Friday, January 04, 2013

Les Miserables the Movie: How Bad Does It Get?

I first heard and saw the Les Miserables movie trailer in November 2012, and despite my love for the musical, I did not think highly of the movie version.

And I was right.

I only decided to watch the movie because I wanted to know how bad it was, and hoped that I was totally wrong, so that I could enjoy the movie.

And I was right.

I read about reviews ever since the movie premiered on Christmas Day. I even sampled the movie soundtrack and heard Russell Crowe's painfully expressionless singing, so that I can be mentally prepared with the quality of the production.

And so after 158 minutes, I left the movie theatre without disappointment.

I was right. The movie is bad.

Most reviews I came across talked about the main cast vocal performances, so I shall say no more. Shame on the casting director on casting Javert. The rest are fine, though could be better. My wife didn't like the voice of Hugh Jackman, but otherwise, his singing is well controlled. Our favourite scene is the Master of the House

Frankly, I do not like the overall vocal directions. It's too dramatic. There is a reason why the songs are sung and not spoken. They might as well play the minus-one soundtrack and get the actors to speak the lyrics dramatically. Nevertheless, I commend the main cast for delivering the director's intention. So I don't blame the cast. I put the blame on the director and the producers.

As for the cinematography, it's another disaster. It does not lift the movie at all. I recalled watching countless movies and how the camera sweeps and editing give me goose bumps and brings my emotions to great heights. And come on, with such glorious music and libretto like Les Miserables, you can't go wrong. But the movie did just that. In the next few paragraphs, I shall share some of the "fail" instances.

So, the director wants to shoot close up on the actors, some doing a single take with the entire song. Again, I commend their performances. But I don't get emotionally aroused. It's as good as me going to a theatrical production of Les Mis, holding a camcorder, walking around the stage and filming the cast up close while they are performing. They sure sing darn well, but terrible video capture. Maybe there is some artistic meaning behind the way the director shoots the performance, but I don't appreciate it. And I didn't even make noise on the frequent out-of-focus moments. Rather than being intentional, I am inclined to think that the director had to use the take with bad focus because it was the best take.

And why did the director want to show Javert's feet treading at the edge of the building? And the director had to show that when Javert jumped to his death, he had to hit on something hard and his lifeless body pulled away by the currents to show that indeed HE DID NOT SURVIVE - NO PART 2 SURPRISES! Faintz... where is the artistic execution that the stage version managed?

And the way Enjolras died in the movie. OK, they are seeking reference from the staged version, but it just looked so comical that he died hanging off the balcony. And that scene was cut to the next barely after a second, perhaps the director knew it looked ridiculous. This death moment was supposed to be rather memorable in the staged version. I mean, if the director decides not to glorify his death, fine, but why re-enact the scene with reference from the staged version, and at the wrong location (he's supposed to die on the barricade, not at a balcony).

At the end of the day, some musicals are not meant to be dramatised into a movie. Or maybe they needed a better director. Whatever the case, there is no way they allow Les Miserables to be remade. Nevertheless, I'm sure the movie has achieved its purpose, which is to make money, more than to do justice to the musical spirit.

Les Miserables is one movie that I will never ever want to watch again. Like, ever.


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