Les Misérables Blu-ray/DVD

Studio: Universal

May 17, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Tom Hooper won an Academy Award for Best Director for his mind-numbingly average character study The King's Speech, the sort of film that was made for middle American parents traveling to megaplexes around holiday time. When it was announced that his follow up would be the long-awaited film adaptation of the beloved Broadway classic Les Misérables, it felt as though his terribly British sensibilities might be a good match for the built-in drama of the iconic musical. After all, generations of fans already know the story, characters, and songs, so adequately capturing the spirit of the show should be victory in itself. He accomplishes this, to an extent.

By now it's tiresome to talk about how Hooper cajoled his actors into doing live singing during each take, a technique rarely used by non-trained actors. He should be applauded for this sort of risk-taking, even though the novelty wears off extremely early during the film and eventually causes the sort of ingratiating experience that is the exact opposite of what Hooper is trying to achieve. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, particularly, succeed in using this device as a means to achieve full character realization. But even Jackman's nasal belting can only be tolerated for so long. What's more, Hooper seemed to have boxed himself into a stylistic corner by adopting this tricky technique: he is so focused on capturing the drama of the scenes that the camera rarely, if ever, cuts away from someone when they're singing. As a result, the film is overflowing with medium-sized close-ups, a repetitious effect that borders on comical as the film limps through it's nearly 3 hour run time.

There's also a problem with pacing. The story seems to be divided into two parts, with the opening half focusing primarily on character development and redemption, and the second attempting to place the story in a historical context. The problem here is that one does not seamlessly segue into the other. Jean Valjean and Fantine's identifiably intimate struggles with the class system, gendered expectations, and overcoming their past are the sorts of backseat stories that provide ample history lessons on their own. By the time we reach the full-blown revolution there's little to ground the characters we known within the grandiosity of war. Hooper doesn't so much as sacrifice one for the other as try to fit two dissimilar parts into one ill-fitting template. It doesn't work.

Still, fans of the original musical seemed to embrace this over-the-top spectacle. The Blu-ray release comes with a host of extras on the making of the film, the long process behind bringing the story from stage to screen, and a particularly illuminating feature on the process behind the live singing. (www.lesmiserablesfilm.com



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