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Les Miz

I have been so looking forward to the movie. Les Miz is easily my all time favourite musical ever, beating out the grander Sound of Music, West Side Story and King & I. However, not everything works when you try to translate musicals to films, Sweeney Todd is one, Phantom was the other, because expectations were so high and the key is in the director and framing of the film.

It is easier for success for stage to go to film, it usually fails when its film to musical stage, e.g. Grease or Legally Blonde and even Lion King. I have watched the musical 4x in various places and owns the 10th and 25th cd dvd collection as well, so I am a die hard fan. 

Alfie Boe, one of the best ever Jean Valjean next to Colm Wilkinson. You should listen to them before you go hear Hugh Jackman's version.

First the casting, not many realise Hugh Jackman was an established musical stage performer before he became an action actor on film, so this choice was a guaranteed success. Owing to the proximity of film, one really must know how to act and not just sing. The worst casting ever was Russell Crowe as Javert, OMG his voice is so weak and unappealing. I cringed and cringed everytime he opens his mouth. When he only has to act, he is good.

When I heard Anne Hathaway was cast as Fantine, I had doubts. After the movie, she should win an Oscar, she is very very good. Eddie Redmayne was excellent as Marius, as was Samantha Barks as Eponine. Sacha Baron Cohen was a smart casting job in the funny role of Thenardier. As was Helena Bonham Carter as his raunchy wife. Everything was near perfect except Russell Crowe, can we reshoot the film without him.

The ever exquisite lea Salonga's brilliant turn as Eponine, after a few years she came back to Les Miz and played the role of Fantine as well.

The film is based on the musical of the same name by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg which is in turn based on Les Misérables, the 1862 French novel by Victor Hugo. The film is directed by Tom Hooper, scripted by William Nicholson, Boublil, Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, and stars an ensemble cast led by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried. The film tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who becomes mayor of a town in France. Valjean agrees to take care of Cosette, the illegitimate daughter of Fantine, and must avoid being captured again by Javert, a police inspector.

Being written in French, it was all the more spectacular when you consider the lyrics being translated into English, extremely well translated I must say by Herbert Kretzmer. Though over the years, the musical has already been sung in 20 other languages worldwide.

Finally, more people can view the splendour of Les Miz. The songs are beautiful. Its a sad and depressing storyline though wonderful no doubt. Thankfully it had the Thernardiers for a bit of fun and jokes.

Hear Phillip Quast as Javert then you will appreciate how bad Russell Crowe's singing voice was.

The filming had a better effect in that actors were made to sing their lines live with a mic on their lapels (airbrushed out post production) with just minimal piano backing, the instrumentation came in post production and that added a lot of realism in the way the actors conveyed the songs. Its very different from the past where they engaged good actors but their voices dubbed with real singers, e.g. Audrey Hepburn and Deborah Kerr.

Be prepared to bring loads of tissues, you will cry buckets and then rush out to buy the CD collection no doubt.

Hugh Jackman was unrecognisable in the first 15 minutes of the movie. You will love Anne Hathaway no end, her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream was stupendous, and I have seen some great ones on the musical stage. Strangely enough, Hathaway's mum used to play the role of Fantine on stage before giving the role up to have her baby (Anne).

Why is the musical so great, the music is incredible but the story was everlasting and relevant. Oppression, injustice, search for God and religion, redemption, sacrifice, fighting for a higher cause, the greatness of the individual in the grander scheme of things. 

In the beginning to adap Victor Hugo's book was not going to be easy, some of the memorable quotes from the book:

Whether true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence on their lives, and particularly on their destinies, as what they do.

Anger may be foolish and absurd, and one may be wrongly irritated, but a man never feels outraged unless in some respect he is fundamentally right. 

If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.

Superstitions, bigotries, hypocrisies, prejudices, these phantoms, phantoms though they be, cling to life; they have teeth and nails in their shadowy substance, and we must grapple with them individually and make war on them without truce; for it is one of humanity's inevitabilities to be condemned to eternal struggle with phantoms.

Man lives by affirmation even more than he does by bread.

I do not understand how God, the father of men, can torture his children and his grandchildren, and hear them cry without being tortured himself.

Love almost replaces thought. Love is a burning forgetfulness of everything else.

There comes an hour when protest no longer suffices; after philo-sophy there must be action.

Hence all things considered, the musical managed to captured most of the elements and philosophy in Hugo's book entwined with a wonderful story and score.

The great thing is that in the musical/film, they have crafted wonderful lines as well, very memorable:

Do you Hear the People sing? Singing the songs of angry men.

When our ranks begin to form...will you take your place with me? 
Let others rise to take our place, until the Earth is free! 

Damn their warnings, damn their lies! They will see the people rise! 

"i am reaching, but i fall. and the night is closing in. as i stare into the void, to the whirlpool of my sin"

"tomorrow is the judgment day, tomorrow we'll discover what our God in heaven has in store. one more dawn! one more day! one day more!!!!!!"

"He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?

"Without me, his world will go on turning- a world that's full of happiness that I have never known!" 

"red, the blood of angry men! Black, the dark of ages past! Red, a world about to dawn. Black, the night that ends at last!" 

To Love another person is to see the face of god.

I'll sleep in your embrace at last!

Final Verdict: Very Good 9/10 (would have been 10/10 without Russell Crowe)

This song or rather the anthem Do You Hear The People Sing always make me reflect on our struggles as Malaysians in trying to advance for a fairer and more equal destiny. I hope to hear many of us sing this song leading up to the upcoming election ...
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