wed 17/07/2024

DVD: Les Misérables | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Les Misérables

DVD: Les Misérables

Fine filmmaking and decent performances work hard to redeem an infantile musical

Les Misérables: makes Lloyd Webber look like Sondheim

Fans of this bewilderingly popular musical, and they are legion, will not be disappointed. Director Tom Hooper knows how to tell a fast-moving tale that makes light of the final running time (originally 158 minutes, slightly shorter in this DVD release, which offers no extras. Those who went to the film more than once will, I'm told, miss a couple of scenes).

The lighting is appropriately lugubrious, most of the settings convincing – though occasionally there’s too much dependence on CGI – and famously the singing actors perform their numbers on set, often in long takes. Casting is strong, emotions run high and there are some vocal surprises, mostly pleasant.

Hugh Jackman as Valjean in the film of Les MiserablesThe problem – and again it never seems to worry the passionate devotees – is the score. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s nursery numbers are matched by Alain Boublil’s lyrics, appropriately infantile as translated by Herbert Kretzmer with a vocabulary and a rhyme scheme only a 10-year-old should be proud of. Worst are the recitatives’ aspirations to opera, standing in the same kind of relation to the real thing as Paul Potts (remember him?) singing tenor arias. So we shouldn’t be too hard on Russell Crowe belting Javert's villainous threats on two notes with ill-fitting stresses; we shouldn’t blame the noble Hugh Jackman (pictured above) as protagonist Valjean for having to excurt, especially in the excruciating “Bring Him Home”, into a high tenor when his natural voice is that of a Howard Keel baritone (such memories of his Curly in the National Theatre’s Oklahoma!).

Should we really shed tears for Anne Hathaway’s admittedly impressive “I Dreamed a Dream” when all we know of Fantine is her humiliation in a first half-hour of ludicrously overdone suffering (I thought I’d come in half way through the film)? Can we take any of the cardboard figures' trials and tergiversations seriously, hard as they try, when there’s so little musical characterization to cling on to?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the literate, well-crafted musical. But despite sophisticated orchestrations by Anne Dudley and Stephen Metcalfe, this makes Lloyd Webber look like Sondheim, whose Sweeney Todd sets up its dark story with a hundred times more skill. That’s the film to watch for the skilful manoeuvres between dialogue and song of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (coping with similar make-up but also painfully unfunny material here). No doubt Hooper would have made as good a job of it as Tim Burton. But here his silk purse barely conceals the musical’s origins as a particularly repulsive kind of sow’s ear.

Hooper's silk purse barely conceals the musical's origins as a particularly repulsive kind of sow's ear


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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