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Friday, December 21, 2012

Les Miserables in Theaters Christmas Day

Written by Kirk Baird and Kyle Slagley

There have been a dozen or so film versions of Victor Hugo’s beloved French historical novel, Les Miserables, from 1862, but the latest adaptation is arguably the most anticipated. Based on the acclaimed musical adaptation of Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables features a starry cast – Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amanda Seyfried – a big production, and an Oscar-winning director, Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech).

Even before its Christmas Day release, there’s big buzz for this period musical, including acting nominations by several awards groups for Jackman as the redemptive Jean Valjean and Hathaway as the tragic Fantine; her touching and powerful performance, in particular, resonates long after the film is over.

Set during the years between 1815 and 1832, Les Miserables shares the woeful fate of several French men and women and their connection to each other: Valjean as a petty criminal turned successful businessman who is wanted by the law; Javert (Crowe) as the dogged police inspector who is obsessed with bringing Valjean to justice; Fantine as a sad soul searching for good fortune to save her and her young daughter, Cosette; and an adult Cosette (Seyfried), who has fallen in love with one of the  members of the doomed Paris Uprising.

Cooper and the film’s art directors seize their opportunity to expand the stage production’s scope to a spectacular, massive scale that brings justice to Hugo’s epic story. The dreary set design and costumes are a character unto themselves, casting an appropriate melancholy on the plight of the unfortunates of the story. Just as impressive are the “live” performances of the cast, who sang onset to the camera, rather than record their songs later in a studio. The technique lends naturalism to the actors’ performances, with Cooper often drawing the camera in closer to heighten the immediacy of the moment.

The music of the show conveys many different emotions, but perhaps one of the most difficult to convey is that of pure desperation. These are the songs in this film with the most punch, and the live performances allow the actors to really get the emotion across to the audience.

Hathaway’s performance of the song “I Dreamed a Dream” is the prime example of this. Rather than being the grand operatic spectacle that so many stage performances seem to have, it is rough and gritty. Her sobs interrupt the notes and at times it seems as though she is on the verge of going completely mad because she is so overcome with emotion. It would have been extremely difficult to replicate that depth of emotion in a studio recording.

As with previous musicals-turned-films, fans of the stage show should remember that film is a different game than the stage. Because stage shows are limited in ways films are not, music theatre fans often zero in on the vocals and consider other elements second. This film is as much about the visual spectacle as it is about the music, and although many of the stars are actors first and singers second, they each bring the characters to life in a way that makes this movie worthy of all the hype.

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