Les Misérables: the book vs. the movie

If you haven't lived under a rock during the past four months you are aware that the film adaptation of the musical Les Misérables premiered on Christmas day 2012. You are also probably aware that it had a lot of Oscar nominations and eventually won a couple of them. You surely know the musical is one of the many adaptations of Victor Hugo's hominimous novel. I'll take the guess that you haven't read it. It's almost 1000 pages long, why bother?

I got an e-book as a Christmas present and, among the free books that come along the device, "Les Miz" was not included (David Copperfield was, though, and the review is pending) but because it's a classic, it was free to download from feedbooks.com. In spite of the fact that the edition was not very good (pages or even full chapters missing here and there, typos galore, etc.), and neither was the translation, I still got to enjoy the novel. I was afraid that, having seen the stage musical, the book would be boring as fuck, but I was wrong (yeah, every once in a while I'm wrong).

I prefer the book over the musical, although the musical is one of my favorites. The book takes time to develop the characters and gives a lot more information (obviously: no-one would be willing to watch a 9 hour-long musical or movie to include smaller details and character development, while a 1000 page-long book can be read without a time limit and the author can write to his heart's content). Did you know Cosette's real name? Or that Jean Valjean was imprisoned after Fantine's death and manages to escape with one of the best cons I've ever read or watched in a movie? Have you ever wondered how he and Cosette manage to pass unnoticed and survive in Paris for more than five years?

 
 One day to a new beginning! Raise the flag of freedom high!

The novel not only takes us to 19th century France and tells us about the lives of Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Javert, and Marius, but is also a history and philosophy lesson: the years after the French Revolution and a look at its society, the not so known June Revolution of 1832, reflections on morality and the frontier between good and evil. The characters in the book are not black or white (which you could say about the characters in the musical), and the reasons why they do what they do is explained. There is a depth that is lacking in the stage version.

But, although the musical is a condensed adaptation of the book, the music is amazing. The score is intense. The 2012 movie adaptation of the musical also counts with beautiful photography and settings (alhough almost nothing was actually filmed in location in France) and quite good performances by Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway (who won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars), Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, and even Amanda Seyfried. Points off go to Russell Crowe, who can't sing and is not the best choice for Javert, in my opinion. But overall the film adaptation is enjoyable and even got to be slightly expanded. 
 
Although the singing in the movie is nowhere near the Broadway show (you can watch the 10th anniversary concert here), and although the stage production I saw in Barcelona was really good, what I really enjoyed in the movie was the setting. Being able to see the action take place where it's supposed to in the novel is a big thumbs-up for me.

If you haven't had the chance to see the stage production, the movie is a good adaptation and you will surely enjoy it as long as you bear in mind that there is almost no spoken dialogue, it's all sung (just like the musical, actually), and if you're watching it at home, you might want to pause it after the One Day More number to go to the loo and get an extra bucket of popcorn because it can get a bit long, as not only did they not cut a single song, they even added a new one to compete for Best Original Song at the Oscars. But do watch it, it's worth it.



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