I attended the premiere last night and thought I'd give the heads up on it for fans since it's one of the most anticipated releases ever! I am lucky enough to have seen the original production and cast back in 1985 and seen it again several times since, and now the film premiere. I won the tickets in a ballot.
On their way in, on the red carpet, the key players were interviewed by Michael Ball (the original Marius) and Emma Willis. You could hear these interviews outside and see them inside on the cinema screen. His interviews were excellent and mainly about performance and filming technique. Hers were her usual Big Brother level.
All of the leading cast, the producers, the director Tom Hooper, and Cameron Mackintosh, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer were there, and before the film started, they came up on stage and introduced themselves one by one to great cheers. Whatever the movie was going to be like, those who had made it seemed to think it was their best work and one of the best films ever made! Tom Hooper said it could not have been made without Hugh Jackman and no one else could have played the role.
Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, appears in the film as the priest who changes his life when he forgives him for stealing his silver. I didn't see him there, so I don't know if he was in attendance, I assume not. If you don't know Les Mis from the original and anniversary versions, then his role in the movie is not going to be imbued with the same status, but for me, it was genuinely moving and wonderful, and as always, he sang so beautifully.
Eric Fellner, the producer, told us that there were a lot of the rest of the cast and crew in the audience and during the film to make our appreciation felt. This resulted in the unusual practice of much of the film being cheered and applauded and the slightly irritating but also comic effect of some of the peripheral cast whooping and applauding each other when they first came into shot, even if they appeared for only a nanosecond or had one line or no lines at all!
Well, it took them 27 years to make it, but it was well worth the wait. From the moment it opens on an incredibly visually dramatic scene with the famous pounding opening orchestral chords, you just know it's going to be one of the all time great films. It's a fantastic, moving, brilliant, technically dazzling, truly epic transfer to film of one of the greatest stage productions ever. Every shot looks amazing. It's faithful to the stage show but has been opened up and on the grand scale. Yet it's also mostly intimate, personally involving as if you are there yourself and at times it's very raw, almost unbearably painful. There's much more 'miserables' in this version than on the stage. I don't know if everyone will like that.
I think most will know that virtually all the dialogue is sung through, and for the first time in a major film the singing was recorded live on set and blended together in post-prodution. This was a masterstroke but it may not be to everyone's taste. The director clearly went the route of placing acting/character/emoting over 'beautiful singing', Julie Andrews diction and perfect musical timekeeping. The movie is just not sung as musically or attractively as on stage, but it is probably much better acted. The characters are drawn in greater detail and the storyline is made clearer, with extra elements in it. There's also some extra spoken dialogue some of which from the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen might have been ad libbed. I think I really understood the full implications of all the minutiae of the story for the first time.
The stage productions are cast with top level singers who can act and the film is cast with top level actors who can sing - and yes, they can all sing, no one lets it down. However, the singing in the film, for me, was slightly underpowered in almost everyone's top register, except for Samantha Barks as Eponine, who nails her performance, and Anne Hathaway. Helena Bonham Carter told us up front she can't really sing and I'm afraid she wasn't being falsely modest. Sacha Baron Cohen can't really either. But they play the Thenardiers so they get away with it - and this is also personal taste, I like the more musical singers.
In terms of the lead performances Anne Hathaway will walk away from this with armfuls of awards. She is a revelation, taking Fantine to a new level. She stopped the movie dead with her astonishing rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. Much of the audience was in tears, the applause was spontaneous and prolongued and it only stopped because it wasn't a live performance and the film was continuing.
Russell Crowe as Javert is also perfectly cast. Yes, he's the villain of the piece, but we totally understand his own morality and personal crusade so he becomes our anti-hero. Also with the way the film is opened up he becomes the counter-balance and equal rival to Valjean, I don't remember Javert being so all-present in the stage version. This is as much about Javert as Valjean. He's also a surprisingly effective singer and nails his songs.
It's such a huge cast I can't review everyone in it, so I'll finish on its star, Hugh Jackman. His physical peformance is astonishing, he's almost unrecognisable in the opening, you can believe he's been 19 years on a chain gang. He carries the film and makes a perfect Valjean. I found many of his scenes moving, especially with Eddie Redmayne.
However, in true Hollywood tradition he does not age sufficiently through the story - he's been 19 years in prison before it starts and there's 20 years of plotline, yet he looks barely older at the end.
I had admittedly very high expectations of his vocal performance and I'm afraid he didn't quite live up to them. I heard him back in the 90s in Oklahoma when he had a great voice, but Valjean is much more demanding and was written for Colm Wilkinson's purer, much higher register. Jackman is a bit rough sounding and underpowered at the top of his register and in Bring Him Home he just can't match the aching beauty of Wilkinson or Alfie Boe. This doesn't mean that he doesn't deliver, he does, he just does it through a different style of performance. Whenever I've seen Les Mis, teh beauty of Bring Him Home stops the show. It didn't quite here, it received much more muted applause than either Anne Hathaway or Samantha Banks.
But I don't want to end on a down note. It really is a fantastic film, one of the all time best, and huge credits must go to Cameron Mackintosh and his colleagues for surpassing themselves in transferring their stage success with even more incredible results than they, or we, could have hoped for. Bravo!