‘Les Misérables’ (1998)



Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Better as Musical

So, a couple days ago, I went and saw the new ‘Les Misérables’ musical starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway and loved it. It brought me back to the good ol’ days of watching Liam Neeson in the title role back in 1998. The only thing is, this film wasn’t made as a musical, and that may upset a lot of viewers who are used to the musical as being the sole version of the story. There is a justifiable reason for that, but there is also a justifiable reason to like the dramatization without a musical. First of all, the story itself was based off of a book written by Victor Hugo, and correct me if I am wrong, but the book wasn’t a musical, seeing how it wasn’t a book of lyrics. Just try to keep that in mind.

To give you a quick recap of the story, I’m just going to plagiarize off of my last review of the 2012 musical “Les Misérables”, as it has the same story, lets be honest, so here we go. The story revolves around the French revolution and it centers around a convict that breaks bail named Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson). He breaks bail when he realizes he will never be accepted into society, and that he will never gain a career. Changing his name, he becomes the mayor of Paris, France years later. When he meets a factory worker named Fantine (Uma Thurman), he feels responsible when she is tossed out into the streets and forced to become a prostitute. He devotes himself to find her poorly treated daughter (Claire Danes), and raise her as his own all the while escaping from Javert (Geoffrey Rush), a police officer who devotes himself to finding Valjean and putting him back to slavery. All the while, the French revolution is going on, which is a monumental aspect to the story.

Okay…there are parts to this plot that don’t directly transfer from both stories. There are added elements to the musical and added elements to the Liam Neeson rendition. What precisely do I mean by that? Well for example, Anne Hathaway played Fantine in the newer film, but didn’t have as big as a role that Uma Thurman did in this (which is a crying shame). Secondly, details were lost in the newer film, like the fact that Fantine and Valjean couldn’t read, helping Javert get closer to the truth about who he is. Then again, the musical is an hour longer than this film, because it focused on some major storylines, like Éponine and the love triangle with Cosette and Marius. It had a lot less of the French Revolution in this rendition, and the musical excelled in portraying emotions. This was better at maintaining a dramatic, more realistic side.

There is no question about it, the actors in this film are contrived of a handful of brilliantly talented individuals. Liam Neeson has proved himself time in and time out again. He knows his craft well, and can act the phonebook. Geoffrey Rush has also been in front of the camera for a long time now, maturing and bettering his craft. He was also great in the film. Uma Thurman, she’s a good actress, not the best, but she did an excellent job here. Claire Danes has more shown her face more recently with the Showtime hit show “Homeland”, so her early role here, while good, wasn’t focused on deeply enough to show off her talents.

So why is a musical better fit for the story? Well simply put, the story is a very emotional one, and you may have a lot of people fighting with you to get their point across. It is a good story period, but if you can tell the story more powerfully through song, than that is something special, as I have mentioned in my review of the new film. That special quality is lost in this film. At the same time, we get to relax and not hear three hours of almost constant singing. Instead it is shorter, and has some great performances to get a contrasting opinion.

In the end, I prefer the musical. The musical blew my mind, it was beautiful and captivating, it brought us into the characters heads like it should have. It wasn’t as memorable as say, “Phantom of the Opera“, but for a few of the songs? It may have your attention where this film unfortunately lacks. It tries, but doesn’t quite…get there. Don’t get me wrong, I do like it, and if you don’t like musicals and still want to see the story, this is perfect. It all depends on preference.  Check it out!

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