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Les Miserables 2012

I still remember the C90 cassette tape I had years ago with highlights from “Les Miserables” (original West End cast recording, or whatever they called it). I do not like many musicals, but that tape I did like a lot, it seemed to show some welcome differences from the omnipresent Webber-isms of the time. I never bothered wondering what the musical’s plot is about, the music seemed to indicate it had something to do with French revolution, love, death and two strong men not liking each other too much. That being a pre-Wikipedia time, and my enthusiasm for the tape wearing off after a hundred times of listening (and the tape disappearing into tape-limbo at some unknown point of time), I forgot about it.

When seeing the film now, the greatest surprise was that all these songs are still very present in my brain, seems I have done a good job of hard-printing the Best-of-Miserables tunes into some brain segments (no wonder there seems to be less and less capacity for new input these days). And they are still moving: the face-offs between Valjean and Javert, the love lost ballad of Eponine, Marius lamenting the Empty Chairs at Empty Tables… this is a long list of really memorable tunes.

The problem with the film is that it is a but longer than the 90 minutes of the tape, about twice as long, actually. And having seen it twice now, I think it’s a fair guess to say that the Maxell C90-minutes director’s soundtrack cut might have been the better film. I was more bored the first time than the second, though, because once you have realised the level of redundancy, you can go check on the fridge and water the flowers and around minute 120 you can actually go shopping because not much will be happening until the grand finale (I think the last bit of original music comes in at around minute 60). As somebody wrote in a review: if you are sad you have missed your favourite tune, do not despair, it will be back within the next half hour. Probably twice.

The film’s production design is (despite some questionable cgi and blurry backdrops) very watchable, as are most of the actors. No need to repeat (here we go: I still do it, speaking of unmotivated redundancies…) that Russell Crowe is not on par with his peers in the singing department. I would not mind that too much, would it not lead to his face being even more devoid of expression than usually, seems he is working really hard on hitting the right note, and cannot so much concentrate on other possible to do’s an actor would usually consider: moving facial muscles and such. He looks a bit uncomfortable in all this, but that alone may be worth the admission fee, at least if you find his usual bloated self-esteem one of his less pleasant character features. “Humbling experience” he may have noted in his diary.

As I do not mind Hugh Jackman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter and the other more prominent cast members as singers, and as some important parts have been cast with singers whose abilities are beyond question (Eponine and Marius, in particular), there is no need to complain about the music. Whether the film needed to jump from one frantic bit of action-oriented scene to grinding to a halt as soon as a big aria came along is another matter, but each on their own, they work quite well and make for good sing-along and cry-along emotion cinema. I would not suggest to issue a karaoke version DVD, though, as these singing parts are quite a bit more demanding than ABBA songs, and if in the wrong hands (i.e. vocal cords) they could make dogs and neighbours suffer.

All in all quite a nice piece of kitsch for those who like musicals in general and this one in particular. Do not expect subtle plot and character development. Expect revolutionary choirs and tear-jerking love ballads, directed by somebody who like nobody else understands how Brits can be drawn to the movies. Will probably not fare as well off the island.

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