Les Miserables   4 Disembodied Jet Wolf Heads out of Five
"'Eponine'? What the--? Where??"
Wednesday, 6 May 1998
NOTE: Review salvaged from the original HoF. Contents may have shifted during takeoff and landing.

Jet Wolf Says ...If you are a fan of the Valjean/Javert portion of the storyline, then settle back for about 2 and a half hours of entertainment. However, if you're slightly more interested in the plight of the poor people in France and the revolutionary students who tried to free them ... Well, I'd get interested in Valjean and Javert real quick.

Everyone has a movie that they're looking forward to. Mike's waiting with the proverbial baited breath for Godzilla to raise its mighty head on 20 May. Me, I've been waiting for Les Miserables. Ever since about 1990 or so, in fact, when my playbill has a blurb for the "upcoming" movie version. Okay, it was going to be musical, I think, and obviously fell flat on its face, but that's okay. Hollywood is fickle and I understand that. But that in no way diminished the desire to see a new version of Les Miz on the screen.

As you may have already gathered, I am a HUGE fan of the musical. Four viewings (one Broadway, one Chicago, two New Orleans, and soon to add London to the list), all soundtracks ... Hell, on a particularly harrowing flight from New York to New Orleans several years back, I contented myself with mentally reciting the entire play. Yeah. I'm a fan. So you can understand my excitement.

Now I've seen the movie, and you know, I STILL don't know if I liked it or not. It's the first movie I've seen (at least in a long time) that had me so puzzled as to my overall impression. Never fear, though, I have plenty of other impressions to offer. Although, as always, I toss in a disclaimer. For all the times I have seen the play, I have read the book a mere one time, and that was many many years ago. I appreciate that the movie was based upon the book more than the musical, and as those of you who have dabbled in both are aware, the musical is very different from the book in many places. Just a thought to keep in mind as I make comparisons.

First of all, the movie in and of itself was very well done. If (and I stress the "if") you are a fan of the Valjean/Javert portion of the Les Miserables storyline, then settle back for about 2 and a half hours of entertainment. However, if you're slightly more interested in the plight of the poor people in France and the revolutionary students who tried to free them ... Well, I'd get interested in Valjean and Javert real quick.

I don't fault the movie's creators for this at all. It's a looong story, and to tell it all in movie form would take many more hours than anyone in a theater would be willing to give. They could either tell both parts cheaply or focus on one and drop the other. But it was a shame that such an integral part of the story, the part that was probably the most responsible for the tone and setting of the story, had to get the axe. Without it, Jean Valjean's story could have, conceivably, been set in any place or time period when man was treated unjustly - and geez, there aren't enough of THOSE throughout history.

Right, so the movie focused on Valjean's life and how he's hounded by that most righteous of policemen, Javert. And it was really pretty well done. Liam Neeson was surprisingly good as the story's hero, Jean Valjean. It wasn't that I expected a bad job, just that I wasn't sure of what kind of performance would be given. But I was really quite impressed. Neeson's portrayal of Valjean was much more angry and violent than those that I'm used to (Colm Wilkenson, anyone?), but not at all out of character, and a very refreshing change from the almost saintly Valjean of the musical.

Actually, all of the performances deserve nods, I can't think of one off hand that was particularly done wrong. The movie even managed to make me like Cosette, which is a rare feat indeed. If I had to single out anyone in particular as feeling "wrong", it would probably be the portrayal of Marius.

Those of you familiar with my usual attitude towards the male romantic lead in anime would not be surprised to discover that I'm not all that fond of Marius. He's nice enough and all, just that he's such a little whiner. ("Oh, do I go with Cosette, or do I fight? Waaahh ... ") But in his own way, he was a likable enough guy and I bore him no ill will. Besides, I adore Eponine, and he certainly had her seal of approval, so I was probably just missing something.

Along comes the film Marius. I find myself again unable to decide if I liked him or not. Where the musical's version was indecisive and utterly romantic, the film version knew exactly who he was, what he wanted, and how to get it, along with the conviction that can only come from being assured of success. Very un-Marius-like behaviour, I'd say. More like, hmmm, Enjolas? Who was either suspiciously absent or changed so much in the film as to be unrecognizable. I always liked Enjolas, which is probably why I find the new Marius to be appealing. But appealing or not, he resembles the Marius of the musical (and the book, from what I recall) purely in name and affection for Cosette.

Speaking of absenses, Eponine, already mentioned as my favourite character, was nowhere to be seen, despite the appearance of her name in the credits. (O_o? Nani? I saw no Eponine.) It surprised me greatly, but I really didn't miss her. I'd like to say that it was due to the film being so engrossing that she wasn't needed. Truly, she wasn't integral to the overall plot, especially shaved of starving and opressed French. However, I think it was more due to a sense of relief. As my mother pointed out, "You would rather not see her than see her done badly"; as mothers are so often want to be, she's right. The musical Eponine bears little or no resemblance at times to the manipulative little bitch in the book, and I was happy to not be presented with that interpretation. It means I can ignore it all the more easily. ^_^

Finally, we come to what was the most unsettling scene in the entire film for me. For those of you who are not in the know, I will give you a run down on these events.

Spoiler Space #24601

Spoiler over, coast clear.

But all of these points aside, I really did enjoy the movie. Les Miserables is a good story, and this is one adapatation of that story. I have serious grievances with its chosen ending, but all in all, I enjoyed myself. As we so often find with anime, if you can't tolerate anything changed from its original version, then don't go see this movie. But then, I'd have to recommend the same thing about the musical. If you're a musical fan who can't stand things the way Victor Hugo created them, this film isn't for you, either.

If you've neither seen the play nor read the book then I recommend the film to you, but it's impossible for me to say if you'll like it as much as I did. Still, it's worth a shot if you like a good, dramatic movie. Certainly don't go here to laugh ... it's not got "miserable" in the title for nothing, you know.

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