Here we go again with some critics saying that it was not great enough! or you couldn’t possibly compare it to a stage performance… Although there may be some truth to those comments, I will say Les Misérables is probably the best adaptation of musical to film…ever, and I mean there were a lot before: Fame (1980), Evita (1996), Chicago (2002), The Phantom of the Opera (2004),…
Equally, there were just as much criticism with millions dollars production of great operas that featured buttery-voice-high-notes-hitting divas and strong thunderous voice tenors… (As of today, I still have not seen, or find Tosca (2001) acted by the then opera darling couple, Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna).
So first off, comparing one’s experience watching a live performance to watching a movie, inevitably, will be like comparing apples to oranges! For one thing, those who could afford to see the stage up-close, they already had at least $600 vested in liking the musical and production! (Funny, I read again and again that in a scientific double-blind test, the sample continues to pick a $12 red-wine over one that is $200, with opposite labels)
Here is my point of saying all these; opera, musical and ballet are not accessible to most people, but movies still are! So it is always a great attempt for anyone to promote arts and culture in a medium that is more reachable , hence, affordable. (look at The New York Metropolitan Opera and its live-broadcasts in movie theaters. Do they want to do it? probably not, do they have a choice?probably no). True, at the end of the day, it is just another form of marketing or money making and brands building ( Phantom and Les Miz are brands!), but nothing’s wrong wishing this format would have some of our youngsters start liking musicals, and then operas…
Honestly, I don’t remember if I saw Les Miz with the first Canadian production here in Toronto, but I certainly had the tee-shirt (but then maybe a friend brought me that? can’t remember). So perhaps because of its seriousness and not having seen it, and Les Miz being less glamorous than the Phantom, i.e., no falling chandelier, I never quite caught on with Les Mix’s songs and story. (If you remember there was a battle between Llyod Weber’s and Mackintosh’s musicals in the ’90s).
It was really the last 5 years or so I started to understand more about the story, and hence better appreciating its songs and tones. To truly love the musical, for me it all started with watching the 25th anniversary O2 concert performance on PBS. I then bought the blu-ray, and fell in love with Alfie Boe‘s interpretation of Jean Valjean. If you see his performance, he will move you to tears just like that!
Another disadvantage of watching live performances is that I often anticipate familiar arias to come, and in the process I may lost track of what the story is about. Not to mention, some of the plots are in fact difficult to follow without first reading the synopsis. This film definitely put the story and songs together, and it works superbly well. In other words, with live performances, however grand the stage designs maybe, there will always be limitations, but not for film, it can be as realistic as it wants to be: the barricades, the city of Paris, guns, smoke, canons, dead kids, rain, syphilis, herpes… and they do make a difference. Don’t forget in older productions when blood was not allowed on stage, the performer had to pull out a red scarf to signify blood and death: Madama Butterfly’s final scene.
Regarding the singing, I will not go there, as I don’t have a degree in classical music, so who am I to judge or to criticise? In fact, I liked Russell Crowe‘s Javert the most! Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier) and Helena Bonham Carter(Madame Thénardier) probably stole the show, meaning they had done their roles well: comic relief. Anne Hathaway(Fantine) might be a bit overexposed on Youtube and in the trailers! If we were to hear I dreamed a dream the first time, it would have certainly brought the house down!(Hugh Jackman)Jean Valjean carried the film from start to end, for that, I applaud him; remember, when someone makes it look easy, it means they had spent hours perfecting it! Eddie Redmayne(Marius) was memorable with a very nice voice (Michael Ball was in the original cast that launched his career). Amanda Seyfried(Cosette) I worry that she would be out-of-breath, her notes were really high. Samantha Barks(Éponine): that’s what I thought, an actual stage production singer.
Just like opera, people are still debating Maria Callas’s Tosca and Renata Tebaldi’s…but the decision is always ours to make!
WATCH it a few times, and you will start to like it and eventually love it.