Thursday, January 31, 2013

Curmudgeon's Corner: Notes on Les Miserables: the movie, after reading the book

(Note: this post will have copious spoilers for both the movie and the book, and assume you have seen one or the other.)

Okay, I finally saw the movie Les Miserables and it was totally wonderful!

Les MisérablesI saw it right after embarking on -- and finishing -- a reread of the 1500-page brick! Normally, going back to the source text for me is a terrible idea when I see adaptations, but for this movie? It totally helped me appreciate the movie more! And after about the fifth time I said to my sister in reply to some point, "Ah, but you see, in the book --" she was all, "So, maybe you would like to write a post about this?" :)

In the movie, they interpolated a lot of lines that weren't in the original musical. (Note: I also have the Complete Symphonic Recording of the musical -- that is to say, I have the entire thing pretty much memorized, so I knew when they were adding stuff.) Most of these lines -- although sometimes they were kind of weird because they didn't have any meter, what happened there? -- to me, elucidated something that was drawn out in the book but wasn't clear in the musical, or contributed to further character development following the book.

Javert: Okay, do not even get me started on how I actually am very unhappy with both Crowe's singing (though, okay, whatever) and his interpretation of Javert (which is much more woobly than the book, in which Javert is quite a bit more harsh and unyielding and I DO NOT LIKE FILM JAVERT, although I do acknowledge that it is a perfectly valid interpretation and makes Javert more human! And see my notes on Marius! Though it makes his suicide a little more strange in context). However! There were lines added about how Javert wants to resign because he denounced M. le Maire as a convict, and I loved those added lines because it really does give Javert more character.

Valjean: I adored Hugh Jackman like anything! His interpolations: While I was not a huge fan of "Suddenly," the new song, as a standalone song, I really loved it because it brought out something that Hugo spends a great deal of time on in the book: the way that Valjean's life is transformed by having Cosette in it, that having something to love changes and redeems him. The other lovely thing was the couplet they gave him about how he has always feared the day a man would come to take Cosette away from him, because this is kind of a central conflict for Valjean in the book: that he has to save Marius despite, actually, loathing the guy (there's a line about how he's trudging through the sewers and gazing at Marius in hatred. It's awesome!) -- showing the struggles he has to go through.

Marius: Marius' character is basically completely different from the book, except that they're both lovesick kids. Marius in the book is extremely self-righteous and kind of a prig and actually not all that likeable. He basically talks to Eponine, like, once during the book, and doesn't know her at all. He doesn't consider any of the revolutionary college students his friends except for Courfeyrac. He is basically the cause of Valjean dying at the end (by giving him the cold shoulder once he finds out Valjean is a convict). I think Hugo had reasons for this, mind you! But in the movie, Marius is a nice kid who is friends with and cares about Eponine, who considers all the other students his friends and even his brothers. Normally (see Javert) I don't like changes in book canon, but here I love it, because movie Marius is quite a bit more likeable! (I know movie Javert is quite a bit more likeable too. Shut up.)

Eponine: Eponine, in the book, is a much more pathetic -- but also fascinating -- figure than in the musical. She is a street rat. She isn't pretty. She's ugly, dirty, has a raspy voice, is basically alive because it's too much trouble to die, but figures that one way or another that won't last long. She may or may not have something going on with Montparnasse (in addition to being in love with Marius). She tells Marius to go to the barricades (I think... this may happen in the movie too? Can't remember) because she figures this way if she can't have him, at least no one can have him -- but at the end is redeemed by her love for him. In the musical/movie, she doesn't get a whole lot to do besides be in love with Marius, but at least they gave a nod to her interior struggles in the movie, I think.

Cosette: I thought movie Cosette was pretty close to book Cosette, but neither gets a whole lot of screen time.

The Bishop of Digne: Looooooved that he showed up at the end; the book has a strong implication that the Bishop is present at Valjean's death, and thematically it makes a whole lot more sense than Eponine (although the trio with Eponine sounds really nice).

In conclusion, I LOVED THIS MOVIE SO MUCH!

What about you? Anyone else read the book? Did I forget to discuss anyone's favorite character?

27 comments:

  1. I haven't read the book but my friend did and she told me about some of the Javert/Marius changes. Right now I'm reading War and Peace for the year but maybe I'll try to get to Les Mis next year.

    I really enjoyed the movie and am a big fan of the musical as well-glad to see you mention the CSR!

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    1. You are in for a treat if you read the book, which I love and adore like anything, although Hugo is very fond of his digressions :) Though War and Peace is another good one! (I have to say I'm more partial to Les Mis, but I did read it first at a very impressionable age :) )

      Another CSR fan, YES!

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  2. Great review and contrast. It sounds like most of the changes were to make characters more palatable for modern audiences that don't want to have to look too deep to find something to connect with in a less than desirable character. I enjoyed the movie and found that Russell Crowe's singing helped me to hate the character more. Very strange choice. Maybe he was the director's nephew or something.

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    1. I also thought Crowe was an odd casting choice, especially given the usual musical casting, and given that all the other characters were cast fairly similarly to their musical castings (except for Marius, who was not quite as angsty as the classic Michael Ball recording -- but I very much liked Eddie Redmayne's interpretation).

      I think the Javert and Marius changes were to make characters a bit more palatable, yeah. I like what you say about finding something to connect with, because that's exactly my thought on why Marius does selfish unlikable things in the book -- because I think Hugo is saying that Marius is a mirror of us. Still, though, I liked sympathetic-movie Marius, and I am not sure they could have brought out that subtext in the movie.

      Valjean is extremely sympathetic in the book, and I think they brought that out more in the movie than the musical; I really really liked and agreed with all the Valjean changes :)

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  3. Great review! My friend just got the Les Miserables book. She is officially obsessed with it, and I am not surprised. Having been newly introduced to the Les Miserables subject, I have to say it's now my favorite musical. I saw the movie in theatre a week or two ago and I loved it! (Except for the very beginning which I can't fathom why...) Les Miserables has so many feels: sad, happy, shock... Basically everything! :D The book must be just as good. Though, I must ask: Were you able to pronounce all of the French words in the book? My friend is having trouble herself.

    I'm going to have to disagree with the whole not liking Javert part. He is definitely one of my favorite characters in the movie. His singing voice seemed a bit out of context... like it was a tad bit too modern (I guess). It was still decent, though. His personality seemed realistic based on the movie version.

    Also, I think Cosette was one of the more annoying characters. She wasn't bad by no means, but she just seemed perfect as a teen. As a kid, she seemed more 'legit' in the situation.

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    1. Oh! I loved the beginning! But there are personal reasons for this (I have a LOT of history with this musical) so I can't really talk rationally about it :)

      I love the book! It's a very different experience to read it -- it's full of digressions and Victor Hugo having feelings about things (Waterloo! Sewers!), and I might even recommend an abridged version for the first time around.

      I took several years of French in high school, so I have a fair idea of how to pronounce things, although my accent is atrocious.

      I'm coming around to Javert. It's a different interpretation, a more human interpretation, and you know how it is when you have an idea in your head... but I'm grumpily coming to acknowledge that my interpretation is not The Only One :)

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  4. I agree with this write-up. I wanted much more time for Cosette and for the priest. I felt Valjean died too soon. And the song Bring Him Home seemed misplaced somehow.

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    1. I know, the movie is 2 1/2 hrs long and afterwards I was all "I want MORE! Mooooore Hugh Jackman!"

      They moved a lot of songs around relative to the musical, which I think mostly worked -- I can't remember if "Bring Him Home" was one of them. I do think that it's not really suited for Jackman's voice; listening to the recording (uh yes I am OBSESSED) really brings out to me that he was straining to do that song.

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  5. I haven't read the book, but the musical is my absolute favorite musical of all time. I know every word to all the songs, so I noticed the changes they made, too. Some of the lines switched up because they changed the setting of some of the scenes.

    I'm amazed that so many people liked Jackman's performance. I was soooooo incredibly irritated by his voice. I couldn't stand it when he had long songs, which is sad, because he's such a great actor and he got the emotion so spot on. Just...the singing. Blah!

    I hate the thought of Eponine not being likable in the book. She's my favorite character! I guess I'll have to read it. It's on my list for this year anyway. Just gotta finish Anna Karenina first.

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    1. Ahahahaha, yes, so glad to meet another person who is so obsessed with the musical that you know when they switched all the scenes!

      I liked Jackman's ACTING very much, but -- and I see I forgot to mention it above -- his SINGING was nothing to write home about (though it was still better than Crowe's). Yeah, the soliloquies were a bit painful -- his acting carried it thorugh to some extent, but ouch, listening to "Bring Him Home" on the recording is awful.

      Oh, Eponine is VERY cool in the book; I think she's much more interesting and has a much more wonderful character arc! (And I think Les Mis is a much more interesting book than Anna Karenina, but I imprinted on it hard as a kid, so I am not at all impartial :) )

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  6. I haven't read the book yet but the musical is my all-time favorite musical. I know all the words so I, too, recognized when they changed up the lines to match the changed settings. It was weird but didn't bother me too much.

    Hugh Jackman bugged me though. His acting was great and I loved him as Valjean, but sadly, I found his voice incredibly lacking. It was so strained and reedy. Drove me batty every time he had a long song.

    I'm sad to hear that Eponine is not likable in the book. She's my favorite character. This book is on my list for this year. I just have to finish Anna Karenina first!

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    1. Oh, I should also say, once you read the book, if you are interested, I have several book posts over at charlie_ego.livejournal.com (books:les miserables tag). I'd love to know what you thought!

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  7. Nice review about the differences. Haven't read the book yet.

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    1. Glad you liked it! The book is awesome (though for a first reread I usually suggest an abridged version :) )

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  8. Just got the book haven't read it yet. The move looks good and want to see it.
    The review is awesome and makes me want to read the book now and make sure I see the movie.

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    1. I'm glad! I love the book and movie both so much :)

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  9. It sounds like the movie is a mix of the book and the musical. I was planning on seeing the movie and appreciate hearing what you thought. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, I definitely think it's a mix of the book and the musical. Hope you liked the movie!

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  10. I prefer the movie. The book is tough reading

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    1. It can be tough, especially the digressions (I have a post coming out on that tomorrow!)

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  11. I've wanted to see the movie, but this solidified this. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Oh good -- I hope you like the movie!

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  12. I have not read the book and wanted to before seeing the movie but just didn't have time. Can't wait to do my own comparison but yours was great. Even though I never read the book I hated Russell Crowe in it as well.

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    1. Hee -- glad to find another person who wasn't a huge fan of Crowe :)

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  13. I haven't read the book but I kind of want to. I've never read a book that long before so it might take me a while to get through it. I loved the movie! I know some people didn't like it because they thought the singing in the movie wasn't that good, but I still really enjoyed it. I was crying at the end of it, and I usually only cry in books.

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  14. Nice post! I really loved the movie but I also didn't like Javert's singing it sounds a little bit off, but all in all it was really captivating. I didn't expect that I would cry during the movie but surprisingly I did. Good thing they made Les Miserables into a movie because I don't think I can read the book, it looks complicated.

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  15. OH MY GOSH, this movie was amazing, agreed. The use of the symbolism and foreshadowing and the themes and just ADFKGAL EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS MOVIE, OKAY? JUST. AMAZING. I haven't read the book, and considering how huge it is, as you mentioned, I don't think I will anytime soon, considering summer reading and whatnot. Either way, I'm glad that the movie portrayed Valjean and Javert differently, based on what you said. Also, I didn't like Cosette, as she was such a weak character, so if Marius had sucked, too... Oy. Either way, I want to rewatch the movie now, and see the musical! Maybe someday I'll attempt to read the "brick" as you called it q:

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