MAD 07: Les Miserables

Posted: January 8, 2013 in Movie-A-Day
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I never watched any stage production of Les Miserables, but I am familiar with the original novel by Victor Hugo, and it’s unfortunate that the film adaptation cannot compare to the nuance and depth of the source material. This is hardly surprising, of course, since this is almost always the case with adaptations from literature. But whereas other adaptations like The Hobbit still make a determined effort to convey the original story, Les Miserables felt incredibly rushed to the point of confusion. Had I not read the book, I believe I would have an incredibly difficult time trying to understand what was happening, or who these people were that I was supposed to relate to. With only a few notable exceptions, the characters all felt incredibly flat and cartoonish; limited only to a single defining emotion or motivation. Again, I can’t speak for the staged musical, but as far as films go this was a waste of the high caliber talent in the cast.

Speaking of the cast, I do admit that the musical performances themselves were simply phenomenal. The decision to record the soundtrack live was perfect, and gave Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks in particular fantastic moments to act while singing and vice versa. Contributing to at least some of the impact of their solos was the use of a long single take to film their respective numbers. It looked as though they filmed a great deal of the performances with long takes, but multiple performers required editing to get everyone on the screen. That is about the extent of their successes with experimental camerawork, however. So much of the movie is shot far too tight on the actors, often with a very wide lens, distorting the image in rather strange ways. I’m not entirely sure why they chose to shoot it so differently from other movie musicals, especially when there is such a strong history of them in Hollywood. I missed the large dance numbers and I missed the creative use of location and sets. Doing the solos in long takes was a nice touch, but other than that the film was just not pleasant to look at. Les Miserables is definitely worth getting the soundtrack to, but watching it in a theater might only be worth it for the most musically inclined.

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