This certainly isn't the straight-forward adaption of Victor Hugo's famed literary classic that we saw in 1998. Instead, this is an all musical all the time adaption of the 'Les Misérables' stage play. Being an immensely popular stage musical, it was only a matter of time before someone threw a couple hundred million dollars at a big-budget movie adaption.
Tom Hooper takes to directing the musical, which boasts on set singing instead of music recorded in a sound studio later. While this is a break from the norm, it isn't the first time it has happened (see: 'Across the Universe'). Having the actors naturally sing on set provides the movie with realism that studio recording might not be able to recreate. Although, it also shines a light on the movie's most glaring fault.
We all know the story. Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is sentenced to 19 years hard labor after stealing a loaf of bread so his family wouldn't starve. He's spent the last two decades of his life performing back-breaking work under the scornful eye of Javert (Russell Crowe). After Valjean's release he comes to find an old priest who welcomes him into the monastery. Even though the priest has shown kindness, Valjean attempts to steal some silver. He's caught as he's fleeing and brought back to the priest. Instead of condemning Valjean, the priest forgives him by telling the guards that he meant for Valjean to take the silver. From that point on Valjean commits to reforming his life into something worthwhile.
It's a classic story, which resonates with countless fans of the novel and the play. The story is a sprawling epic which covers heavy themes like love, redemption, and sacrifice. The tale of Valjean is a beautiful one, but fans of the stage play in particular want to know how it measures up. Does it live up to the widely popular play?
What I found that I liked, is what Tom Hooper caught the most flak for. Hooper's camera decisions work wonders here, even if many people felt the need to condemn him for them. He uses ultra-close-ups on the actors faces as they're belting out their lines. This is something you're rarely privy to when watching a stage play. The sheer distance of the audience from the actors on stage makes it difficult to discern slight facial expressions. Here everything is on display. The grief, the anguish, and the pain. It's all there. It may not be pretty to look at, but it sure gets the story's point across.
Sadly, the movie is heavily front-loaded with the best performances. Anne Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is one of the most touching cinematic sequences I saw during all of last year. She isn't in the movie for long, since she finds herself in the perpetually doomed role of Fantine, but her time in the movie isn't soon forgotten.
The most glaring fault of the movie is casting Russell Crowe for Javert. Maybe in an adaption of the novel Crowe would've made a fine Javert. However, here he's asked to sing, a lot. It's quite easy to tell that unlike the rest of the cast, Crowe hasn't had much formal musical training. Much of his singing is flat and lifeless, which drags down the second half of the movie because it's all about him and Valjean.
With Crowe hindering the effectiveness of the second half, 'Les Misérables' falters ever so slightly. Though, the rest of the cast and their signing abilities buoy it up. Especially, Hathaway and Jackman. They're truly magnificent in this.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Universal release comes in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. This 2-disc set comes complete with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The discs have been packed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase which comes with a slipcover. It's labeled as a Region A release.
Universal's 1080p transfer of 'Les Misérables' is just what you'd expect it to be, pretty much perfect. The visuals here are absolutely stunning. From the crashing waves of the shipyards where Valjean is imprisoned to the rolling country hills that he traverses to find a new life, this movie has some big time production values that are perfectly rendered on screen.
The beginning of the film is predominately dark. Stark shadows and low light are the movie's setting. I first saw 'Les Misérables' on a DVD screener from the studio during awards season. This is the first time I've seen it how it was meant to be seen and it's an absolutely huge improvement. The blacks are perfectly refined. Deep inkiness is persistent in every shadow. However, even though the shadows engulf so much, there is still a wealth of visual information left over. Edges are neatly defined in the shadows. No crushing or banding exists. Even details as small as Fantine's hair strands can be seen waving in the darkness.
Hooper's intended close-ups reveal a ton of fine facial detail. Strained faces, furrowed brows, and anguished age lines are all present and accounted for. Pores, facial hair, dirt, scrapes, bruises, and blood is as clear as is could be. There isn't any glaring artifacting going on either. This is as smooth and as splendid as Blu-ray transfers come.
This is where you'd really expect 'Les Misérables' to shine. Universal has provided an absolutely stellar DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that truly engulfs the viewer. The weight of the music and the lyrics being belted by the actors is tremendous. The front channels provide a very loud and very clear rendition of the famous songs being sung.
Ambient sound is expertly mixed here. The extra side channels provide for some amazing surround sound. Whether it be the cat calls of the working girls during Fantine's segment or the hollering of the French revolutionaries, the side speakers offer an added dimension that truly encompasses the listener. The rear channels are replete with even more ambient sound. We say it a lot, but I only say it when it's true: 'Les Misérables' provides a "like you're there" listening experience.
Every lyric is crystal clear. LFE is beautifully deep. Right from the outset, during the opening number, your sub-woofer will be working overtime. The deep rumbling of the bass in that song is fantastic to hear and feel. This is an, all around, spectacular audio experience.
'Les Misérables' was one of my favorite films last year. I know that it received a lot of backlash as the award shows rolled around, but I found the entire movie to be an enthralling experience. It isn't without its faults though. Russell Crowe is outmatched by the immense singing talent surrounding him. Anne Hathaway destroys them all though. Her performance alone is worth the money. With absolutely beautiful video and audio this one comes highly recommended.