Les Misérables sings its song on Blu-ray in an edition that showcases the movie with great picture and sound, as well as a generous collection of extras. The movie itself is a solid adaptation of the stage musical, featuring some lovely performances and strong singing by most of the cast. Watching themovie clarifies why it handily won three Academy Awards this year – for the makeup, for the sound mixing (especially for the live song performances) and of course for Anne Hathaway’s breathtaking performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”. The Blu-ray is a great way to experience the movie and to get a solid grounding on how the movie was made. The release is Highly Recommended for purchase.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 2 hrs 38 mins
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraVioletBlu-ray Case in Sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/22/2013
Les Misérables serves not only as a solid musical on the big screen, but also as a primer on how to adapt such a work from theater to motion pictures. Adapted from the epic tragedy by Victor Hugo, the story follows the later life of former prisoner Jean Valjean in 19th century France and the lives of those he touches. Valjean (Hugh Jackman) goes from a bitter and angry parolee (imprisoned for 19 years from the offence of stealing a loaf of bread) to a wealthy benefactor trying to take care of young Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a little girl, Amanda Seyfried as a young woman), the daughter of troubled factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway). As he does so, he is pursued and hounded by Javert (Russell Crowe), a policeman determined to put him back in jail. The story takes place within the backdrop of continuing revolutionary times in France, leading to tragedy all the way around and many scenes of both requited and unrequited love. The smash hit musical on which the movie is based takes the story’s core of yearning and amplifies it with a series of songs in which each character laments their position in life or resolves to overcome it. Without spoiling any specifics in the story, I’ll just say that each song is effective as a description of the inner turmoil of each person, while also working as satisfying musical expressions.I’ll take a moment to note that this is a movie about singing, not about dialogue. There is, in fact, very little dialogue in the film – just a few quick asides here and there, a few lines when absolutely necessary. At all other times, the characters sing their lines, using the recitative mode of musical theater. This may take some viewers aback if they are unfamiliar with this approach, but it is absolutely appropriate to the presentation of a musical on the stage or in a film adaptation.There is a tremendous amount that is done right in this movie, in terms of both opening up the staging and presenting many of the songs in their best light. Tom Hooper, getting a plum directorial opportunity after winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech, makes the most of a truly once-in-a-lifetime chance to tackle this material. He properly takes some time to establish an epic scope, opening with a massive scene at the docks as Valjean and a hundred chained prisoners sing “Look Down” while manually pulling a warship into dock. Hooper also gets a few key shots of the newly freed Valjean wandering around picturesque French locations near the Alps before settling into the story proper. But he also knows when to bring the scale down to the individual, staging several key songs, including Valjean’s “What Have I Done?”, Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Eponine’s “On My Own” almost completely in close-ups, thus bringing their performances and the songs front and center. Hooper’s strategy of recording live performances of the songs on set must be noted here. As much as possible, rather than pre-record the songs and lip synch them during filming, Hooper opts instead to record the on-set performances, with the cast wearing miniature earwigs and lavaliers. By doing this, he is able to get stronger and more intimate performances of each song, since the actors are free to adjust their tempo and phrasing to go with what is happening as they play the scenes, rather than being locked into a pre-recorded performance. This pays off in a huge way with Anne Hathaway’s performance, and provides a lot of room for two actors who nearly steal the movie in more ways than one: Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the crooked innkeeper couple, the Thénardiers. Cohen and Carter’s performances are a riot, particularly as they constitute the film’s comic relief. They and Hooper make the most of their scenes, with Cohen going deliriously over the top with their centerpiece song, “Master of the House”, a sequence that should completely remove their little inn from any sane Zagat guide… I should also note the additional dedication shown by both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, in practically emaciating themselves to simulate the horrible conditions of Valjean as prisoner and Fantine as her life deteriorates. And a special note must be made of multiple West End actors appearing here in various roles, including Samantha Barks as Eponine and the original stage performer of Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson as the kindly Bishop of Digne.Not everything is perfect, of course. Some of the camera work is a bit dodgy – the close-up of Valjean in “What Have I Done?” has some rocky moments, including one bump that nearly took me out of the scene. Some of the Cohen work in “Master of the House” goes a little far for me. And not all the singing is at the same level. Notably, Russell Crowe’s performance is hampered by the Javert songs being clearly out of his singing range at many times. But these issues are not enough to derail the movie – there’s just too much good on display at every other juncture. The issues are enough for me to take a half-point off, but that’s about it. I’m happy to Highly Recommend this movie, both for fans of the book and musical, and for more casual viewers who are open to it.Les Misérables was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 22nd. The Blu-ray edition contains high definition picture and audio of the movie, along with a commentary, an hour-long documentary, and an additional featurette about Victor Hugo. The Blu-ray comes with the DVD included in the package, as well as instructions for obtaining digital or ultraviolet copies. The DVD contains some of the documentary material as the Blu-ray, albeit in standard definition.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Les Misérables is presented in a 1.85:1 1080p AVC encode that presents the movie in all its glory. Details of the costumes, sets and locations are sumptuously presented, as are the harsher aspects of the Oscar-winning makeup. The degree to which Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway committed their bodies to this movie is very clear as seen in high definition – their flesh tones show a marked change when the characters are in their lowest mode, as is appropriate. The one place where the transfer may reveal more than one would prefer is in some of the big CGI moments, including the opening tableau of the prisoners at the dock. The shot is a beautiful one, but it is obviously a computer animation. The transfer does better with a jaw-dropping pullback from Jean Valjean at the end of “What Have I Done?”, transitioning seamlessly into a larger CGI vista.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
Les Misérables gets a solid English DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix, which is designed to emphasize the nuances of the song performances throughout. The Oscar-winning work by Simon Hayes gets a great showcase here, as the live performances are presented in a way that perfectly balances with a strong orchestral and atmospheric backdrop. This becomes key during sequences like Eponine’s “On My Own”, where the song is performed in a rainy background that could have overwhelmed it – instead, the production team and the sound team worked out a way to not have the sounds of water be obtrusive at all. This is not a heavily atmospheric mix and the subwoofer is used sparingly. There is a 5.1 DTS mix in English, as well as an English DVS mix. (This is not the sort of movie that calls for multiple language audio mixes – particularly given that the whole point is to hear the live song performances. To overdub them in other languages would negate the movie’s raison d’etre.)
Audio Rating: 5/5
Les Misérables comes with a fair amount of extras on the Blu-ray: a commentary with Tom Hooper, a one-hour documentary about the making of the movie and a shorter featurette about Victor Hugo. The DVD includes about 15 minutes of the documentary, along with the featurette and the commentary.Commentary with Director Tom Hooper – Tom Hooper provides a thoughtful commentary in which he discusses everything from the influence of Victor Hugo’s book to the minutiae of various moments in performance and production. Hooper discusses the live performance aspect of the movie at length, showing multiple times how the actors were able to adjust their tempos or improvise asides that would have been impossible with a pre-record and lip synch. Hooper notes this in particular for the scenes with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. (Hooper also notes that Cohen came up with most of his own gags as they went along, using his own collaborator to come up with the bits. And there’s a note that Cohen actually lost his voice at one point, shutting the production down for a few days until he could sing again.) The use of close-ups is discussed, with Hooper admitting that he had shot multiple angles and sizes of several of the songs but chose to go with the close-ups because the songs played best there. He does pull back at the ends of scenes, but during an intimate performance, he correctly notes that it would be distracting suddenly cut back to a wider shot. Hooper acknowledges that the opening tableau with the prisoners at the dock is the only situation where he had no choice but to use a pre-record for much of “Look Down” – there was simply too much industrial noise in creating that scene.Les Misérables: A Revolutionary Approach (1:03:54, 1080p) – This documentary is actually a collection of six shorter featurettes: “The Stars of Les Misérables”, “The West End Connection”, “Les Misérables on Location”, “Creating the Perfect Paris”, “Battle at the Barricade”, and “Les Misérables Singing Live”. It’s a pretty in-depth examination of the production, starting with the casting of the various roles. Tom Hooper, the cast and the creative team note that every actor in Hollywood and London wanted to do this movie for obvious reasons. Hugh Jackman notes the work he did to prepare, including doing a one-man stage show and extensive physical training, as well as losing significant weight to play Valjean as a prisoner and parolee. (Tom Hooper takes pains to say that he did not ask Jackman to do this, and he didn’t ask Anne Hathaway to take the steps she did – he was happy they did, but he did not push them to do it.) The various West End performers tell their stories, including Samantha Barks discussing how she found out she was in the movie. (Footage is presented of Cameron Mackintosh telling her and the audience during a curtain call for “Oliver!”) The trek to France is briefly shown, including footage of everyone carrying gear up the side of the mountain for the shots of Valjean wandering to Digne. There’s a great moment showing writers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg at the Portsmouth Dock for the opening tableau, with one of the writers openly astonished at the scale of the production. The soundstage work at Pinewood is also examined, with the cast discussing the chaotic situation that happened when they constructed the hero barricade on set as a structured improvisation. The cast notes with satisfaction that when the Art Department came in to make it a proper set piece, they just reinforced and stapled the barricade as made by the cast. The last part of the documentary focuses on the singing and sound mixing, including some pretty funny material about needing to isolate the on-set pianist as the sound of her fingers pounding the keys could be heard along with the singing. There’s also one very funny bit about the cast’s vocal warm-ups, including Samantha Barks, whose regular exercise is ironically the cat’s meow… A lot of respect is shown to sound mixer Simon Hayes, even during some tense moments when he’s trying to minimize the other noises that can be heard on the set during the songs. The final moments deal with the orchestral performances recorded in post production, including some tense moments when the orchestra is tiring after nearly 8 hours of performance. One notable absence from the documentary, unfortunately, is any participation by Sacha Baron Cohen or Helena Bonham Carter.The Original Masterwork: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (11:11, 1080p) – This featurette, included by permission of Eric Chaim Kline, focuses on Victor Hugo and the original novel, with the cast and Tom Hooper participating in the discussion with a few soundbites.DVD – The DVD edition of the movie is included in the packaging. The DVD contains the movie in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (@ 448 kbps), along with some of the special features in standard definition. The DVD includes Tom Hooper’s commentary, the Eric Chaim Kline featurette on Victor Hugo, and just two parts of the documentary – “The Stars of Les Misérables” and “Creating the Perfect Paris”. The DVD also includes the English DVS track to go along with the 5.1 sound.Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie. The other side of the insert is an advertisement for both soundtrack releases.The movie is subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual pop-up menu is present, including a complete chapter menu.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Les Misérables is a rare achievement. It’s a successful translation of a hit stage musical into an epic feature film, including some great song performances that can rival those heard from the various casts of the stage shows over the past 25 years. The Blu-ray presents this movie in a light that clarifies why it won Academy Awards this year for Makeup, Sound Mixing and for Anne Hathaway’s great performance. The Blu-ray is Highly Recommended, not only for fans of the musical but for more casual viewers who are curious to see a solid musical being presented on the big screen. It’s really a pleasure to see a movie made by artists who could find the music in Victor Hugo’s words and the poetry in the music they built around those words.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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