HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Les Miserables
HTS Overall Score:89
Victor Hugo’s works have been blessed with a myriad of different movies and plays based upon his life’s works; “Les Miserables” being one of his most famous, and most powerful pieces of literature adapted to the silver screen. I remember watching the Liam Neeson version a decade ago and being mildly impressed with it, but never truly realized its true beauty until I read the unabridged version during a collegiate literature class. A timeless tale of hate, anger, bitterness, forgiveness, love, and compassion, all rolled up into one. Some versions of the book have done extremely well on stage, and others have done only mildly well. This one far exceeds all the rest, excepting the famous Broadway play.
We all know the basic story, Jean Val Jean (Hugh Jackman) is sent to prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister’s child. Laboring for two decades under the watchful eye of the cold and heartless Javert (Russell Crowe), he finally is able to gain his freedom only to taste the bitterness that said “freedom” gives. Due to an escape attempt, Jean Val Jean is labeled as a dangerous criminal on his parole papers and thus given a black mark where no one will ever want to hire him. Stumbling around, rejected by everyone he falls into the care of a Bishop (Colm Wilkinson, who actually played Jean Val Jean on stage decades ago), who takes him in and gives him a second chance at life. In awe that he has been given a second chance, Jean Val Jean sees just what he’s becoming in life, a thief, a scoundrel, just what he always said he wasn’t. Taking his opportunity Jean Val Jean destroys his parole papers and slips off the radar.
8 years later we see another one of our main characters, a young mother named Fantine (Anne Hathaway), struggling to support her fatherless daughter with her meager income working in a factory. Unfortunately for her, she’s caught the eye of the lecherous foreman and refuses to succumb to his advances. As a result she gets tossed out into the cold in one of the most heart wrenching scenes of the movie. Forced into destitution she sells her teeth, her hair, and in a final act of desperation, her body in order to keep her daughter alive. In a twist of fate, Inspector Javert comes to this little town as the chief of police and catches Fantine striking a gentleman of the town. As a man who understands only hard, unrelenting letter of the law, Javert is about to send her to prison when the Mayor of the town steps in. As fate would dictate the mayor is none other than Jean Val Jean, having reinvented himself as a respectable business man and political officer. Having the same compassion for Fantine as the Bishop had on his life, Jean Val Jean asks Javert to reprieve the young woman and sends for her daughter. However, during this whole escapade, Jean Val Jean is discovered for who he is and is forced to flee with Fantine’s child to raise as his own.
Running for another 9 years, Jean Val Jean flees to Paris where he thinks he has escaped the voracious inspector. Again though he is found and forced to flee Paris with Fantine’s, now adult, child Cossette (Amanda Seyfried). The only problem is that she’s fallen in love with a young revolutionary and him with her. Caught in the middle of the whole situation Jean Val Jean loves his adopted daughter so much that he risks his life, and his freedom to rescue her young love from the clutches of death itself, and in the process he must face the very man who has hounded his every footstep for almost 4 decades.
“Les Miserables” is an ENORMOUS book that would take an entire week’s worth of visual storytelling to ever completely do it justice. However, this iteration takes on the daunting task with gusto and does an admirable job. As stated, it would be an incredible feat to fit the entire complexity of the story into even 4 hours so there are definitely some plot points that are left out of the film and some scenes shortened a tad. Some of the play aficionados were displeased with the movie due to the fact that some of the songs were altered ever so slightly for runtime and pacing reasons. My response to these flaws is simple, things that work in a Broadway play, and things that work on paper do not always transpose to film very well, and in these cases certain dramatic licenses have to be taken to create a smoothly paced film.
The acting, for the most part, was near flawless. Hugh Jackman did an excellent job at playing the tortured Jean Val Jean, a man who started out with every right to hate the world, only to be bought and paid for in such a way that truly humbled him and allowed him to accept the love and mercy that God had given him. As a result, he a changed man, could thus give that love and compassion that he had received to those around him. Russell Crow was a bit flat at TIMES, but overall did an excellent job as Javert. Javert is the picture of a man who has dedicated himself to the law. A man who doesn’t believe in right or wrong in any other way other than what the law itself specifically dictates. He is the epitome of a man who understands only half why the law was created. His devotion to the letter of the law is admirable in some ways, but along the way he has forgotten just why the law was created, the mercies and leeway’s that it gives him, instead of binding him to rhetoric and dogmatism. Amanda Seyfried is passable, but luckily she is only in the film for a short time as the young girl in love with Marius, the revolutionary. Unlike the book, they had to shorten the romance into a touching story instead of the tale of foolish children that the book portrayed, but it works well in the setting. The one actress that stood head and shoulders above the rest was Anne Hathaway as Fantine. I actually wondered why Anne Hathaway, of all actresses, had won best supporting actress at the academy awards being that she is only a decent acrtress in everything I had ever seen her in. She NAILED this role with the utmost precision. Fantine is a woman whose soul and agony laid bare for the world to see and it takes a great deal of precision for someone to play a character like that. With so much raw emotion it is so easy for an actor to miss the mark and play the character too over the top, or underplay the intensity of the scenes. Annie’s performance was absolutely jaw dropping. She made you feel every single ounce of agony that she was going through, every fear, every terror, and every tear down her cheek resonated with the audience. For only being in the film about 20-30 minutes she stole the entire 20-30 minutes that she was in.
There are a few flaws in the movie as stated, and it is expected trying to put a 1200+ page book into a 2.5 hour movie. However the one thing about art, is that it’s not about being perfect. It’s about how it speaks to you, how it moves you and how you cherish it. In that respect “Les Miserables” rose above its technical flaws and made an exemplary rise to the top. I tip my hat to Tom Hooper for allowing the actual actors to sing the songs instead of having them dubbed over with the stage production’s singing as has been done before, and give the entire cast a round of applause for a job well done.
Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
Universal did a stunning job on their 1.85:1 AVC encode of “Les Miserables”. Colors are bright and sumptuous, seeping into every frame with rich reds and blues and yellows. The contrast is tweaked just a bit on the high side, but that was in the theatrical version as well in order to create that “period” affect. Detail is absolutely breathtaking in the film at times. Close ups are the most detailed that I’ve ever seen in a movie. You can see every fiber on Hugh Jackman’s jacket and literally see the condensation and water tension on raindrops falling in Eponine’s face. Long shots show a tad of softness every once in a while, but still show an incredible amount of detail. Blacks are inky and deep 99.99999% of the time, showing exceptional shadow detail. My only complaint here was every once in a great while a dark scene would look just a tad washed out and not as inky as scenes before it. It was never very often, and usually only a second or two so the scenes didn’t detract from the movie at all. Given a full BD-50 with very little special features gives the film plenty of room to breathe in so there appears to be no major artifacting that I could notice.
Even better than the audio was the 7.1 DTS-HD MA track. Rich and enveloping is the only way to describe this track. Being that 99.9% of the vocals in this film were all in song the full spectrum of my speaker setup was in constant use. My surrounds were active with the sounds of carriages through the streets of Paris and the thudding of Javert’s horses as he rides to capture Jean Val Jean. The songs literally flowed all around you and sucked the viewer right into the heart of the film at an unceasing pace. The LFE was mainly used to supplement the songs and flowed cleanly and unobtrusively throughout the film. During the final battle of the revolutionaries the subs did light up and thunder with some incredible power to let you know that they were still alive and kicking. Dialogue is clean and clear and the vocals are locked in the center channel with some excellent front and left pans, where the supporting vocalists tend to come from. Every once in a while the vocals were a bit hard to understand due to some of the thick accents applied, but overall this is an absolutely stunning audio track.
• Feature Commentary by Director Tom Hooper
• "Les Misérables": A Revolutionary Approach
• The Original Masterwork: Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables"
“Les Miserables”, didn’t make as big a splash at the academy awards as I would have hoped, and in some ways I understand why, but I still believe that “Les Miserables” was one of the best films of 2012 and a complete treat for those who enjoy musicals or wonderful dramatic performances. Tie that in with some astonishing audio and visual scores and you have a recipe for another must buy, in my opinion.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Hathaway
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: William Nicholson
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA 7.1, English DTS 5.1
Studio: Universal Studios
Runtime: 157 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: March 19th, 2013
Buy Les Miserables Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: BUY It
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