Neither the husband nor I have seen Les Miz the stage musical, I have seen DVD and tapes of the main parts of it, and we've both seen several variations of the straight film adaptation of the novel - over the years there have been many. I began reading Victor Hugo's 1,400 page novel (English translation) at New Year, my resolution is to read it all the way through. I've just finished Part One (covering the first 275 pages), and enjoying it, finding it so far an easy and comfortable read due in part, I guess, to Norman Denny's translation style.
My overall comment about this new film, as we left the cinema was: "I'm not sure whether I liked that or not....I'm glad to have seen it though. It wasn't bad, but there was something missing." Husband thought it was superbly made, with some great shots and angles, and some obvious difficulties which had to be overcome.
The film maker was able to show us scenes from strange angles and perspectives a stage presentation could never have approached. I enjoyed that part of the movie. There was an attempt at realism in the way the songs were sung live to camera, no lip-syncing or pre-recording, yet because of that I missed the grandeur of some of the show's famous "set piece" songs which seemed to be almost thrown away. That was a disappointment. I really didn't enjoy the "sung through" style: no straight dialogue at all. If the film maker had wanted to strive for realism it would have been better to make a straightforward, non-musical film of the novel - a better one than has ever yet been seen on screen, with all the new technological help, the best possible A-list actors in each key part, loyal to the descriptions in the novel, and who had no need to be able to carry a tune. Some of the musical's main themes could have been used in the background of certain scenes, as a nod to a relative.
Hugh Jackman wasn't my idea of Jean Valjean, far too good looking and he didn't age sufficiently during the movie; but he can sing a bit, which is obviously what got him the part. Russell Crowe looked more Jean Valjean-ish for me, but he can't sing - did his best with Javert though. Anne Hathaway as Fantine should've been blonde, much is made of her beautiful golden locks in the novel. Also, she should have sold her two front teeth according to Hugo, not two back teeth well out of camera's searching lens.
As it stands in this new film the best of the musical version is lost, and much nuance of the story itself is lost - in my opinion.
I guess one has to look on the four entities involved as completely separate and only loosely related: the novel, the film adaptation, the stage musical adaptation, and the film musical adaptation. There's something of value in each, and something lacking in each.
Every viewer or reader will identify some point of reference which, for them, is the key to the story. For some it might be the classic sin/mercy/suffering/redemption motif, closely linked to the teachings of the Christian church. For others "the terrible lot of a poor woman's life" motif, or the "love at first sight" motif, or the "ill-treated children" and "unfailing love of a father" motif, the "doggedly obsessed man of conscience, a policeman determined to catch a thief" motif or - and in my own case: the political theme: "downtrodden masses kept in poverty, suffering and need will at last rebel against the tyranny of the wealthy" motif.
Yes, my heart always beats a little faster when I hear:
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
I don't know how many of the 20 or so people in the cinema with us were weeping at any point during the movie. I wept more than once. Why? I knew the story, I knew the ending, there were no surprises. The music and lyrics, derided by several snobbish critics, do put a strong pull on the emotions, especially in tandem with the sufferings of those depicted in close detail on the big screen - their squalor and their pain, their striving to do the best they can in the face of it all, while constantly being kicked back.
Below: a favourite scene from the anniversary DVD when all the actors who have played Jean Valjean in countries around the world came together on stage for a Grand Finale. I love this - it encourages me think that because Victor Hugo's story has survived, still fresh, and loved by people all around the world, there is still hope for us all.