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4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting and compelling. "Les Miserables", the 1998 film adaptation is recommended!, December 18, 2012
This review is from: Les Miserables [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"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.

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.

JUDGMENT CALL:

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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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 31, 2013 10:44:59 PM PDT
AlStCroix says:
Les Miserables is one of my favorite books; I have it on my Kindle (which accompanies me almost everywhere) and, periodically, I return to it whenever I require another dose of Les Miserables. This movie review convinced me that watching this movie, or the latest musical version, would disappoint me.
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