Les Misérables [Blu-Ray] Tom Hooper

Les Misérables [Blu-Ray] Tom Hooper
4
Generally speaking, filmed musicals tend to work better in a comedic or romantic context, being exaggerated and melodramatic by sheer virtue of being sung and deliberately performed. It's not that this is a rule of thumb — Lars von Trier certainly challenged this concept with Dancer in the Dark — but the theatricality of a musical makes human drama, or tragedy, awkward and even laughable, at times, in a cinematic context, since the actors are always directly in our faces rather than afar, on stage. This is often the case with Tom Hooper's very literal, uninspired and generic adaptation of Les Misérables. Though Hooper discusses his (self-proclaimed) revolutionary approach to filming a musical — wherein the singing is authentic, done in the moment of the performance — in the extended Blu-Ray "Making of," he never mentions any other motivations beyond the superficial. This isn't much of a surprise, since this story of passion, cyclic historical folly and retribution merely checks the plot points of the source Victor Hugo novel, reiterating the musical numbers of the stage show verbatim. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) turns to God after a priest shows him some goodwill when he's released from jail, but is unable to escape the perpetual arbitrary nature of the law, as embodied by police official Javert (Russell Crowe), which leaves him in a state of flux. He builds an empire and eventually takes on raising young Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) after letting her mother, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), lose her job and turn to prostitution, but is always forced to confront the hypocrisy of Christian kindness and the strength in beliefs that others have. The only genuine distinction here is the protracted focus on the so-called French Revolution (actually a rebellion 40 years later stemming from economic hardship and a cholera outbreak), noting the cyclical nature of uprisings and political exploitation throughout the years. Passion is the key element with Cosette's love interest, Marius (Eddie Redmayne), doing the standard student bitching and turning his youthful angst to the streets, while Valjean perpetually seeks redemption from God and Javert enforces his idea of rightness. It's all filmed in a circular, poorly planned manner, with every scene beginning with a wide-open crane shot of period architecture and then moving into grubby, handheld close-ups of actors screaming at the camera. Hooper's decision to shove the camera in the faces of those singing and leave it stationary for extended periods of time is awkward and alienating at best, just as the singing of exposition ("I am Javert and I am a man of the law") is outwardly laughable. And since everyone is taking everything so seriously, it's hard not to snicker at Crowe's vocal similarities to Hootie and the Blowfish or the rapid transformation of Fantine from single working mother to bald, toothless whore. It would be hard to deny the intensity of Hathaway and Jackman's performances, but they might be better appreciated on the stage, or in a film that actually has elements, and an understanding, of the medium. Like the works of Rob Marshall, Hooper's pointless rendition of Victor Hugo's famous story is filmed theatre at its most abrasive, lacking grace and subtlety, with no humour, no matter how hard Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen try to add levity. The supplemental material on the Blu-Ray expands upon the original novel and the origins of the story, offering a full hour of behind-the-scenes information. Everyone is very peppy, positive and loves talking about how "once in a lifetime" a film like this is. Although, for most of us, there's really nothing "once in a lifetime" about Les Misérables, a story that has been adapted countless times, with only slight variations. (Universal)