DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Les Misérables, Blu-ray (2012/2013)

A beautiful film but one that left me cold and conflicted.

Published on March 24, 2013

Les Misérables, Blu-ray (2012/2013)

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen
Director: Tom Hooper
Studio: Universal, 2 discs, the film with bonus features, and Ultraviolet digital copy [3/22/13]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, English DTS Surround 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish
Extras: Les Misérables Singing Live, Battle at the Barricade, The West End Connection, Les Misérables on Location, The Stars of Les Misérables, Creating the Perfect Paris, The Original Masterwork: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Feature Commentary with Director Tom Hooper
Length: 2 hrs. 38 min.
Rating: ****

Watching Les Misérables was an odd experience. I kept thinking about bad teeth and the dirt and grime on display. I suppose I wasn’t ready for such a magical musical to be so grimy and realistic. I’ve seen realism matched with musicals before, notably in West Side Story and even Sound of Music, both shot partly on real locations. Les Misérables, however, seemed jarring and off-putting to see and hear the music mixed with the squalor of the revolution. It worked for many reviewers, but it didn’t work for me. Often I felt myself longing for dialog, rather than so much of the movie in song.

On a positive note, the film is epic in scope. Real locations mixed with beautifully rendered CGI make for one of the most compelling video experiences I have ever had. I don’t think I have ever seen a film more beautifully shot and lit. Although the camera always seems to be in motion, the movements seem properly motivated. This is not a movie created with just epic wide shots. Closeups are far more numerous than in any musical I have ever seen. That’s what heightens the makeup of ragged skin and bad dental work. Realistic, but not so pleasant.

Since we’re here at Audiophile Audition, let’s talk sound. It’s a stunning soundtrack. I listened on my new 7.1 system with Aperion Zona speakers at the sides and the rears. No hint of digital brittleness. The strings are liquid, the woodwinds sound properly breathy, and the percussion is sharp. The surround is natural, with many realistic environmental sounds and effects. As many readers know, almost all the songs were shot live with the actors wearing small hidden microphones. That’s not the usual way such films are made, the common practice is post production dubbing, sometimes by other performers. Here, the singers are live and generally top notch, most notably Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried. Alas, Russell Crowe gave it his best, but he’s not a talented singer and some of his songs are cringe-worthy.

No matter, if you love this musical, and want to see it rendered in a spectacular fashion, you will absolutely cheer this film. I personally found the hyper-realism jarring, and I don’t think it served the highest purpose. Still, I cheered at the inspiring ending, and can understand why many performances ended with the audience on their feet.

If you’re a fan of the musical, this is a must buy. If you’re wanting to have a tremendously, sometimes exhilarating cinema experience, it is still worth a view for the talent and technology on offer.  For me, I’m glad to have watched it. I don’t think it is something I would watch again though. Many viewers won’t agree.

—Mel Martin




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