The music of Les Mis found me through auditions and Lea Salonga's concert albums. There is some powerful, tuneful stuff, most of it needing phenomenal voices. So I also bought the 10th anniversary concert CD and the 25th. World class voices, unencumbered by blocking, props, set, the demands of cinematography or any of that acting stuff.
Many of my musical theater friends have seen and commented on the movie, and most of them said Anne Hathaway deserves an Oscar, Russel Crowe croaked his way through the songs, and Hugh Jackman did okay vocally.
I have never seen the show done on stage with all the trimmings. I have not read the book, and only vaguely knew the plot. To give you an idea of how vaguely, I kept wondering why they cut the part about the knitting.1
What I saw in the theater I was totally unprepared for, despite all the comments and reviews. Here's what I saw:
Director Tom Hooper chose acting instead of singing.
This was not Les Mis, The Musical, this was Les Mis, the stage drama, with occasional singing.
Anne Hathaway has major league pipes. I heard her sing the hell out of Fantine's number on a talk show a few weeks ago, can't find it online now. It was the concert version, sung with clarity and power. In the movie all of that is lost, but what we get in exchange is a believable scene with hints of her singing talent far overshadowed by her acting talent.
Russel Crowe I think does just fine with his musical numbers, he is actually allowed to sing a lot, but I'm pretty sure he is at the edges of his vocal range. He gets to wear a series of uniforms, increasingly ornate as he rises in rank. Again, the acting justifies the borderline singing.
Hugh Jackman (I will never know why he chose to keep his porn star screen name when he went legit) has some pipes too, but again and again Hooper has him emote instead of sing.
The show opens with a chain gang chanty followed by a full ensemble number. Both of those were thin and weak musically, but the visuals were superb. Okay, maybe the obviously artist-drawn galleons weren't very good, but the rest was.
And that brings me to another conundrum. There is a lot of scenery. Some of it is real, some is artist renditions. For the most part, indoor scenes did not match the fascades.
Cinematography mostly sucked, with flashes of brilliance here and there. Way too many close-ups where we really needed to see the whole scene. Hand-held cameras during the battle scenes are a total WTF/FAIL. The super-fish-eye lens used in the Empty Chairs scene made me want to throw up, but only after I had slapped the director and cameraman upside the head.
Audio is great. There were only three times where I reached for the non-existant REW button because I couldn't make out a word or two, the score never overpowered the dialog and I never needed to plug my ears, even during the battle scenes.
A highlight of the film for me was the acting of street urchin Gavroche played by Daniel Huttlestone, but his cockney accent was out of place among all the American accents. I see from IMDB he was plucked from a London production of Oliver!.
Another excellent child performance was by young Cosette, 10-year-old Isabelle Allen. She and Jackman totally clicked on screen. However, Amanda Seyfried who played older Cosette was insipid. There was no hint of the strength of the young orphan she had been. And her vibrato! She is one of the few characters who is allowed to sing out her solos in full voice, and she sounds like a chipmunk. There were several women in the cast who had better voices and were, to me, more attractive. Samantha Barks won my heart as the older Éponine, and was lucky enough to be allowed to sing On My Own without choking on emo. She was not so lucky with A Little Fall of Rain, again the sacrifice of music to make a more realistic scene.
There was some stand-out singing by Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, though both were a little inconsistent.
I am going to ignore Sasha Cohen and Helena Carter, except to say they were victims. Repulsive makeup and costumes, over-choreographed numbers, pushed way over the top. And neither of them were playing old enough for the parts by half.
There was a lot of repulsive costume and makeup in the show, mostly among the peons and prostitutes. Which is amusing because in most of their close-ups, Crowe, Jackman and Redmayne did not appear to be wearing any make-up at all. In his Empty Rooms close-up, you could count the freckles on Redmayne's face and the hairs in his wanna-be mustache.
I liked what they did with the finale sequence. Hathaway is allowed a little more vocal freedom. There was one minor puzzlement - why didn't Fantine have long hair in Paradise?
All in all, I give it 3 stars out of 5. Worth matinée.
1 That was in another revolution story, A Tale of Two Cities.