Sometimes I think Victor Hugo knew that one hundred and fifty years after he published his novel, Les Misérables, three film versions and a massively acclaimed musical, which reigned the stages of London and New York City for decades, were going to spawn from his writings. His tragic epic tells the tale of petty thief, Jean Valjean (prisoner #24601), who is paroled after nineteen brutal years in prison only to steal from the Bishop of Digne, the first man to show Valjean compassion in the ungodly world of 1815. When the police bring Valjean back to the Bishop to reveal that his criminal ways are still not behind him, the Bishop assures the authorities that what Valjean stole was actually given to him and the Bishop commands Valjean to use these valuables to begin a new life. Years later, Valjean is the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer but his arch-nemesis, Inspector Javert, an adjutant guard from Valjean’s days in prison, is still in close proximity. He comes to care for a young girl named Cosette, the daughter of Fantine, a dying, former worker in Valjean’s factory, and flees with her to Paris to avoid capture from Javert and to raise Cosette as his own per his promise to Fantine upon her deathbed. Come 1832, Cosette has grown and is being courted by Marius, a student heavily involved in the Paris Uprising of 1832. As the battle at the barricade lingers closely, so does a conclusion to the everlasting battle between Valjean, trying his best to remain hidden amidst his changing environments, and Javert, who has sworn to capture the fugitive even if the chase lasts until his own death.
Film versions from 1935, 1995, and 1998 have all depicted Hugo’s tale to some degree, but the most famous rendition of the classic tale comes from the Cameron Mackintosh produced stage musical which currently stands as the third longest running Broadway production of all time, holding sold out performances from 1987 to 2003. This Christmas, Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper brings the story to life for a fourth time on the big screen, but this time incorporating the beloved music and atmosphere that allowed the stage musical to win eight of its twelve Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Though a remarkable teaser was released months back, the recent release of an international trailer has given us a greater look at what to expect from the epic new presentation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Why I’m Sold:
1) Scope: Hugo’s novel is characteristically epic and it was a bold enough move in the mid and late 80’s to attempt a construction of it on stage, let alone to music. However, it worked and has remained even more critically acclaimed as time goes by. From the look of the trailer, Hooper has come to understand Hugo’s elaborations of Parisian architecture, history, love, justice, religion, etc. by creating a vastly open, gutted, and authentic world from the first half of the 19th Century. Everything from the costumes, to the sets, to the entire production design and visual aesthetic seems to be perfectly established. Short glimpses of Valjean’s grueling days in prison to a swift upward pull overlooking the sunrise on a French town (which I can only guess will lead into ‘At the End of the Day,’ if not possibly the film’s second half) are a testament to Hooper’s directorial versatility and manipulation, for Les Misérables is far different from his award guzzler, The King’s Speech, both content-wise and in the breadth of its environment and time. Plus, an extended runtime over two and a half hours seems entirely adequate (I’ve never seen a performance run shorter than 150 minutes)
2) The Music: A movie musical version of Les Misérables has never been attempted before, despite musical and film producer Cameron Mackintosh’s desire to do one since the 1990s, so this is surely going to be an event regardless of the outcome. The score’s musical compositions are, simply put, some of the best in all of Broadway’s history, with a number of tracks that have the lyrical and compositional power and vocal capacity to bring any hearted listener to tears. The brilliance of the tracks are how they create a parallelism between the acts and how characters are mirrored through the music; the entire work is simply breathtaking. Therefore, there is solace in knowing that not a single track from the original soundtrack has been discarded from the final cut, a rarity in musical adaptations since studios are usually concerned with runtimes, but Universal appears to have faith in the show’s massive following. Amazingly, the musical’s original composer, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and lyricist, Alain Boublil Jean-Marc Natel, have reteamed to write a brand new song for the film (entitled ‘Suddenly’), thus showing that Hooper and the studio see the importance in utilizing all, and more, of the original production’s music. In addition, director Hooper decided to have his actors sing all of the songs on set as opposed to in a studio and having them redubbed over the filmed sequences in post-production. This is a fiercely bold decision, but one that seems to have worked phenomenally. In this trailer, we get tidbits from ‘Castle on a Cloud,’ ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ ‘One Day More,’ and ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ and I cannot wait to hear how ‘Who Am I?’ ‘Master of the House,’ ‘Stars,’ ‘Bring Him Home,’ ‘Lovely Ladies’…really the entire score sounds come this December.
3) The Talent: If you haven’t already seen the marvelous playbill-inspired poster for Les Misérables or missed the last twenty seconds of the above trailer, which showcases the insane ensemble cast that has been compiled for this cinematic production, please allow me to list them for you: Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Eponine), Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen (Monsieur and Madame Thénardier). Jackman’s charismatic presence, hulking physicality, and inarguable vocal resonance would have made him the ideal choice for either Valjean or Javert, but his performing skills as a hero are far more polished while fellow Aussie Russell Crowe has the absolute perfect appearance for our antagonist. Hathaway, while maybe too pretty for the doomed Fantine, has proved that her voice has the raw emotion and wondrous hopelessness required for the role. Seyfried is supposedly classically trained operatically while both Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks are no strangers to stage musicals (Redmayne is a Tony winner and Barks played Eponine in both the West End and in the televised 25th Anniversary Concert). Finally, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen seamlessly forayed into big screen musicals when they co-starred in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd to very successful results. With the amount of performing and emotionality required for just about every single one of these key roles, we could be looking at numerous contenders for acting accolades, specifically Jackman, Hathaway and Barks. And back to Hooper’s decision to have the actors sing on set, a behind-the-scenes featurette covering this daring move was enough to excite me and nearly bring me to tears simultaneously (if it isn’t clear, I am fully behind Hooper on this one despite my belief that The King’s Speech is overrated and his Best Director win for that film was a huge mistake).There will always be skeptics, even I was one regarding Russell Crowe’s singing ability (but this trailer turned that right around), but I think Les Misérables’ talent is going to come in heavy hitting.
4) Well, it is my favorite musical of all time: I’ve seen between five and six productions of Les Misérables, two of which were on Broadway, and it is hands down the best musical I have ever seen. It accomplishes and captures so much over its average 165-minute length and it’s a show that requires highly talented performers. I have yet to see a variation of it without vocally astounding players. I’ve seen it without its traditional stage turntable and I’ve even seen it with an African-American Jean Valjean, but whatever the differences or changes may be, the stage musical never fails to bring me to tears at several points throughout its duration especially its powerful bang of a finale. Basically, I would be super excited for this film adaptation even if it wasn’t already going to be one of this winter’s biggest cinematic spectacles. From all that we’ve seen so far – a teaser trailer, the above trailer, still frames, Vogue’s gorgeous photography spread – Les Misérables looks like the stuff that true cinema is made of with huge award potential, including a predicted top choice for the Best Picture Academy Award.
So, what do you all think? Does Les Misérables look like all it’s cracked up to be, or did you dream a dream of something far better? Sound off below.
Article by Mike Murphy