Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Movie Pinacle for 2012 - Les Miserables

What do you get when you mix one of the greatest books of the nineteenth century, fabulous music, an Academy Award winning director, and a cast of talented actors? You get Les Miserables, due in theaters December 2012.

I'm very glad that I had a chance to see Les Miserables on stage (in Denver) this last year so I have something to compare it to. I have followed this musical for many years, but aside from the music, this is adapted from one of my all time favorite books. I'm in the middle of attacking the unabridged version of Victor Hugo's novel. Not an easy thing when you are used to the spare and direct more modern writing style. But even when Hugo goes off on tangents he has a way with words that keeps me reading.

Les Miserables has been adapted many time. Many of the film adaptions have elected to end the story with Javert's suicide. I've seen those versions and they just don't cut it. The two best versions come to us from France. The 1958 version starring Jean Gabin (which I have only seen dubbed) and the 2000 version starring Gerard Depardieu. These both cover the complexity of the novel and go right to the end.

One problem with adapting this book is that a lot of the interesting story is not told directly. Jean Valjean first appears on the road as a parolee. Various different attempts have been made to integrate some of that information while omitting Hugo's many side tracks.

In the musical we have a very unique telling of the story, and the whole story. While a few characters are omitted, like Azelma and Marius's grandfather, and a few scene are gone, what it does do it drive right to the heart of the story Hugo was telling. Through the music these characters gain a dimension that it takes Hugo an epic half a million words to tell.

Some of the comments I have seen in the last day since the trailer was released are about the quality of the music. I have all the major recordings of Les Miserables. I have heard the various singers and these comments make me laugh (a sad sort of laughter at how petty and short sighted some people can be). The entire point of the songs in Les Miserables is not for the singers to belt out a performance like you would expect in a musical concert. These songs were meant to be acted with emotion. I have been less than impressed with a number of the "great" stars of Les Miserables. I have heard many better singers. But what they did do is nail the emotion. Well, I don't think there is any doubt that Anne nails the emotion. I hope the rest of the performances are so raw, so viceral, so real.

My first reaction to the trailer was to wonder how many awards this film is going to get. Just that short glimpse and I am sure that come award season early next year that this will be one of the films that will be contending for some of the most prestigious awards. The Tony's were nice, now for a few Oscars.

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