It’s no secret that I am in love with the show Les Miserables. I went to see the movie on the first night and I have seen the musical on stage 5 times. My Facebook page has been filled with posts about Les Mis and I was talking about it all of the time leading up to the movie. The Musical is now the longest running show in the world (well, actually The Fantastiks ran longer, but that was off-broadway and everyone wants to overlook that). It is still running in England and for a short time it was actually running in two different theaters at the same time!
What is it about this show that has captured the entire world? I have been pondering this question for the past week or so and I have come up with a couple of possibilities. You have to first go back to the book Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This book, which is one of the longest books ever published, was an amazing success when it was published in 1862. Hugo was born when Napoleon was still in power and for much of his youth he was a committed royalist. However, as he grew and saw more of France he became a Republican and through his writing a defender of the poor and mistreated. I said recently that is he were alive today, he would have been with the occupy wall street movement. Les Miserables, which was his last novel was his message to France about the social injustices that he saw through his life. The book has two stories running throughout. The first is the story of the June 1832 Paris uprising and the other, which is more well known, is the story of Jean Valjean. The first story is the story of social justice. The second story is a story of love and redemption. I think it is these two themes that captures the hearts of the novel’s readers.
The musical strips away much of the social justice story and focuses on epic story of Jean Valjean, a man who was jailed for stealing some bread and ends up spending 19 years in prison. The 1832 uprising does play a big part in the musical in the second act, but it is Valjean’s story that is dominant. We see a man who has fallen as far as one can fall and then he picks himself up, recreates himself and ultimately learns to love and be loved. There is probably no greater story than that.
On December 25th at 7:30 we saw the movie Les Miserables. Let me start by saying is was amazing. One of the best film experiences I have ever had. It is certainly one of the best movie musicals ever made. I can throw lots of praise on it, but instead I will try to explain why I think it is so good. First off before saying anything about the movie, I have to say that anyone that tries to compare it to the Broadway Musical is doing an injustice to both the film and the stage musical. The musical film is based on the stage version, but it is really a different performance. The major songs are the same, but there are so many little changes throughout the film, that it is a new production. That being said, I know it will be hard for most people to refrain from making comparisons. I will endeavor not to do so as much as possible.
Here are a few reasons why this is an exceptional film.
Much has been said about the fact that they did all the singing live. Most movie musicals are made by having the cast do all of the singing in the studio and then when they do the filming (sometimes up to a year later) they lip sync to the recorded music. The problem with this is that they have to make certain acting decisions when they are recording the music which is hard when they are not in costume or on set. A year later they may not even remember what they were thinking when they did something in the singing. Filming live singing on the other hand, allows the actors to act while they are singing and allow the way they are singing fit the scene they are filming. They can also do multiple takes and make slight changes in the way they sing. The result is really nothing that has been heard in a movie musical before. I will not give specifics so people who have not seen the film will not have too much information, but suffice it to say this was the way to go.
There are many changes from the original stage musical. Having run for over 25 years Les Miserables has had many minor changes over the years. Some of that was incorporated into the film, but there are scenes they can do in a film that they cannot on the stage and those little scenes need more music and lyrics, and they certainly came through. When they made these scenes, they did not just make them up, they went back to the book and took them right from Hugo’s writing. As such there are a few things that are cleared up in this version that leave you somewhat confused in the stage version.
The makeup and costuming are incredible. Go see for yourself!
The acting and singing are amazing. Hugh Jackson is the perfect choice for Valjean. Many people thought that he was not right for the job, but he was perfect. Most movie goers will think of him as Wolverine from the X-Men, but his background is stage musicals. He conveys so much emotion in his singing and makes the transformation from a downtrodden convict to a wealthy factory owner to a wealthy recluse with ease. Anne Hathaway is, in my humble opinion the best in the movie. It is clearly her best role and her voice is angelic! Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne are great as Cossette and Marius, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are superb as the Thenardiers. That leaves Russell Crowe as Javert. Many say he is totally miscast and his singing is not up to the standards of the rest of the cast. I can only say that I agree that his voice is the weakest in the bunch, but his treatment of the song “Stars” is fantastic and his acting is beyond reproach. He conveys so much from a single glance without anything being said or sung.
This production allows people who never had the chance to see Les Mis on the stage to experience its majesty. I strongly urge everyone to see it!
Here are a few clips from the film. You can see some of what I am talking about in terms of acting choices in the singing.