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Customer Review

268 of 277 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great movie, fair adaption, May 15, 2000
This review is from: Les Miserables [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Les Misérables - 1998 film version - formal review
This newest film version of Les Misérables presents this classic story as the grand sweeping epic that it is, yet diverges from the original story, leaving much to be desired. Fans of Victor Hugo's beloved novel, published in 1862, and of the popular musical, produced in 1985, may be disappointed in this movie's truncated version of the story. However, the film manages to keep intact the main themes of Hugo's story of love, mercy, and redemption.
As a movie in its own right, this film deserves the highest praise. As historical drama it is of the highest quality. The movie portrays Jean Valjean as a true hero, a person whom we can admire because of his courage and self-sacrificing commitment to godly principle. The acting is excellent -- Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush star as Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, and both simply become their characters. Uma Thurman gives an exceptional performance as Fantine. The soundtrack for the film is beautiful as well.
However, this movie cannot be evaluated separately from the novel and musical (which follows the novel quite closely and has gained a wide following of devoted fans). In terms of faithfulness to the original story, the film falls short. The first half of the movie follows the novel quite well; much of the screenplay is taken almost directly from the book, and no important characters or events are removed. Unfortunately, however, the first half of the movie covers less than one third of the story. In the second half, the movie diverges widely from the original. Enthusiasts of the musical and novel will be disappointed to see that two important characters from the Paris setting, Enjolras and Eponine -- both of whom are popular favorites among fans -- are completely eliminated from the film, their roles given to other characters or deleted altogether. The second half of the film is mercilessly truncated and adapted.
The film's portrayal of Cosette as a rather spoiled young woman who is always ready to pout if she doesn't get her way is inconsistent with the sweet and oblivious Cosette of Hugo's novel. The character of Javert, the obsessed policeman who hounds Jean Valjean, is also altered -- perhaps more subtly -- to make him out as the depraved villain of the story, when in the novel and musical he is more complex and less of a villain. The other characters, however, are faithfully portrayed in the film.
Even in the second half, the movie does shine at times. The depiction of Jean Valjean continues to be brilliant (except for one scene in which he slaps Cosette and then reveals his past to her, both actions in complete inconsistency with his character according to Hugo). The last fifteen minutes of the film do portray well the important universal theme of Justice versus Mercy. However, the movie curtails the original story, robbing it of a good deal of its poignancy.
Altogether, though, the film manages to preserve the main themes and characters of the original novel. It serves as a good introduction to the story. It should inspire viewers to read the original book and listen to the musical as well!
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 14, 2007 3:54:27 PM PST
Sashay says:
Wanted to know more about the soundtrack...what music is used?

Posted on Feb 13, 2009 5:47:21 AM PST
mrskatie says:
Great review, but I wonder why you gave it 4 stars. Your review sounds like a 3 star review. And I agree very much with this review only would give it 3 stars.

Posted on Mar 22, 2009 7:33:32 PM PDT
John W says:
Actually, Enjolras does appear - he's the black guy who tells Valjean to take Javert out to kill him, and dies the next morning by firing squad. But yes, it's quite true that Eponine gets left out entirely.

Posted on Aug 9, 2011 10:41:15 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Jul 19, 2012 10:26:24 PM PDT
Making Javert into a villain would be a stupid, hollywood type idea. He is not an evil man, just one who believes to much in a principle: "the letter of the law" so that he can bring order into his own world. In this sense he plays the true roots of the character of "Satan" -- a strict prosecutor who upholds every letter of the law and to which no mortal can live up to. This is tempered by a character who shows mercy, such as the Bishop giving the silver. Making Javert into a simple villain turns the story into a trite "good guy, bad buy" tale.
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