Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Les Miserables (1934)

So what is this one about?
Well, as you may or may not know, Les Miserables is not only one of my favorite books but also my absolute favorite musical. It is an amazing and touching story about the goodness of people no matter what their background. It is about forgiveness and absolution. One of my favorite lines of the musical is "to love another person is to see the face of god" and then also, (and this is a line that chokes me up when I have to say it outloud) "He let me eat my fill, I had the lion's share" (because "He" is in reference to a preist who let Jean Valjean--a former convict--stay at his house, despite the fact that he was a convict, and treated him like anyother, "he gave me his trust, he called me brother, he told me that I had a soul...") Anyway. You can read about the actual novel Les Miserables here, and then the musical here. But the movie, well, the movie has many incarnations...including a shittay version made in the 1990s with Liam Neeson as Valjean and Uma Thurman as Fantine (LAAAAAAME)

Anyway, my beloved told me that this movie was one of the most accurate adaptations of the over 1200 page novel. They said,
After serving a prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean (Harry Baur) attempts to start a new life. But relentless lawman Javert (Charles Vanel), driven by Valjean's minor parole infraction, hunts him down in an unending pursuit. Helmed by revered French director Raymond Bernard, this five-hour epic is considered by many to be the finest film adaptation of Victor Hugo's literary classic.
So, I said to myself, sure, I have five hours. I'll get it!!

And how much did I pay to watch?
I've said it one time if I've said it 100. I haven't had as much time to watch movies. Between the two discs of this movie I'd say it took nearly two weeks to watch the whole movie. But, it cost about $5.66 for the two discs. Yikeso!

And what did I think?
Oh, what did I think? Well, I totally agree that it was pretty accurate as far as the book goes. Translating a 1200 page tome to a five hour movie is difficult, and I will admit that there were big chunks cut out of the story. Thankfully, the parts that were cut out had a lot to do with the Cosette/Marius love story plot line. Now, because I am such a terrible hag who hates love and people being happy, it didn't make me unhappy to cut out the superflouos love story plotline. The important plots in this book/movie/musical revolve around Valjean and his redemption and the student revolution.

The adherence to the Valjean storyline was flawless. It was super duper. Just fantastic! (The movie was divided into three parts, the first of which was entirely devoted to Valjean, and the second of which was at least half dedicated to him. The revolution plotline was sort of unclear. If I hadn't already been familliar with the plot I would have been confused as to what was going on. Finally, as for the romantical plotline, they left out a huge chunk. I would be forced to beleive that these two lovebirds met and were just in love automatically--which is what the muscial leads me to believe as well--which is not what Hugo tells us. However, I don't really care. Mostly, because the actress who played Cosette was 100% annoying and ridiculous. Now, as far as the actor who played the other characters, Valjean was amazing. At first I thought the actor was too bulky and ridiculous (because most of the Valjeans I have seen in the musical are more dimuntive and short but stocky and muscular) but I really found him to be endearing. The other actors were only so so.

One of the extraordinary things about the film was the film itself. I have no idea how, who, and when the film was restored, but unlike other movies from the 1930s that I watch on dvd, this one was of such high, clear quality that it easily could have been a movie that was made in the 1970s. The copy was so clear, and fresh.

The quality of the filmmaking was quite good as well. There was this scene that was supposed to be doing an aerial shot of Paris, but it was clearly a model that was filmed. Now, the model and the switching of the scale model to the actual street shot of Paris was flawless. It stands out in my mind as one of the most incredible parts of the film, considering the year it was made.

One of the only problems I had with the acting was some of the characters/actors propensity to yell rather than speak in a normal voice. I chalk that up to the year the film was made and that perhaps "talkies" were still a fairly new type of film.

So what is the rating? (out of 10)
It was good. I will give it that. Other than the musical, which takes artistic liberties with the longass stor, it is the best adaptation I have seen. I mean, practically perfect.

The fact that I knew the story made watching this long movie more understandable. My background of the music made me hum the music along with where it would belong in the film. That actually made it more enjoyable.

Now, despite the fact that I have very little negative to say about it, it doesn't stick with me as something extraordinarily amazing. So, I give it an 8.

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