Thursday, 3 January 2013

Les Miserables Review

I'm not normally a fan of musicals.  I find that they often don't accurately represent the emotion that traditional acting can bring out in a story.  After all, songs usually rhyme and are more poetic.  That can make it more difficult to tell a story.  So, it's a pretty big deal when you can tell such a grand story almost exclusively through song.  (I wasn't overly familiar with the story.  I did have to read Jean Valjean in grade 8 and act out the candlestick stealing scene as a class project.  I also remember reading an adaptation in Mad Clobbers the Classics. But that's the extent - maybe I should pick up the Victor Hugo novel sometime.)

I wanted to see this not because it's a musical but because it has some very good actors and looked like a very grand production.  It doesn't disappoint.  There is a lot of emotion throughout the whole story.  I may have liked it better if it had just been a film based on the book rather than a film based on a stage musical that is based on a fairly epic book.  So I was a bit torn.  On the one hand, they can use music combined with majestic visuals to really bring out the emotion.  And music can create tone in a film better than even the best dialogue delivery.  On the other hand, in telling an epic story exclusively through song, they limit themselves to using lyrics and poetry.  How do you find a balance?

In Les Miserables, they do it by sacrificing some of the poetic aspects of song in favour of exposition.  There are times when the songs resemble Alanis Morissette at the height of her pretentiousness when her songs didn't have to have rhyme or follow any kind of rhythm.  But, even when it does that, the emotion added by the actors makes you ignore it completely and it almost becomes like spoken word rather than song.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that the songs were done live rather than overdubbed so it was like delivering traditional dialogue for the actors.  The result is one extremely powerful movie where you come out exhausted and entertained at the same time.

The breathtaking sets, superb costumes and makeup, and its heart-wrenching grip on the viewers' emotions make this a "must see it."

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