Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Les Miserables the Movie: The Rewatch

I had no special reason for posting this, except that I decided this past weekend to rewatch the Les Miserables movie, having not watched it for a while.  I was curious to see whether my impressions of it have changed.

Overall, while I'm not as wildly over the moon about the Les Miz movie as when it premiered, I still find it to be a worthwhile production.  Several have criticized Tom Hooper for failing to go larger than life with it, like in the stage production, with a barricade the length of a football field.  However, I think his choice to make it gritty and closer to the source material is commendable.  It would have been easy to follow the blueprint of the glossy costume musical, where the peasants' clothes glow brightly, there is not a speck of mud on the ground, and the players mime along to lyrics during elaborate dance numbers.  Hooper made some notable deviations, and they mostly paid off.  If his choices aren't better valued, it may be for the reasons I criticized the movie in the first place: the pacing, handheld camera, and the editing.  

1.  First, let me say that pacing is a problem both in the movie and in the current stage production.  Les Miserables is meant to be long.  LONG.  It's a huge-ass book and it began as a huge-ass musical of 3.5 hours.  While I understand (if not support) the reasons why they trimmed the stage production to below three hours -- due to actor union contract requirements -- there is no reason the movie version could not have been three hours.

Two hours and 30 minutes is already a long time.  What is a half-hour more?  People complain that the movie already feels too long, but one reason is because so much is crammed together in such a short amount of time (especially the first hour, which spans a good decade).  Conversely, they might be less inclined to think that way if certain scenes were allowed to breathe.  Or they're just lamers who were never going to like this movie anyway.  Go watch The Hobbit instead.  Oh never mind, that's three hours for just one installment.  Certainly a slim children's book is more deserving of a nine-hour extravaganza than a 1,500-page novel.

Which is to say: the Les Miserables movie needs to be longer.

2.  The editing sucks.  I said it before and I'll say it again.  Too many transitions are needlessly jarring because Hooper did not bother to create establishing shots.  Take, for example, the transition from dead Fantine to Cosette sweeping -- just bizarre.  Or from Marius and Eponine to a close-up of Cosette's face... somewhere.  Her bedroom?  The convent?  Who knows?  The worst transition of all, though, may be the one from Eponine post-"Heart Full of Love" to Thenardier and his gang about to rob Valjean and Cosette's house.

3.  The close-up shaky cam sucks.  It leeches any majesty from a scene, such as group singing scene in the ABC Cafe.  While I don't mind Hooper's signature wide-angled close-ups, I do mind that there aren't more still wide shots establishing the location.  See No. 2.

4.  Ever since someone suggested it, I cannot stop fantasizing about a Les Miserables movie starring Patrick Wilson as Valjean and Hugh Jackman as Javert.  Wilson would probably have been a less interesting Valjean than Jackman was, but his voice would have been up to the role.  Meanwhile, Jackman could have been a fabulous Javert, rigid and angsty like the best Javerts of the stage.

5.  That said, while Russell Crowe's singing was pretty bad at certain points, as I noted before, there were times when he sounded perfectly fine, such as "Another brawl in the square..."

6.  While I like Amanda Seyfried, adult Cosette was one case where the movie could have cast a talented unknown and lost nothing, even if her "spark" was not quite as bright.

7.  Hooper really doesn't like the Eponine role.  He probably would have cut "On My Own" if he could.  As it is, where it's set disrupts the usual momentum of the musical, where we go from the botched attack on Valjean's home to "One Day More."

8.  Eponine walking around in a sudden downpour looks silly.

9.  While Eddie Redmayne does not sing as effortlessly as the stage performers around him, his voice displays some power and he hits some absolutely gorgeous notes.

10. And yes, when Marius asks Gavroche to deliver the letter to Cosette in a scene right after Eponine's death, it does look callous, no matter what Hooper thinks.

11. The students/barricade scenes still are the best part of the movie.  Not only are they dynamic and fun, but they give the musical a chance to breathe, an opportunity it didn't have as we rushed from young Valjean to Fantine to dead Fantine to Cosette to Paris to... etc., etc.    

Overall, I still hold out hope for an extended cut that could cure some, though not all, of the problems I've had with the movie.  Next year will be the Les Miserables 30th Anniversary.  Dare we hope?

The above image is used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

3 comments:

  1. Hey I wasn't sure where to put this, and am not sure if you'll see this. But I just got into Les Miserables through a friend and you've mentioned in past posts that your personal playlist of the soundtrack is a mix from different recordings. I was wondering if you'd be willing to share which songs you use from which recordings!
    I've been trying to decide on a recording to buy and keep getting caught off-guard by one voice or another that makes me wince. I've read your posts on the different recordings (maybe you already answered my question and I missed it?), and they were super interesting and helpful (thanks for putting in the time and effort to clear things up for a newbie!). But my takeaway wasn't, as I'd hoped, a decision on which specific recording I should buy, but rather the realization that I should probably do as you did, and cobble together my own best-of. But I'm still a bit adrift in the sea of the excellent (and not so excellent) performers, and seeing an example list of songs would definitely help me get started. Thanks so much!!!

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    1. Thanks for writing! For the Valjean songs in the beginning, I used the Broadway tracks, as I thought Wilkinson was in the best of voice in those. I used the Tenth Anniversary for songs like Red and Black, Do You Hear the People Sing, and One Day More. When I wanted completeness, I used the Complete Symphonic Recording.

      You know, you've inspired me to do a post about this. I'll put something up this weekend. Thanks!

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  2. Thanks so much! I look forward to reading :)

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