Les Miz reimagined

lesmzI was one of those people who, when they heard Cameron Mackintosh was in on an upcoming film production of Les Miserables, began counting the days until its release. I had the life-changing experience of seeing the original cast perform this magically engineered musical in London in 1990.  That  experience left me instantly smitten with this version of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. Once you’ve heard it, the musical score alone will haunt and delight you ’til the day you die. I’ve seen other stage productions and of course  the sad unCameron-Mackintosh attempt to adapt to film a few years back and nothing has been able to hold a candle to that shining night on the West End twenty-plus years ago.

I was an original cast Les Miz devotee. Junkie. Purist. Fanatic.

As the days neared to this new film adaptation with the original score, I was nearly convinced I would soon have my London stage production in my back pocket, to view it as much as I wanted, because movies go to DVD a year or less after they debut in theaters.  The trailers (this one is my favorite) practically had me singing its praises before I’d even seen it.

So when we settled into our theater seats last night I was breathless with anticipation.

I was not disappointed. But I must confess I was not transported. I loved it. But it was not magical. I didn’t want to compare every musical note, every set, every costume, every nuance with the London stage production but I did.   Every stage moment that was most precious to me, and I knew when they were coming because I can sing the score in my sleep, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for it. There were many grand moments but several standout disappointments. If you want to know what a few of them are, keep reading. If you don’t, stop right now.

Hugh Jackman was masterful as Jean Valjean, easily my most favorite character in literature. And he can sing. I was amazed at his ability to carry the staggering weight of the music. But he didn’t outshine Colm Wilkinson who originated the London role. Not by a long shot. Jackman’s  “Bring Him Home,” a lullaby-like prayer that Colm sings in his buttery beautiful falsetto, was an achingly lost opportunity. Jackman scraped and screeched those incredibly high notes with no hint of the sweet falsetto Wilkinson mesmerized me with. Take a listen if you want to see what I mean:

I felt the same tender rush of disappointment when Russell Crowe launched into Javert’s tortured moments before he throws himself over the bridge. In the stage production, there is no river of course, but the masters of live stage have you believing there is one with an echoing drop into a swirling make-believe Seine that is breathtakingly amazing. Not like the skull-smashing leap that Crowe takes. And no echoing  “There is no way to go on . . . !” which seems to go on and on as Javert escapes from the prison of his hated life.

Anne Hathaway gets the prize for eclipsing the Fantine I saw in London and listen to on my well-worn CDs. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” had me and everyone else in the theater in tears. She was fully believable as a young mother desperate to save her child and living in a cruel world that has nothing but sorrow to offer her. I was also undone by Eddie Redmayne’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” too.  So well done.

And I have to say that the live takes, which allowed the actors to fully immerse themselves in the moment, was genius. The stage productions repeat themselves every day for weeks and months on end. I doubt many stage actors can pour the amount of emotion into their roles day after day after day like Jackman, Hathaway, and the others did. The pathos of the film version is raw and intense. Amazingly so.

There were other little things that left me somewhat wanting.  The last scene with Jean Valjean –  which contains the line that is my most favorite in all the world, “To love another person is to see the face of God,” –  could’ve transcended the stage production easily since the film version had no limitations. But it seemed underdone. And the the very last scene was just kind of silly for me. Fantine singing at the Barricade?  No.

If you’ve seen the West End or the Broadway production of Les Miz, I’d love to hear what you think. Is it just me? I loved the movie. But I didn’t LOVE!! it.

Thoughts anyone??



Author: Susan

This post has 16 Comments

  1. Chris Fabry on December 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Susan, I agree with you. In our theater there was much emotion, and I felt it several times, but not to the depth of the stage. I think this is the conundrum of film vs. any other medium. In order for them to draw the masses, there must be “name” or “face” recognition. The symbol over substance. Not faulting Jackman or Crowe, they performed quite well and exceeded my expectations in places, but I kept wondering what the film would have been like with Wilkinson or others. (The annoying cinematic thing was the close ups and how tightly they shot many of the scenes where the nose was in focus but the eyeball wasn’t.) It was well worth seeing and I applaud the effort, but it still left me wanting…something else.

  2. Pattie on December 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    People who have seen the stage production, in my acquaintance as a whole, do not love the film. For those of us who have never had the opportunity to see Les Miserables on stage, we adored this film.

  3. Cherry Odelberg on December 28, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I’ll be back to lodge my critique as soon as I have seen the film (give me 36 hours). And yes, I did read this post anyway. I have learned it is sometimes to my advantage to break a few rules.

  4. Amber Goemaat on December 28, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I loved the movie. I was literally weeping much of the time. As you said, Susan, Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” was sooo powerful. and “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” was masterful as well. I can see your point about Jackman vs. Wilkinson… (Loved the fact that he was the Bishop. It took me all of 2 seconds to tell just by the voice) And although I think Russel Crowe had a great performance as Javert, I, too was left desiring something more from “Stars”. I think it is a lack of “oomph” in his voice. Every Javert I’ve heard has a VERY deep and powerful voice and Crowe just doesn’t have that type of voice.
    All these things aside, what I LOVED about this movie was the fact that in live theater actors must be able to maintain their composure so that makes it nearly impossible to completely (emotionally) lose yourself in your role. There are no “cuts” or “take two”s in live theater. In the movie, the actors could weep with reckless abandon and completely pull you into their lives.
    Thank you, Susan, for you opinion! I enjoyed reading it. I was also one who was counting down the days until it was released! 🙂

  5. Susan on December 28, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Chris: You nailed it in a sentence. It left me wanting. I had my expectations too high.
    Pattie: Which is why you could absolutely LOVE it. The movie surely exceeded your expectations – a wonderful thing.
    Cherry: You are such a brave girl to read the blog first! I do hope I haven’t spoiled anything for you.
    Amber: You’re right about Javert. I loved Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and Gladiator, so I am an RC fan, but Javert was a role for a more accomplished singer. This role did not suit him like I wanted it too. And oh yes, how exhaustingly deep these actors went with their live takes. I am in awe of what they offered us in terms of raw emotion!

  6. Mary Kay on December 29, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Susan, so agree with your assessment. I never saw it on stage. The 25th anniversary with Alfie Boe as Jean was my introduction. Even on television, it captured me and lives within. I eagerly anticipated the film, and while I liked it and found many portions captivating, I did feel guilty for having any critical responses. Yesterday I tried to identify exactly why the movie did not impact me as the O2 PBS presentation (on my small television!) had impacted me. I cry just listening, sometimes just remembering, that music. But outside of Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” tears eluded me during the movie. The actors did a wonderful job, but I think some of the singing wasn’t as powerful as it could have been (and as I’d have liked). Many of the close-ups were too close-up and missed body language and other subtleties. But, like others who had expectations from previous exposures, I did wish for just a bit more. It was an interesting experiment, but somehow filming it in that way seemed to lose some of the power of the stage without adding all the power available in film. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am glad to not be alone …

  7. Mike Emmert on December 29, 2012 at 1:41 am

    I saw the broadway version twice. I LOVED IT! I cried from the beginning to the end! I liked how it was filmed – made me feel like I was a part of the movie. I thought the raw emotion in the movie made me forgive some of the vocals.
    Would have loved to have seen it with the Meissners!

  8. Anne Mateer on December 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I agree that the film has limitations vs. a live production–but also that the live production has limitations that the film did not. I really find it hard to compare the two because the mediums are so different. I agree with many of your points. One other thing I really loved about the film: Marius. I usually prefer the character of Enroljas and think Marius is sappy. But for the first time (and I’ve seen the play numerous times in Dallas and NY) I liked Marius. Also I loved the way the film was able to include story elements from the novel that the stage play cannot, especially their escape to the abbey in Paris and the importance of that in their story. I loved so many things about the film, but I missed that stir of emotion that comes from live voices on stage. That is something that can’t be duplicated in a recording, no matter how good.

  9. Susan on December 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Mike: Oh how grand it would have been to see it with some Emmerts!! How about you guys come out here when the new Superman comes out and we see that?
    Anne: Dearest Lady D! Well said. I loved Marius in this one, too. Espesh when he socked the Master of the House at the wedding and demanded of him, “Where is he!?” Hero-moment.

  10. LindaN on December 30, 2012 at 2:29 am

    Jim & I saw Les Mis in London in July 2000, and to get ready, we watched both the 1998 Liam Neeson drama, and the 10th anniversary concert on VHS. That way we were familiar with both the story and the music. Such a provacative, redemptive story and commentary on the human soul. What struck me about the movie was the rapidity of the scenes and the music. Of course! There’s no intermission! It moved so quickly there was no character development, so that the songs then lacked depth. You didn’t have time to grab the plight of Jean Valjean’s conversion, or the tension between he and Javert, etc.

    Anne Hathaway was a pleasant surprise. Marius? Best ever. Empty chairs and empty tables…wow. We had seen Nick Jonas as Marius on PBS recently…let’s just say I’m glad Nick did not make the film version.


  11. Clair on December 31, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    I am waiting for it to come to a theater near me to see it. I never saw it as a theater production so will only be able to compare it to the other movie version that I have seen.

  12. Susan on December 31, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    You will probably love it, Clair! Compared to the Liam Neeson movie, it’s light-years better…

  13. Susan on December 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I agree with you, Linda, that the swiftness of the scenes left little time for character development, which somehow does not matter on stage. But it seemed to matter here. And yes, the best Marius I’ve seen. And the best Fantine!

  14. Cherry Odelberg on January 16, 2013 at 4:08 am

    I won’t go so far as to say I was disappointed. No. It was worthwhile and an evening well spent. Perhaps the question is; did it meet my expectations? No. When will I learn that the trailer IS the best part? Then again, would it have met my expectations if I had read the book first? That too, leads to disappointment more often than not. I was NOT disappointed in the singing of all the young revolutionaries – particularly Marius. I was not even disappointed in Hugh Jackman’s performance of any of the pieces. It’s just that, knowing the vocals were recorded / filmed live with the acting, I expected so much more. I have always been a fan of live, flexible music. Now I am rethinking that. Movie style head shots – turn this way-edit in a clip of that -are so much more limiting than robust stage performances. I used to own a VHS of a stage and concert style version of Les Mis and I was so hoping this new movie would fill in the gaps and explain some things and exploit the music of the Thenardiers.
    Yet, I remain convinced this DVD belongs in my library.

  15. Cherry Odelberg on January 16, 2013 at 4:16 am

    Had I read Mary Kay’s comment first, I need not have attempted my own. She explains it well, “Many of the close-ups were too close-up and missed body language and other subtleties. But, like others who had expectations from previous exposures, I did wish for just a bit more. It was an interesting experiment, but somehow filming it in that way seemed to lose some of the power of the stage without adding all the power available in film.”

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