Thursday, January 3, 2013

Les Miserables the Movie: Five Things They Should Have Left Alone, and the Five Best Cuts

So now I've seen Les Miserables twice, and I should be seeing it once or twice more within the next couple of weeks.  I'm happy to report that things that bothered me the first time bothered me less the second time.  Mostly.  I still think that "The Attack on the Rue Plumet" is horribly butchered.  I also didn't warm to Russell Crowe's vocals, but the only parts where I would say he's really bad are the introduction scene with Valjean/Monsieur Madeleine and the "Runaway Cart" scene.  Both call for him to sing some notes that are really out of his range, and he ends up sounding whiny.

Even though I was less bothered overall, there are parts that I wish had stayed in:  

Parts of the Musical That Should Have Stayed In

1.  "And now I know how freedom feels..."  As I mentioned in the review, changing sung parts to dialogue does nothing to improve the Prologue.  The part where Valjean steals the silver and is caught is handled so clumsily: one second, Valjean is running away with the silver, and the next, some dorky police officer is handing it back to the Bishop.  "Here's yer silver.  This fool says you gave it to him!"  Boring.  I much prefer the sung version with its growing sense of foreboding.

And yet he trusted me.
The old fool trusted me!  He'd done his bit of good.
I played the grateful serf and thanked him like I should.
And when the house was still, I got up in the night.
Took the silver.  Took my... FLIGHT!

Would it have been so difficult to keep the sung version?  It's not as if the movie couldn't have cut or modified it the way it did every. other. song.  Were Hooper and company worried Hugh Jackman wouldn't be able to sing that last note?  Whatever the reason, the new version is a definite comedown from the original version, and has the added drawback of making the sung parts seem more jarring.           

2.  "And this I swear to you tonight..."  This part of "The Confrontation" was included in the screenplay, and it gave me chills when I read it.  Valjean was hiding out from Javert and was watching Fantine's body being dumped in a cart.  As if to dignify her end, Valjean sang: "And this I swear to you tonight..."  I know that part was filmed because Anne Hathaway mentioned doing the "stunt," but sadly, we probably won't get to see it except in an extended cut.      

3.  "Take care, young miss, you've got a lot to say..."  "The Attack on the Rue Plumet" is horribly butchered, no two ways about it.  It's almost impossible to tell what's going on.  Because of this, the tension of Thenardier's gang robbing Valjean's house and Eponine coming to the rescue is utterly missing.  I miss the fun dialogue between the characters, such as: "What a palaver, what an absolute treat, to see a cat and its father pick a bone in the street!"  Was Montparnasse even in the movie?

4.  "Her name was Eponine..."  Already in the movie version, Marius is much less attached to Eponine than in the stage version.  However, at least he gives her a dignified sendoff with these final words: "Her name was Eponine.  Her life was cold and dark, yet she was unafraid."  Or... would have.  The biggest problem with the cut is that it makes Marius seem as though he forgets Eponine a minute after she dies.  In this version, Eponine gives Marius the letter from Cosette, and I swear, I spent half of "A Little Fall of Rain" thinking that Marius was trying to read it.  Then, a moment after she is carried off, he goes to Gavroche and asks him to deliver a letter to Cosette.  Way to honor the girl who saved your life, Marius.    

5.  "Dog Eat Dog."  It's not as though the sewers scene failed without the song, but it gives great insight into Thenardier's character and philosophy.  It also would have given Sasha Baron Cohen the chance to be really dark.  Otherwise, his character tends to come across more as a buffoon.

Honorable Mention: "Could it be your death means nothing at all?"    


At the same time, there were parts of the musical that probably did not need to be there.  This list was hard to create because I adore the music, and every little cut is like a tiny sword in my heart.  However, if parts had to be cut, here are the cuts that worked best.

Parts of the Musical That They Were Wise to Cut

1.  The Rest of "Look Down."  I've always enjoyed the Paris "Look Down" sequence, but it was probably just as well the movie cut part of it.  We don't really need to see Gavroche sing: "Here's old man Thenardier!  The guy you just saw ten minutes ago.  Yep, he's back again!"  In a movie, it's enough just to see close-ups of the Thenardiers.  Besides, it's not as if the musical ever explained why they came to be in Paris.

2.  "Little People."  I'm not sure if the movie cut this song down any further, but I barely noticed it.  Good.

3.  "The rain that brings you here is heaven blessed!"  I love this part of "A Little Fall of Rain," but it never felt very realistic.  Eponine is dying of a massive wound to her chest or stomach, and her singing is a little shaky and faint.  But all of a sudden, she's sitting up and belting out: "The rain that brings you here is heaven blessed!  The sky begins to clear and I'm at rest!"  All the times I've seen Eponines of the stage, I had to suspend my disbelief, and it's even less realistic in the movie.  I suppose Barks could have sung that part faint and shaky as well, but quite frankly, it almost defies belief that she would be able to sing as much as she did.

4.  "Let all the women and fathers of children go from here!"  This was always a touching, sad moment in the musical, when Enjolras saw that all hope was lost and gave the other revolutionaries a chance to leave.  Originally, this moment was followed by a melancholy "Drink With Me" reprise: "If I die, I die with you."  The current version of the stage musical just has Enjolras sing the words, and then almost immediately after, the students are called to arms.  In the movie, Enjolras sings lines that are very similar, but then, instead of the "Drink With Me" reprise, the students (and Gavroche) sing a reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing?".  I like this brief hopeful moment much better than the fatalism of the stage version.  As if the students are saying: for as long as we are alive, the revolution will live.

5.  The Rest of "Beggar at the Feast."  Yes, this song is amusing, but I've always found it to be so superfluous.  And while the Thenardiers are necessary comic relief, this song makes it seem as though they get away with all of their misdeeds.  Yes, they drove a woman to her death, abused her daughter, abused their daughter, and robbed people living and dead, but they can still crash a wedding!  Look, they just insulted someone for being gay!  Fabulous!  I like how, instead of the oh-so-clever Thenardiers taking over and reducing everyone else to slack-jawed bystanders, Marius intercepts them right away.  Nope -- you're gone.  He gets the necessary information about Valjean and gives Thenardier two punches for his trouble.  Then the Thenardiers are quickly carried off.


And finally, I can't end this post without praising some parts of the movie that were added:

Great New Additions

1.  Valjean lifts the flag.  An actual demonstration of Valjean's strength before the "Runaway Cart" scene?  So that it doesn't seem as though Javert's suspicions come from out of nowhere.  You don't say!

2.  Javert asks to be fired.  The reworking of the "Runaway Cart" sequence makes it much closer to the book, including the part where Javert writes to his superiors about his suspicions.  Not only does the change remove the randomness of the "Runaway Cart" ("You remind me of someone -- who by coincidence, is getting sentenced today!"), but it also enhances Javert's character.  Not only does he not have mercy for anyone else, but he also has no mercy for himself.

3.  "Suddenly"/Chase scene.  "Suddenly" is not a great song, and I think it would have been more effective as a montage, showing Cosette going from childhood to adulthood.  However, it is perfectly sweet as is (and I look forward to the inevitable Colm Wilkinson cover).  The best part, as I said, is that it gives Valjean and Cosette some necessary bonding time instead of Valjean taking Cosette from the Thenardiers and then, moments later, picking her up so that she is not hit by the Ten Years Later scenery. 

4.  General Lamarque's funeral procession.  Now that I've seen it, I can't believe the stage version didn't do something like this, instead of having people just march around in circles.

5.  Marius tells Cosette about Valjean leaving.  In the stage version, Cosette is such a plot device that she doesn't even react to her father and savior's sudden departure until the very end.  The movie permits her to actually respond and show that she's a person after all.   

Honorable Mention: Fantine gets her teeth pulled.


So that's it for my Les Mizing for a while.  Thank you everyone who has read the retrospective and my initial review.  I will keep doing Les Miz posts now and then, such as when the full soundtrack is released, or the DVD(s), but now it's time to move on to other things.  Hope to see you there.

5 comments:

  1. I pretty much completely agree with this list. The only thing I don't agree with you on 100% is on "Dog Eats Dog." I agree, it does give Thenardier a darker side, but I think at that point in the movie, it would have just slogged the pace down. And considering all the, well, excrement in the scene, I'm not sure I could have taken Thenardier seriously while singing in all of that. Yes, I have the maturity of a three-year-old. :)

    Anyway, besides that, I agree with what you didn't like being cut and what you liked being added in.

    "The Attack on Rue Plumet" was just an awkward scene. It was like they just randomly spliced it. It also created a little bit of a plot hole, since they cut the entire "I heard a cry in the dark!" and "That was my cry you heard, Papa" bit. Instead of Cosette lying that it was her who screamed because she saw three men by the wall and then Valjean concluding it must have been Javert, in the movie, he just almost instantaneously jumps to the conclusion it was Javert. A bit extreme, considering all he heard was a girl scream.

    I'm glad that Gavroche's other solo in "Look Down" was cut. It's always seemed a bit unnecessary, like, "We're just trying to help people follow along."

    Ditto for "Beggars at the Feast." While comedic relief is needed, it's always just felt like a rehash of "Master of the House." Its placement right before Valjean's death doesn't really help either.

    Another cut that bothered me that I didn't see on your list was from "Every Day." They cut Marius's "Every day I wonder who it was...", which also creates a plot hole. It makes it appear Marius knows who brought him from the barricade, which may be confusing to some people when he has his epiphany with Thenardier.

    This is becoming a rather rambling comment. Nice post. :)

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    1. Hi Cammie,

      Thanks for your comments. Excellent point about "Dog Eat Dog." It would have definitely seemed strange to see Thenardier singing there, although it might have been just a few lines, since the movie cut down so many other songs.

      There were a lot of other cuts that bothered me, and the "Every Day" cut was one of them. Another one was the beginning part of "Red and Black," where Enjolras goes from singing "it's stirring the blood in their veins" to "We need a sign!", without any of the great lines about the National Guard.

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  2. I wish they'd left On My Own alone. I think the part where she says "And now I'm all alone again, nowhere to turn, no one to go to" helps the song a little more.

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    1. It does seem as though Tom Hooper did everything he could to marginalize On My Own short of cutting it. I think if it weren't such a popular song, he might have gotten rid of it altogether.

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