Quick thoughts on ‘Les Mis’ – the movie

So I knew I was going to see the new Les Miserables film almost immediately starting the book. I mean, you don’t read a 1,400 page book without some kind of promise of theatrical payout, right?

There were also a lot of movies coming out in succession this winter (Anna Karenina, The Hobbit) that I HAD to see, so I’ve been doing a lot of movie-watching recently. Suffice it to say, I kinda forced myself to record my impressions of Les Mis here because I’m just impression-ed out.

Joel and I saw Les Mis during a crowded matinee the Friday after Christmas. Here’s the cliffnotes of my experiences:

  • Like I said before, I have NEVER seen any production of Les Mis, theatrical or on the silver screen. I knew it was a musical. I knew of “I Dreamed a Dream.” I also knew that the new movie was based on the musical – not necessarily the book. What I did not know was that everyone would be singing throughout the entirety of the movie. Seriously. All singing. Now, I appreciate a good musical just like the next person. I am not, however, absolutely batshit crazy over them like some people. And so the constant singing in Les Mis – not my favorite part. I was actually looking forward to the fight scenes so they would just shut up for a few minutes. 
  • All that being said, I liked the songs! I liked the performances!  It’s very cool to see a movie/musical like this, and I did enjoy myself. Notes on the singing though:
    • I’ve never been a fan of Hugh Jackman’s voice. Maybe it was just because we listen to him the most as Jean Valjean, but I got tired of him.
    • Anne Hathaway has a serious set of pipes on her. Kudos.
    • I didn’t think Russell Crowe was a bad Javert, but I can’t shake the feeling that Javert shouldn’t be singing. It was just a bit too…whimsical for someone as deadly serious as Javert.
    • Sacha Baren Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter = genius casting as the Thenardiers.
  • Still, now that it’s been a few days, I do wish the movie had been more of a dramatic retelling of the book, instead of this musical romp through Paris. I know I’m now prejudiced toward the book, but even though the musical did a fair job of hitting on all the important parts, I can’t help but feel there was so much lacking. So much context. So much subtext. Sure, making it a musical makes this VERY long book easier to digest. But you have to leave so much out, Victor Hugo’s socio-cultural commentary just disappears. The sense of history – and all the ramifications of the revolution – goes away. While those parts are oftentimes the hardest parts to slog through while reading, they are what made Les Miserables such an important part of literary history. For example: where is the Battle of Waterloo in the musical/movie?  Omitted.
  • All in all, an enjoyable experience. Not AS awesome as I was expecting – Anna Karenina was definitely better – but a legitimate and enjoyable adaptation.

3 thoughts on “Quick thoughts on ‘Les Mis’ – the movie

  1. The first time I saw the play I was distracted by the fact that the whole play was sung. Once I got past that preconceived vision of the play-I really liked the play. In fact, I have never missed a single time it has been in town. I have not seen the movie yet. I am not sure I will like it. I will probably go to see it, but I really wish they would have considered using some of the broadway performers in the roles they made famous. I would highly recommend that you do try to see the broadway performance sometime. They have changed the way the Broadway production is, I like the original better, but it is still a great play and story. Thanks for your review and your patience to read the book.

    • Eponine was played by the actress used in the Broadway revival., who did an absolutely fantastic job. But the movie was a bit jaring because they had such a broad range of quality of voices. It was hard to switch from Broadway caliber voices to the voices of the bigger name actors.
      I must admit, it wasn’t until I saw the movie that I realized how much the hundreds of pages of Hugo’s social commentary tied the book together and made the plot cohesive. I thought the movie did a good job of connecting the audience to the personal suffering of the characters and then connecting that back to their socioeconomic status.

  2. Pingback: Reading the book before seeing the movie | Paperback Fool

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