Saturday, January 12, 2013

LES MISERABLES

Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried,
Samantha Banks, Helena Bonham Carter


Palace, IFC Cinema 2 (Hong Kong)




Hong Kong - It was the first day of 2013 and for want of something to do, I suggested we watch the most hyped film "Les Miserables".   The 6pm screening was fully booked so we settled for the 7:10pm showing even though our seats were in the very front row.

My sister and I are big fans of the musical. We saw it 3 times when it was staged in Singapore, years ago. We know all the songs, bought the CDs and the souvenir items.  So I was really eager to see how it would unfold in its film version.

I do remember watching another film starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean in the late 1990s but it wasn't a musical.  I also saw the French film version with the late Jean Paul Belmondo impressively cast as Jean Valjean that wasn't a musical either which was shown once on TV 5 Monde (The French  TV Channel).

Jean Valjean is usually portrayed by an older man who is known for his robust strength and stamina so seeing Hugh Jackman as prisoner 24601 didn't really register well with me. The Aussie actor is my age for Pete's sake!

The film directed by Tom Hooper had all the grand making of an epic. The set design were magnificent and it really took you back to the French Revolution era. The costumes, the squalid surroundings were also authentic. The extreme close up of the main characters as they sang their hearts out was a nice touch.

But sad to say, even though I tried my best to like the film, it did not live up to my expectations. It is without a doubt a delicate procedure to turn a much loved staged musical into a film.   What may seem poetic on the stage came out rather silly or trivial in the film.  For instance, the young revolutionaries hiding behind the barricades and fighting the entire French army don't seem like heroes so much as spoiled brats getting slaughtered for no good reason.  Plus the barricades itself was too thinly assembled it didn't pose much of a threat, did it?

The pacing of the songs were too fast. They didn't evoke their contemplative state. The actors did a good job in memorizing all those songs and then singing them live during each take. But for some, (ehem Russell Crowe) you would notice that he was very consciously aware of singing the songs well instead of putting up an emotionally charged performance. Sure he can carry a tune but he did not sing from his heart.  On the other side of the spectrum, Hugh Jackman sang every note with heartfelt poignancy.  Not necessarily a good thing either because he had a tendency to over-sing the tunes, for lack of a better word.

In conclusion, "Les Miserables" was an OK film.  I was glad to hear the familiar songs but unfortunately, I wasn't overwhelmed by it. 

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