Les Miserables

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in "Les Miserables"

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables”

“Les Miserables,” the Broadway and international stage extravaganza (affectionately known as “Les Miz” by its many admirers and publicity department) is now a long awaited movie.  Some may think that they have already seen “Les Miserables,” or at least feel as if they have.  I will wager that Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel holds the record for having been turned into more film adaptations than any other book.  In addition, the show has been presented in its two concert versions (for both its 10th and 25th anniversaries) on public television.

My own relationship with “Les Miserables” began in my early teens with a television viewing of the 1935 film version that starred Charles Laughton (really, was there ever a better Inspector Javert?) and Frederick March as Jean Valjean.   Upon hearing that a Broadway musical version was in the works I thought “How could they make a musical out of “Les Miserables?”  Well now, years later, and after having seen that “impossible to make” musical several times on Broadway, I found myself seated in the sold out, cavernous, Ziegfeld Theatre (6th Ave. and 54 St.) with a group of friends for the first showing on the opening day of “Les Miserables,” the movie.

So, as a dyed in the wool “Les Miz” fan what did I think?  Simply put, a fine job has been done of splitting the difference between a Broadway show and a movie.  The casting, for the most part, is dead on while the music is great (a given) and the film is wonderfully rich and over the top (in the best sense of the phrase).

Since I know “Les Miserables” almost word for word, I appreciated the efficiency of the story telling that went into adapting this three hour plus theatrical event into an approximately two and a half hour movie.  I knew what had been omitted and what had been added.  So, for me, it all came down to the editing, which had its pluses and minuses.

Stripped to its basics “Les Miserables” is actually a pretty simple show.  It is about characters who walk down to the foot lights and give us songs that reveal their innermost longings and desires.  The story can be told without elaborate stage or CGI (computer graphics imaging) effects.  There are moments in the film in which director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech” 2010) understands this idea and some where he does not.  For example, when Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, sings “I Dreamed a Dreamed” Hooper has made the correct choice to keep the camera on her face, and that is all we need.  In contrast, the rollicking “Master of the House” number is filled with lots of with quick cuts, the bane of modern movie musicals, in my opinion.  I found myself inwardly screaming, “Just let the camera hang back and show me the performance.”  On the subject of “Master of the House” though, I do have to add that Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter really do make for a perfect Thenardier and Madame Thenardier.

While I enjoyed the pacing of “Les Miserables,” towards the last third I did begin to feel as if I was being rushed.  It began to feel as if song after song was being cued up and sung (granted, sung beautifully) a little too efficiently for the good of the film.  I needed for the movie to pause for a breath every now and then.  Granted, this is from the point of view of someone who is used to the much longer stage version of “Les Miserables,” with time allowed for scenery changes.  Contemporary movie audiences will probably like the faster pacing.  Taking everything into account, I think that “Les Miserables,” the movie, will pretty much satisfy fans of the stage show, while minting new fans from the film’s “Les Miz” neophytes.

“Les Miserables,” director Tom Hooper, 2012

Universal Pictures, 157 minutes, rated PG-13

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on January 18, 2013, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Ah, but Seth, you didn’t mention Hugh Jackman’s performance. I’m now convinced that he can do just about anything. This is the same man who portrays Wolverine? Incredible! It was a superb, tremendously moving performance, and the highlight of a marvelous film experience. And I believe, frankly, that if he weren’t up against Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, he’d be a shoo-in for the Oscar.

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