The Musical That Shook The World: A Review

lesmis

I hardly write reviews about books or movies unless it’s something I’m really passionate about. Julie Andrews took me into the magical world of wit, story and poetry in song when I was about five with Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music – and as I grew older, this childhood interest turned into something more of a passion – and until today, I go to the extremes of getting my musical DVDs from Amazon because we just can’t find any here!

More than ten years ago, during the era of VCDs (DVDs were the Blu-Rays then – expensive and we didn’t have the players for it yet), my uncle decided to give away some of his VCD collections (because he was upgrading to DVDs) and I had the chance to pick out the stuff that I like. I didn’t know what Les Miserables was then, except my uncle just pointed out to me that I should watch it. It was the live recording of the 10th anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall (in 1998) and to-date, in my opinion, remains the best version I have ever seen. I watched and rewatched and OUTwatched the poor VCDs until they wouldn’t play anymore. I got myself the DVD since. Ruthie Henshall, Lea Salonga, Micheal Ball, Colm Wilkinson and Philip Quast had stolen my heart.

More than ten years later, this musical that shook the world was made into a film. And Hollywood was all out to impress. I caught the film for the first time on Saturday and the second time on Sunday. Yes, I sat through the 3-hour movie TWICE.

I loved it, and loathed it. And here are the what’s and why’s. (**Warning: Spoilers ahead.**)

The Good

The CGI-opening of the movie made me chuckle at first. No, I didn’t think it was bad, it was actually quite good – it was just that I was reminded that this was a Hollywood film right from the start. And the starting was quite impressive. Tom Hooper (the producer) should be beaming with pride during the premiere, I thought, and Cameron Mackintosh (the producer of the historical West End version, who was surprisingly not involved in the movie) would’ve been jealous.

Hugh Jackman lost weight, grew hair, and went days with showering (okay, I’m not sure about the third) to be one with his role of Jean Valjean. I wasn’t thoroughly fascinated, but he did a good job.  I can’t think of any other Hollywood actor who would take up the leading role better than him. Definitely not Gerard Butler (who didn’t do justice to the Phantom of the Opera).

Colm Wilkinson is the priest! Yay! It was nice to see him on-screen, even though he wasn’t in his original role (unfortunately, even the best musical stars have to age) but I like to think it was part of a clever scheme to complete the final scene of him receiving Jean Valjean into God’s kingdom. I thought that was somewhat symbolic, but that could be just over-sappy me.

Anne Hathaway. Oh, Anne Hathaway. You know those moments where you get teary-eyed listening to someone sing because his/her performance is so raw, so deep? I got that moment in “I Dreamed a Dream” (I wanted to give her a standing ovation after that scene) and I found myself looking forward to her last appearance during the death of Jean Valjean.

“Come with me…where chains will never bind you…” What a sweet, sweet invite to paradise that must be.

Samantha Barks did not disappoint as Eponine and I found her voice somewhat comforting from all the higher-pitch female voices of Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried (Cosette). Her performance of “On My Own” was powerful, but one little thing that irked me (and it wasn’t her fault) was the fake, raining effect when she began “A Little Fall of Rain” because it looked like someone was sprinkling water to only one side of her face.

Amanda Seyfried played wide-eyed Cosette quite beautifully – it’s not an easy role since Cosette’s musical numbers are all in the higher register. I thought Amy Adams would’ve been a stunning Cosette but her voice is a little more mature and deep. A little trivia, Seyfried actually played little Cosette on stage when she was 7.

Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit were a good fit to their characters French Revolutionists Marius and Enjolras. I actually thought Eddie Redmayne might have done a better job than Michael Ball in the live version, but I could be bias because of his looks. Both of them gave a good portrayal of brave, yet scared gentlemen that led the French Revolution. Little Cosette and Gavroche were (as said in the film) “top of their classes” and Tom Hooper cleverly manipulated the “Little People” song from a cheeky number to a heart-breaking end for Gavroche. I actually had a lump in my throat when Javert placed his officer’s badge on dead Gavroche as an honour.

I would like to comment on some well-constructed scenes, including the the dynamic synergy between Cosette, Marius and Eponine in  “A Heart Full of Love” and how every character came together in the very much anticipated number “One Day More”. The reprise of “Do You Hear the People Sing” when Jean Valjean died was the finale the movie deserved, but I would’ve preferred it if the revolutionists had dropped their guns since they were all supposed to be at peace at the end.

The Not-so-Good

Now to the parts that I wasn’t so impressed with.

The Thenardiers. They’re my favourite couple in the musical.  The casting was actually quite alright – Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were as quirky and disgustingly greedy as they could be. But the cinematography and choreography of “Masters of the House” didn’t do the ultimate comedy-scene of Les Mis much justice. Too much was happening at the same time that audiences were too busy playing catch up with all the busyness in the inn that they could not focus on the witty, funny lyrics! There weren’t enough close-ups to focus on certain parts of the mischief that were happening and I didn’t understand why they had to censor the line “Hypocrite and toady and inebriate!” towards the end of the song (I think this is the fault of our local censorship board). While the additional attempt of the Innkeeper in mispronouncing Cosette’s name was funny – it was but somewhat slapstick.

And the biggest letdown of all – you guessed it right – was Russell Crowe’s poor portrayal of Javert. I mean, did they even see how Philip Quast pulled it off? Javert was an angry, self-righteous, determined policeman who believed he was on the right side of justice. When Quast sang “Stars” (my favourite song in the musical) his voice and eyes were literally filled with anger and determination to apprehend Jean Valjean. This was a man on a mission!

Russell Crowe reminded me of a sad kitten who could not (for the life of him) do his character any justice. One of my friends commented that he sang as if someone had stuffed tissue into his nose and down his throat. In fact, towards the second part of the movie, the audience got so tired of his voice that each time he sang, it was just plain funny and annoying. Why, oh, why, couldn’t they just put Philip Quast back? He’s not even that old yet!

One of the things that fascinated me about the film was that Hooper wanted his cast to sing live when they were filming – so everything you heard was sung as they were filming – no lip-synching. Was that a good thing? Yes, and No.

Yes, because audiences get to see and hear the genuine blend of emotions and voice – as if singing in a daily conversation seemed like a very normal thing to do. I developed a new-found respect for Jackman and Hathaway here because it must’ve been so very hard to cry and sing at the same time.

And no, because the lack of refining and remastering the voices in a movie production like this made it lack depth and oomph you would expect out of a movie. It’s very different from watching a live ensemble where acoustics are top-notch – after a while, the voices of Jean Valjean and (needless to say) Javert, became somewhat bland and tiring to listen to in the span of three hours and 49 musical numbers.

All in all, I think Tom Hooper did his best to bring what the world considers the best musical to the screen. I’m not sure if Cameron Mackintosh would be entirely impressed but hey, it’s Hollywood. It’s not easy to put 3-hours of singing and make it worth your audience’s while – especially those who did not have a knack for musicals. Both the times I watched the movie, I clapped at the end, and I could only imagine what it was like for the cast and crew who actually gave it their all for this chance of a lifetime.

Conclusion

Would I get the DVD of this movie when it is finally out and watch it again and again? I would.

I might just skip the Javert numbers though. They’re too painful.

And with this review, I would like to put a seal to year 2012. What a year it has been, and I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more ahead. A Blessed and Happy New Year to everyone!

“One day more!!!” 😉

 

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