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Les Miserables (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 10, 2012 by  



The 1998 film “Les Miserables” may not be the same storyline that people watched in a musical, nor is it exactly what the original Victor Hugo novel had featured with its many characters and longer storyline.  But to create a film adaptation of “Les Miserable” for a two hour film, it’ s not an easy task.  Yet, filmmaker Billie August and writer Rafael Yglesias were both able to create a film that may be different from the original novel but yet manages to be exciting and compelling.  “Les Miserables”, the 1998 film adaptation is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1998 Mandalay Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Les Miserables

FILM RELEASE: 1998

DURATION: 134 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English, French and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Portuguese Dolby Digital Surround, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (For Volence and For Some Sexual Content)

Release Date: December 11, 2012

Directed by Billie August

Novel by Victor Hugo

Screenplay by Rafael Yglesias

Produced by James Gorman, Sarah Radcluffe

Co-Producer: Caroline Hewitt

Music by Basil Poledouris

Cinematography by Jorgen Persson

Edited by Janus Billeskov Jansen

Casting by Leo Davis

Production Design by Anna Asp

Art Direction by Peter Grant

Costume Design by Gabriella Pescucci

Starring:

Liam Neeson as Valjean

Geoffrey Rush as Javert

Claire Danes as Cosette

Hans Matheson as Marius

Christopher Adamson as Bertin

Tim Barlow as Lafitte

Timothy Bateson as Banker

Veronika Bendova as Azelma

David Birkin as Courfeyrac

Reine Brynolfsson as Captain Beauvais

Patsy Byrne as Toussaint

Kathleen Byron as Mother Superior

Vaclav Chalupa as Andre

Ian Cregg as Feuilly

Ben Crompton as Grantier

Victor Hugo’s stirring novel of redemption and revolution is brought to life by the artistry of director Billie August and his brilliant cast. Liam Neeson stars as Jean Valjean, a heartless convict who is transformed by a single act of mercy. Uma Thurman is Fantine, the vulnerable prostitute who begs Valjean to raise her only child, Cosette (Claire Danes). And Oscar®-winner Geoffrey Rush (Best Actor, Shine, 1996) is an ambitious policeman determined to return Valjean to prison. A truly epic film, LES MISÉRABLES is Magnificent! A compelling and powerful human drama with terrific performances by Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush.

“Les Miserables”, the popular musical and play that has entertained many since its premiere in London back in 1985.

But “Les Miserables” (which translates to “The Wretched” or “The Poor Ones”) goes back even further.  More than 100 years into the past, when it was first written by Victor Hugo as a French historical fiction novel in 1862.  Considered as one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, the film has been entertaining generation after generation from its first film (“Victor Hugo et les principaux personnages des misérables”) back in 1897 courtesy of the Lumiere Brothers and countless adaptations since.

But its first big budget film adaptation was in 1998 courtesy of a film directed by Billie August (“House of the Spirits”, “Pelle the Conqueror”) and a screenplay by Rafael Yglesias (“Fearless”, “From Hell”) which was loosely based on Hugo’s popular novel.  As the film adaptation was similar to Hugo’s novel,  some characters who had a more prominent role in the book were removed entirely or their presence lessened in the film version as the primary focus is on the character of Jean Valjean.

In December 2012, a new British film for “Les Miserables” was released in theaters, but where this version of the film was a musical, the 1998 film was not.  And now, the 1998 version of the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

“Les Miserables” begins with the character Jean Valjean (portrayed by Liam Neeson, “Batman Begins”, “Taken”, “Schindler’s List”, “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace”), a convict who has been released from prison on parole after serving 20-years of hard labor for stealing.

He needs a place to stay temporarily and the Bishop Myriel offers him to sleep and eat at his home for the day.  Valjean explains to the Bishop that he intends to be a new man and promises that he will.

But late that night, Valjean steals the silverware and tries to flee but is caught by the bishop, which he beats and flees.  But Valjean is caught by the police and returned back to the Bishop’s home.  But instead of having Valjean arrested and sent to prison again, the Bishop gives him a chance by giving him his expensive silverware and candlesticks  and reminds him of his promise to become a new man.

Fastforward nine years later and Valjean is now a changed man with faith in God, a wealthy industrialist named Vigau who helps the people in his town and also the new Mayor.    New to the city is a new police officer named Javert (portrayed by Geoffrey Rush)  in charge of keeping the peace.  And the first thing he needs to do is meet with the mayor of the city to discuss his position.

Meanwhile, at one of the factories that Valjean owns, a woman named Fantine (portrayed by Uma Thurman) accidentally drops a letter that is meant for the guardians of her young daughter Cosette. It is revealed that Fantine has a daughter out of wedlock (which is frowned upon by society) and is fired for lying to her employer for having a child.  But Fantine desperately pleads for her job because she needs to send money to her ill Cosette.  But because the factory follows the rule of not hiring people who can corrupt the workers, Fantine is fired.  And unable to pay for rent or send money back home, Fantine has no choice but to become a whore (prostitute).

When Javert meets with mayor for the first time, Valjean is shocked because Javert was one of the guards at the prison that he came from and tries to keep his true identity a secret from Javert. And immediately, Valjean withdraws all his money and buries it, just in case he needs to escape.

But when Javert sees Valjean save a man who had a wagon fall on top of him, the strength and facial expression that Valjean has, suddenly makes Javert remember Jean Valjean of prison.

Immediately, Javert suspects Jean Valjean and goes to Paris to renounce him as mayor, as Javert feels that no man can be reformed and no matter how much he changes, he is a wolf’s in sheeps clothing.  But because there is no proof that the mayor is Jean Valjean, his superior tells him that he can’t renounce him until an investigation is done.  And Javert is intent of arresting Valjean.

Meanwhile, Fantine is struggling as a whore.  Not making much money, one day, a group of men throw snow inside her only dress and she tries to fight and defend herself.  But Javert who sees the commotion arrives and instead of arresting the men, he slaps and arrests Fantine and lets the men go.

Disgusted by this action, one of the officers runs and tells the mayor of what had happen, and immediately, the mayor comes to free Fantine but a argument of power between the mayor and Javert takes place and the mayor exercises his power and tells Javert to leave and also releasing Fantine  from custody.  Fantine blames the mayor for her problems and for her losing her job and afterward, she collapses.

Shocked by this, Javert nurses Fantine back to health and finds out about her daughter Cosette.  The mayor tries to do all he can to bring Cosette home but instead, her current guardians, the Thenardiers, corrupted innkeepers keep asking for more money.

Meanwhile, Javert who is disgraced from being released by the mayor, apologizes to him for renouncing him to his superiors in Paris.  But their investigation showed that a man named Jean Valjean has been arrested and will now face court hearings.  Hearing this, Valjean is disheartened to see a man suffer like he had for no reason, a man guilty just because he is being accused of being Jean Valjean.   The mayor gives Javert another chance at being the chief police officer in the city, but immediately he goes to the court hearing of the man being accused of being him.

As all prisoners point towards the man as being Jean Valjean, the mayor reveals to everyone that he is the former convict Jean Valjean and proves it by identifying all scars and tattoos on the prisoners in the courtroom.   And shocks everyone for the mayor’s revelation.

Immediately, Javert goes to Fantine who is dying.  Fantine has Jean Valjean promise to her that if anything happens to her, he will take care of her daughter Cosette.  Which he agrees to do.  But entering the house is Javert who knew that the mayor was Jean Valjean and has come to arrest him.  But as the arguing escalates, the stress sends Fantine to her death and upset by what Javert had done, Jean Valjean handcuffs and beats him.

Javert escapes to the Thenardiers to find and get Cosette and Javert makes it a mission of his to capture Jean Valjean.  But once again, Jean Valjean manages to escape with Cosette into a monastery (which does not allow police to enter) where the two will live for ten years.

Fastforward ten years later and Cosette (portrayed by Claire Danes, “Homeland”, “Romeo + Juliet”, “My So Called Life”) is wanting to get out of the convent and live outside of the church and see Paris.  For her happiness, Jean Valjean agrees and the two start their new lives together in the city of Paris helping the poor.  And this is where she meets Marius (portrayed by Hans Matheson, “Clash of the Titans”, “Sherlock Holmes”), a revolutionist who is working with the poor to fight and revolt against the King.   Both fall in love, but Jean Valjean forbids it.

Meanwhile, as Javert is keeping his eyes on Marius and stopping the revolutionists, he is still determined to capture Jean Valjean.

But will Jean Valjean and Cosette avoid Javert?

VIDEO:

“Les Miserables” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1).  Part of me was wondering if this film would look soft and how the clarity would look compared to the original DVD release.  And I was quite pleased with how the film looked overall.  During the outdoor sequences, especially during the parade, the scene looked vibrant and colorful.  Indoor scenes were well-lit, even though the film was trying to capture certain scenes with less lighting, I didn’t see any noise during those scenes.  Closeups on the faces of the characters were well-detailed and clarity was much more apparent in the closeups of the scenes vs. its older DVD counterpart. Cinematography by Jorgen Persson (“My Life as a Dog”, “The House of Spirits”) was beautifully done!

Overall, picture quality was very good and I noticed no artifacts, banding or aliasing.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Les Miserables” is presented in English, French and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Portuguese Dolby Digital Surround Sound.  The film is not a musical, so dialogue the film is primarily dialogue driven.  Until the film gets to the scenes of the parade and revolt, the surround channels are then utilized for crowd ambiance but also gunfire. A musical score by Basil Poledouris (“Starship Troopers”, “The Hunt for Red October”, “Conan the Barbarian”, “Robocop”) is also featured throughout the film.  But for the most part, the majority of the film is dialogue driven through the front and center-channels.

Subtitles are in English SDH, English, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Les Miserables” comes with the following special feature:

  • A First Look at Les Miserables – (3:39) A short special feature featuring interviews with the cast of “Les Miserables”.

EXTRAS:

“Les Miserables” comes with an UltraViolet code which allows you to download the movie to your computer and select Apple and Android devices and stream to computers, tables or smartphones.

I was very fortunate to be introduced to “Les Miserables” back during my high school years.  As a person who took part in theater and one who enjoyed singing, I fell in love with the “Les Miserables” soundtrack and of course, the musical itself.

But when I heard that “Les Miserables” was being adapted into a film, I didn’t know how they could do it.  As TV series before (and after) the 1998 film had to be shown as a mini-series because of its number of characters and how big the story is, there was just not much you can do with a 2 hr. film, unless a lot of storyline is cut out of the film.

But upon watching the film for the first time, many years ago, the focus on the character of Jean Valjean would make sense.  Eliminating the musical segments, Cosette not playing a major role, until she is older was a major change, not showcasing Eponine or Azelma changes the story a lot and most importantly, by not focusing too much on the love between Marius and Cosette especially the involvement of the Thernardiers towards the end.  The story has changed a lot for the film adaptation.

While I know purists who loved the musical or the novel may have cried foul that the story was changed, I felt that to make “Les Miserables” to a film without any sequels or to make it last over 3 hours long, to keep things within budget, important decisions of what trim had to be made.  And in order to create a modified storyline of the novel without these characters, major changes had to be made.  And for that, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias was able to successfully write a film that tries to keep the heart and soul of “Les Miserable” but also to keep the image of Jean Valjean as not only as a hero but a compassionate man who was able to change his life from an ex-convict to a mayor and as an industrialist who gave people a chance., because even he himself was given a second chance to change his life.

Liam Neeson did a wonderful job of playing the former convict, turned good guy and later on, father.  This was a complex character which Neeson played with efficacy.  But with Neeson highlighting his skills, you need an antagonist to match up with him and Geoffrey Rush played the role of Javert amazingly well.  A conceited man, a stubborn man and a driven man, obsessed with catching Valjean, Rush did an amazing job portraying this role.

While hardcore “Les Miserables” fans may also be ticked that the storyline of Cosette and Marius was changed drastically, writer Rafael Ygleasias was able to show that the two characters love one another, but also to show the relationship between Cosette and her papa Valjean. But the changes made for this film adaptation was to inspire hope but also to bring things full circle with a new storyline that shapes the final half of the film.  But Claire Danes was able to take Cosette’s character and showcase a teen who has found love, while Hans Matheson was able to portray the role of a young man, so much in love, but also a man dedicated to the revolution.

Sure, it’s sad that the revolution, Eponine, the Thernardiers play a smaller or non-existent role in this film adaptation.  But once again, considering the changes that had to be made in order to keep the film to a little over two hours long, major cuts and restructuring of the plot to fit this duration had to be made.

As for the Blu-ray release, compared to its previous DVD outlet the film looks better on Blu-ray but the noticeable aspect of the film in HD is its lossless soundtrack and bringing the ambiance of crowds and gunfire to this film, made things much more enjoyable this time around.  I do believe that if you enjoyed this film and own it on DVD, it is worth upgrading to Blu-ray!  Special features only feature the one “A First Look at Les Miserables” featurette and that is it.

Overall, the 1998 film “Les Miserables” may not be the same storyline that people watched in a musical, nor is it exactly what the original Victor Hugo novel had featured with its many characters and longer storyline.  But to create a film adaptation of “Les Miserable” for a two hour film, it’ s not an easy task.  Yet, filmmaker Billie August and writer Rafael Yglesias were both able to create a film that may be different from the original novel but yet manages to be exciting and compelling.

“Les Miserables”, the 1998 film adaptation is recommended!






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