By this time, I’m sure everyone has heard of (if not already seen) the film adaptation of the musical Les Miserables, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and a host of other (talented) actors.
Les Miserables – the musical and movie of the musical, is an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s gargantuan novel of the same name. The musical, written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, debuted in London’s West End in 1985, and has since become one of the longest-running musical shows on Broadway.
But enough about the onstage musical, we’re here to review the 2012 movie adaptation of the musical – whose bright idea it was to make a movie adaptation of the musical, I have no idea, but suffice it to say that he/she probably never watched the train wreck that was Rent and The Phantom of the Opera.
The following is a collaborative “review” of the film by yours truly (the misanthropologist) and resident movie guy, Skilty. In case you’re wondering why Skilty didn’t write this ‘review’ on his own (♫…on my own…pretending he’s beside me ♫…ahem…sorry about that – just getting into the zone….) since he IS the resident movie guy…..that’s what I’d like to know as well!!
So without further ado, I give you our answers to 10 brilliant and very original questions (that we also came up with) regarding the movie:
1. What did you think of the decision to make the actors sing live instead of lip-syncing?
The misanthropologist: They weren’t lip-syncing???
No seriously, hmmm, I don’t know. I’m not quite sure what its impact was on the movie. Was it supposed to help the actors get into character better, or was it used to highlight their voices?
Could it have been used as a sort of gimmick to lure in more viewers?
Skilty Labastilla: I thought the decision allowed the actors to focus more on their acting rather than worry about whether they are in sync with the pre-recorded songs. I liked that the songs were not manufactured and cleaned up in the studio, allowing for rawer, more realistic singing.
2. Which was your favorite scene / song?
TM: I think I would have to go with Anne Hathaway’s rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. Her performance of the song was not bad…if only because I noticed that she sang part of the song lying down, which, if it really was live (and I guess it really was), is not an easy feat.
Though I thought her performance was a bit angrier than it should have been. I always imagined Fantine starting the song gently while reminiscing about her summer fling with affection, and then gradually becoming angrier as she remembered the rest of it….
SL: Yes, I Dreamed a Dream was not bad, though even if it was well-acted, the song by itself is already very dramatic that whoever will sing it will almost always be good. It’s like in American Idol whenever someone will sing And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going) or Hallelujah, 90% of the time the performer will get good feedback just by not messing up the lyrics or the melody.
I think the song that stuck with me the most is the first Do You Hear the People Sing? I haven’t heard the musical version so I can’t make a comparison. But I liked that it started soft, almost whispering, and then it builds into a dramatic crescendo. I love the tune of La Marseillaise and this was obviously a stand-in for that French anthem.
3. What’s your least favorite scene / song?
TM: All the songs that involved Russell Crowe….most especially Javert’s suicide song toward the end. The scene was very good and very dramatic, but the singing was just….awful, especially how he took a deep breath before singing the last word. It was probably meant to emphasize the leap before the plunge, but because Russell Crowe’s voice was so god-awful, it just totally failed.
SL: I couldn’t understand a word of that song sung by the factory women. It’s just too fast. And there’s one song towards the end, Bring Him Home, which I think should have been cut. It just makes Valjean too emo for me. At that point, I was saying, “OK, enough already!” Oh, and that Red and Black song is just too corny for me. “Red! The color of my blood. Black! The color of the night.” It sounds too nursery song.
4. Who was your favorite actor?
TM: Normally I’d say, Hugh Jackman without thinking twice, but performance-wise, none of his parts were really very memorable. The only person I really remember from this movie was Anne Hathaway (probably because after the first few minutes of the film, my mind started to wander…?).
Let’s just go with Anne Hathaway.
SL: This may not be a popular choice but I liked Russell Crowe for Javert. It takes extreme confidence to accept the role knowing that he doesn’t have the singing voice normally considered good by people, but I think Crowe understood that the Javert character would not have a good singing voice anyway. I figured he’d be too busy being anal to practice his singing voice when he was in jail and when he became an inspector. And it makes complete sense why (SPOILER ALERT) he would commit suicide in the end. He finally realized that he was the only character who could not sing! He could not accept the fact that Valjean is a good man AND a good singer!
5. Which scene do you think is the most iconic / unforgettable?
TM: This is a question I came up with, but for some reason, I find it very hard to answer….
Probably not the most iconic, but the scene that comes to mind was when Enjolras (or one of the university students) was shot from the 2nd floor of the tavern and as his body fell halfway out the window, he let out part of red flag which he waved earlier to signal the start of the mini-revolution.
SL: The most unforgettable would be the final scene, when everyone who died stood atop that scaffolding to sing Do You Hear the People Sing? It’s so Pinoy teleserye. I remember getting goosebumps. Not sure, though, if it’s because of the scene or because of the thought that I’m so cheesy.
6. What did you think of Russell Crowe?
TM: I think Russell Crowe did nothing to help this movie out. I don’t understand why he was even a part of this since he clearly can’t sing, or can’t sing as well as the others. He butchered all of Javert’s solos with his not-quite-singing-not-quite-talking style of delivering his lines (or songs).
I’m sure there are other celebrities who could have done a better job at being Javert…
SL: Best casting decision, bar none. If this was a stage musical, Crowe would be obviously miscast because you need a powerful voice for theater, but because this is a movie, what’s more important is the characterization, and Crowe nailed it, in my opinion.
7. Which character do you identify the most?
TM: Whose dumb question was this!?!?
Hmm…..no one…I’m a happy, healthy human being who has no complex secrets, child hidden away somewhere, criminal record, secret love, revolutionary tendencies, and guilty conscience!
SL: For physical attractiveness, Marius, but I most identify with the happy-go-lucky nature and poverty of Thenardier.
8. Any thoughts on the technical aspect of the film – direction, cinematography, screenplay, etc?
TM: Not really. I just thought that people who have never heard the musical or read the novel before watching this movie might be a little confused with what was going on in the film and the flow of the story.
I found it a bit choppy, and because it was sung all the way through like the musical, the story wasn’t really fleshed out very well. Unlike with the live onstage performance, or the recording, moviegoers don’t have the advantage of a libretto to help them contextualize the songs/scenes they are about to hear/see.
SL: I thought it was technically good. But because I haven’t read the book or seen the musical, I couldn’t understand the words to some of the songs and there were characters that I couldn’t differentiate from the next.
9. What song were you humming after the movie ended?
TM: Unfortunately, it was Javert’s suicide song “sung” by Russell Crowe.
SL: “Red, the color of red wine. Black, the color of my hair. Red, the color of my heart. Black, the color of your soul.”
10. What could you have done with the 2 and a half hours of your life you spent watching Les Mis?
TM: Watch paint dry, or maybe stare off into space…
SL: Listen to the audio book.
Did you like the film?
TM: I didn’t hate it, but I wouldn’t watch it again. I’m also glad I didn’t really spend money on it. It’s not as terrible as the movie adaptations of Rent or The Phantom of the Opera, but, I wouldn’t put it up there with the ‘movies you should watch before you die.’
In a live, onstage, musical performance, serious-looking people breaking out into song about war, lost loves and guilt would be perfectly acceptable (you would even expect it, of course), but as a movie, it just comes across as awkward and corny.
SL: Not really. It wasn’t atrocious. There were moments of emotional honesty. But I just found it too ironic for very miserable people to be singing all the time.
How about a number rating to make it more “professional….”
TM: On a scale of 1-5…I give it a 2.5.
So there you have it. Turns out we both didn’t love the film, for different reasons. But, don’t take our word for it. If you have money to burn and time to spare (lots of time to spare), head on over to your favorite mall and see it for yourself!
But prepare yourself: There will be people in the crowd singing along – and yes, most of them just as bad as Russell Crowe!