Friday, March 22, 2013

Video review: "Les Misérables"

“Les Misérables” did not get the love it deserved.

Critics were respectful but not swooning. Audiences showed up but did not stampede the box office. It won Oscars in a couple of technical areas, but Anne Hathaway’s transcendent performance as Fantine is the only aspect of the film to win universal praise.

For me, it was the most emotionally transporting cinematic journey I took in 2012. This crusty old critic actually welled up several times watching it.

This the first time the stage musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel has made it to the screen, and it’s a pageant of songs, gorgeous costumes and sets, and actors pouring out their hearts.

You may have already heard about this aspect of production, but it’s still astonishing: all the singing you hear was recorded live on-set, as opposed to being dubbed in later from a studio (which is standard practice in Hollywood for dialogue, let alone song).

The story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an escaped criminal who redeems himself through helping others, though it earns him no reprieve from Javert (Russell Crowe), the wolfish lawman who hunts him.

Along his travels he encounters a gallery of characters, some pure and some foul. There’s Fantine (Hathaway), who resorts to prostitution to support her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). And the slimy opportunists the Thénardiers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen). There is Marius (Eddie Redmayne), the brave insurgent who loves Cosette and is in turn secretly loved by street urchin Éponine (Samantha Barks).

All the wondrous music from the stage version is there, along with one or two new songs composed specifically for the movie. The stars generally acquit themselves well in song, with Hathaway the clear standout.

Whether you’re a fan of musicals or not, “Les Misérables” hits a very high note.

The video is being released with an excellent spread of extras. Even the DVD version comes with a healthy serving, including feature commentary by director Tom Hooper and several featurettes focusing on the cast, production design and Hugo’s novel.

Upgrade to the Blu-ray/DVD combo and you add several other features, including the locations used during production and the battle scene. The high point is the section focusing on the challenge of delivering live singing performances on set.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3.5 stars

No comments:

Post a Comment