his major moments he has hit except for one: “Bring Him Home”… the climax for Jean Valjean’s character comes during the musical moment of “Bring Him Home” and I felt that Hugh Jackman was at time straining to hit the high notes which is the majority of the song. I am not saying that he can’t hit them, but it wasn’t pretty… which in some ways makes sense considering the acting perspective of the character, but still. If there was even a moment that pulled me away from the magic of the character it was definitely during the song “Bring Him Home” (granted it was slightly better in the soundtrack, but that could just be after multiple times of listening to it). Other than that Hugh Jackman was beyond spot-on everywhere else.
Russell Crowe as Javert
Russell Crowe had the opposite effect for me, sure in comparison (according to a lot of people) he did not have as “polished” a voice as everyone else in the cast. His character is not a comedic one but his gruff-ness in his voice I felt was something that made the character. It wasn’t pretty and Javert wasn’t meant to be pretty, the opposite in fact.
What I will say about Russell Crowe’s interpretation was that it left such an impact on me that the only songs I was singing / humming to after the film were those of Javert which almost never happens. In fact if there is one thing I have to commend for Russell’s Javert it is that he gives Javert a human side that is compassionate which is something you don’t see nearly as much of in the stage production.
Anne Hathaway as Fantine
She brings a strength and fragility to the role that you cannot help but follow her journey from start to death to the after life. There really is no one else who could bring life to Fantine like Anne does. If she does not at minimum get an Oscar nomination for her role as Fantine then there is something quite wrong with the film community.
Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried as Marius and Cosette (respectively)
They were believable as the young romantic couple. Their vocals were pitch perfect and blended well together as well as apart. You believe their “Romeo and Juliet”-esque romance, albeit with a happier ending.
Samantha Barks as Eponine
This was the role of the lifetime for someone who has been in the role for over a year on stage. If there is one thing I noticed and enjoyed about the film version that I did not of the stage version is that the love affair is definitely one sided here. On stage Marius cares for Eponine that one could wonder as to why he chose Cosette over Eponine. In fact there were a lot of moments where Marius can be played as to care for Eponine quite a bit.
In the film version they stayed closer to the original source material (in the form of Victor Hugo’s book of Les Miserables) and as thus the friendship between Marius and Eponine is there, but the caring is significantly one sided until her death where Marius realizes that he does care for her more than he previously knew / realized / acknowledged. So when Marius falls for Cosette, in some ways it is believable because here Eponine is trying to get Marius to notice her and he never does until it is too late.
Then again considering Marius’ background one cannot be too surprised. What is explained (rather briefly) in the film is that Marius came from not just a well-to-do family but one of the aristocracy. In fact his grandfather goes to Marius and berates him for bringing shame to the family name and legacy. So to me it would make more sense as to why Marius would go for someone like Cosette (on sight alone) as opposed to Eponine. Cosette has the appearance of being well-to-do and well taken care of as opposed to Eponine who is one of the poverty stricken.
Aaron Tveit as Enjorlas and the rest of the ABC Society
Taking us to the remainder of the ABC society, you learn more about how the society is created and how the people essentially left the “schoolboys” hanging when they are needed most. The boys fought bravely to the end and you could see the fear in some of them when they realized that the death is coming. The final scene of Enjorlas as he is shot point blank and hanging from the barricade was reminiscent of the stage adaptation as well.
And could Aaron Tveit be any more handsome than in period clothes playing the part of Enjorlas? I mean if you have watched the YouTube clip of the Polish Les Mis cast doing a “flash mob” in a mall singing “One Day More”, the girls were screaming like… well little girls… the moment that the actor who plays Enjorlas is revealed.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenardiers
Of course how could I forget the Thenardiers. I personally lost count how many times Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen pickpocketed their way throughout the film, from the inn to the barricades. I laughed out loud when they attempted to pickpocket Jean Valjean and he was able to either block or retrieve all his possessions.
If they were considered the comedic relief in the stage version, these two actors took their comedic roes and took it to the next level. Granted the directing helped too, but my goodness I found myself laughing out loud during most of their bits at the chagrin of those around me… oops. Granted their second child… in the form of Gavroche… personally stole all the scenes that he was in… but considering that according to the book he was their second son I am not all that surprised.
Which brings me to the overall story, the major thing that irked me about the stage version is that although it was for the most part a faithful adaptation of Victor Hugo’s book of the same name… there were bits and pieces that were inevitably left on the “cutting room floor” as it were. I mentioned one of those pieces above in that we found out more about Marius’ background and how he came from more than just a well-to-do family. We also learned a little bit of how Marius and Eponine have come to meet…
During Jean Valjean’s escape from Javert after he has taken custodianship of Cosette we at last found out how they have managed to stay undetected for almost a decade and how they actually fled (which was all in the novel). Also with Fantine’s decent into prostitution in the novel she sells the locket, her hair and her teeth… on stage they stop at the hair… in the movie they stuck with what was in the book. Granted in the grand scheme of things these are all minor bits, however, in they also create a much richer story and fills in all the holes so as to see how everyone came to be as they were.
Take that a step further and there were moments of foreboding with some of the characters. For example, while Javert is singing “Stars” he is walking atop of the edge of a rooftop… while later during “Javert’s Suicide” he is walking along the edge of the bridge. JVJ’s interaction with the Thenardier’s and how he was able to counter any attempt of pickpocketing is similar to how he was able to escape from Javert more times than one should count…
Some of this also came in the form of additional or changed lyrics within much of the pieces. What I enjoyed most was the additional moments between Jean Valjean and Javert when JVJ was still mayor and Javert only suspected that JVJ was… well JVJ. In many of the songs some of the lyrics have been adapted or changed to fit the storyline of the film as opposed to what had happened in the stage production. Another major change was in the “Epilogue” where Fantine sings to JVJ into the afterlife. On stage she is joined by Eponine… but in the movie the Bishop (as played to perfection by the original JVJ: Colm Wilkinson) joins in the swan song. Also… oddly enough… when Marius and Cosette are reunited and JVJ ultimately decides to let her go… that trio becomes a quartet with the addition of Marius’ grandfather singing to welcome Marius home.
The song that ultimately was cut from the film was the Thenardiers’ “Dog Eats Dog” which happens in the sewers, and considering the pacing of the film makes the most sense. “Turning” was greatly reduced to only a few lines… while Gavroche’s introduction was given an additional verse. Of course by now everyone should know of the new song: “Suddenly” that Hugh Jackman sings in the film in the carriage ride after he has gained custodianship of Cosette.
Cinematography in Regards to the Solos
One other thing that I rather enjoyed from the beginning is watching the solos… in Hugh Jackman’s first major solo and Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” there were minimal (if none at all) cuts. It was one singular camera shot (if I recall). After that you start to notice which solos had cuts and which ones did not.
Addendum: Thinking back on it, having so many closeups isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And even though I understand the “why’s” behind that particular choice of cinematography, there is something to be said of cutting away to see the environment and / or the reactions of the other players in the film. That being said, that is probably why Javert’s “Stars” piece had just as big of an impact on me as Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream”.
All in all, this was a film that I rather enjoyed. Sure it is a bit long clocking in at two and a half hours, so it is bound to be difficult for many people to sit through. Some people might feel inclined to sing along with the movie, but i found that in doing so would take away from the magic of the film, not because you cannot sing along, but because the singing is done in such a way that it feels more like internal monologues and dialogues between characters. It simply was not created in that way.
Addendum: It was asked of me if the film version of the musical Les Miserables is similar to the stage production in that it was sung through and this was my reply:
For the most part it is like the stage version where it is an opera… but there are minor breaks here and there that is pure dialogue. Not many… and a lot of the songs on the stage version that are conversations on the stage version I felt were more “conversational” in the film version whilst keeping the music going…
Would I purchase the film when it comes onto DVD? Of course. Would I rewatch like crazy? Probably not. But this might be a go-to film when I need background music when working on stuff around the cottage.