Last night my wife and I saw “Les Miserables.” Now, I am a big fan of both musicals and movies, and even of some musicals-made-into-movies (usually because I first saw the musicals in question in movie form). I am also a HUGE fan of the stage production of “Les Miserables,” including the original cast recordings of both the London and the Broadway versions. I truly would prefer to say I loved everything about the movie. But the fact is, er… I can’t say that I totally did. Here’s my comments, both the good and the bad.
On the good side:
–I enjoyed the visually stunning cinematography, make up, costumes, and scenery. The dinginess and starkness of 19th Century revolutionary France was very well realized on screen. As well or better than I would have expected. These things utilized the power of cinema to bring the story to life.
–Overall, I enjoyed the red hot cast of movie stars from Russell Crowe to Anne Hathaway and Sacha Baron Cohen (Cohen is probably my favorite comedian of the last ten years, and I didn’t even know he was in this). The acting was solid, and the acting performances of during the singing numbers was impassioned.
–The movie did a good job of portraying the core thematic elements of the original musical/story, such as the rivalry of Valjean and Javert, the suffering of Fontine, the virture of Eponine, the passionate love of Marius and Cosette, and the misguided spirit of the youthful revolutionaries.
–Musically speaking, there’s much of the original character and beauty of the original sound recordings of the stage production.
On the other hand:
–By and large, I was never quite sold on hearing these actors sing. You have to understand, I have been a fan of the musical for at least 20 years, since my sister introduced the family to it when I was a kid. We even saw it once in San Francisco when I was somewhere between 10 and 12. I’ve listened to the cast recordings hundreds of time. To me, “Les Miserables” was the ultimate musical, because it dramatically and poignantly showed me what a musical could be. And it dazzled with GREAT singing performances throughout.
As far as I can tell, the movie’s primary cast members almost completely lacked true Broadway-level singers (with the possible exceptions of Marius and Eponine, the boy Gavroche and the young Cosette, who I thought sang very well). I can certainly understand that for box office draw it was wise to cast the big stars, and they really do pull it off well enough to make it work for general audiences who aren’t familiar with the original (helped by great cinematography, costumes, and acting). But I think the movie compromised some of the musical brilliance of the stage version when it relied on singing actors (and not professional singers) to sing.
–Maybe for this reason, or maybe because I’m so familiar with the original play, I never really lost myself in the movie. Creatively speaking, the movie just wasn’t different enough or compelling enough to truly keep my interest. I practically know the musical line by line, and from the very first scene with the prisoners, it looked and sounded essentially just like the stage play, not withstanding its cinematic grandiosity. Musically speaking, there was little in the movie that was different besides “Suddenly” (a noticed a few differences: shortening of “Castle on a Cloud,” the omission of the first run through of “Little People,” and a few sung lines here and there that seemed different from what I remember). Perhaps this would have worked better for me if I was totally into the singing. But as it was, I couldn’t help thinking I was watching a really flashy, high budget imitation with actors who as a whole weren’t up to par musically to carry what is to me the most crucial part.
I love this musical, but somewhere between the movie’s production and my comparing it to the original musical, something fell short. Not withstanding that, I can see beyond my own preferences and appreciate the good things that are there in this movie. No artist creation will EVER please everyone, and movie re-makes of musicals have a particular problem of pleasing the fans of the original while reaching new fans. All in all, this movie has done an impressive effort. Perhaps if I return to it sometime in the future I will appreciate it more.
Thank you for reading!