Scene It All Before: Les Miserables

By: Zach Stone / Karson & Kennedy Producer
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Courtesy of Universal Pictures

For those of you who have seen the show three different times on stage, for those who own the soundtrack, for those who plan to name their white cat Cosette and their black cat Eponine Les Miserables is the movie for you.  It was made for theater lovers across the world, and those who love the theater will love this movie.  As a theater lover myself it is to you I speak.  I will try and sympathize with those who don’t have the entire soundtrack to RENT memorized or don’t dream of the day when your world breaks into a spontaneous dance number, I just won’t understand it.  Les Miserables is Tom Hooper’s first movie since King’s Speech and will no doubt have him nominated for Oscar again.

To show just how iconic this movie is for the unaware here are a couple of  videos from the show that you may not even realize are from the show.  First from “Britain’s Got Talent,” how one woman became an overnight sensation.

First and foremost I don’t know why I should have to write spoiler alert before anything I write today.  The novel the musical is based on was first published in 1862.  Since there have been several film adaptations along with many retellings on the stage.  The most famous adaptation may be the musical version which came in 1985 in London, England as a West End Production and has since become a global phenomenon which is what this movie version of the story is based off of.  To say the story is out there would be an understatement, but I will do my best to shield those who do not know the fate of Jean Valjean.

Tom Hooper does a fantastic job telling the story.  He also makes a bold decision when making the movie.  Usually when actors need to sing in a movie they will record the song on a sound stage and then mouth the words.  Hooper decided to record all the singing on set that way the actors wouldn’t have to be worried about syncing with the voice tracks and could be immersed in the scene.  This decision pays off in spades and really makes the movie work, especially with such complicated songs.

The movie worries me at the start.  For me it is impossible not to compare the movie to the shows I have seen on stage.  And to grab your attention Tom Hooper begins the movie in an epic fashion, but the stage seems too big, the actors are doing too much, and the opening song which should set the entire movie is lost in the scene.  It doesn’t pick up until the title card sequence where a bishop enters the movie and is somehow now stealing the spotlight as he is the best singer in the movie.  It may be because the bishop is played by Colm Wilkinson A.K.A. the original Jean Valjean.  From there the movie finally starts coming into its own.

Actors from all over know the music of Les Mis.  Here Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segal, and the cast of How I Met Your Mother sings “Confrontation”

The main cast is all solid.  Hugh Jackman gets off to a slow start but then really knocks it out of the park.  He is a compelling lead and has amazing vocals.  While it is an ensemble piece, as the main character he carries the brunt of the movie and there is no better actor in Hollywood to pull this role off.  Russell Crowe plays his opposite as the villainous Javert and while he nails the acting, he struggles when having to share a song with any of the other actors.  While his solos are fine, his voice doesn’t meld with the other characters.  I was a little worried about Anne Hathaway in the role of Fantine as “I Dreamed a Dream” is an incredibly difficult song but she killed it.  I had shivers down my spine as she sang her character’s most famous song.

That wasn’t the only moment that brought chills.  “One Day More” brings the entire cast together and usually closes out Act 1.  The number is designed to leave the audience wanting more and that it does.  The movie could have benefited from an intermission.  With a running time of nearly three hours by the end of the movie it is still hard to be emotionally invested.

[Missing Video]

Here was supposed to be the song “La Resistance” from “South Park Bigger, Longer, Uncut.”  Which is based off “One Day More” for some reason I was not allowed to post this video. 

SPOILER

Another effect of the lack of an intermission may be my feelings towards Cosette and Eponine.  Usually I find myself falling for Eponine and hoping she ends up with Marius. Without an intermission I didn’t have the same amount of time to think about and share my feelings with other audience members watching the story.  So without any time to take it in I was fine with the innocent Cosette getting her man.  Or maybe that was a credit to the direction of Tom Hooper that he was able to change how I felt about two different characters.

Another scene that didn’t translate to film was the number “Soliloquy.”  For those who don’t know it is Javert’s suicide, which even on stage never made sense to me.  It continues to not make sense in the movie and looks silly on the screen.  So I guess that’s not really a difference I just never liked that decision for the character.

SPOILER OVER

Overall Les Miserables was fantastic.  If it had come out last year I honestly believe that it would win the Academy Award for Best Picture.  But this is such a strong year for great movies that I think it will be wonderful to just be nominated.  If you don’t like singing in your movies, this may not be the story for you.  And if that is the case you will definitely not like just how long the movie runs.  For the theater lovers out there you are going to love this movie. B+

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