Monday, 4 June 2012

In Focus: Les Miserables Trailer & Upcoming Film Adaptation

I seem to be in the minority here, judging by the excitement on twitter, but I was a little underwhelmed by the trailer for the upcoming Les Miserables movie that was unleashed upon the world on Wednesday of last week. Here it is if it’s somehow passed anyone by, or if you’re just ridiculously excited and want to watch it again:-

It starts with Anne Hathaway singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and the first thing I think is that I’ve seen YouTube clips of amateur singers singing it better. I don’t mean this as harshly as it seems – those amateur singers are technically very good. But that’s just the point. Technically, she’s not very good. She has a sweet voice and it sounds alright but I just don’t think alright is good enough when you’re making a film of this magnitude; A film of a production that means so much to so many. There’s no strength or control to her vocal ability. I suppose you could argue that the character is at a vulnerable point at this stage of the story and that she wouldn’t be strong or in control. This is true, but I don’t think you should dramatise that through singing style. It should be done through acting. I think of some of the Fantine’s I’ve seen in the stage versions   - Ruthie Henshall, Lea Salonga, Caroline Sheen – they prove that  you can still sing strongly and capture the character’s vulnerability and hopelessness.

I feel I have to defend this opinion here after reading the review on where Julie Robinson says the following:

To be frank, people who leave remarks like these are just highlighting the ignorance on their part. Hathaway is an accomplished vocalist who has a very strong voice; a fact she has displayed on numerous occasions.”

When I heard that Hathaway was to play Fantine the first thing I did was find clips of her singing and based on all the evidence  I disagree with the above statement.  I think she’s shown she has a pleasantly sweet singing voice but certainly not strong. For a taste of things to come here’s a link to the clip of Hathaway and Jackman singing together for the Oscars at the 81st Annual Academy Awards (Hathaway joins in at 4:00)

This leads nicely on to Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. There’s not too much given away in the trailer just a few clips of him in character at different stages of the story. I’m quite content with the casting of Jackman in this role. He has a background in Musical Theatre, having started his career in theatre, most notably performing as Curly in ‘Oklahoma’ in the West End in 1998.

I’m trying to keep an open mind about Russell Crowe as Javert. He looks menacing enough and seems to convey that air of over inflated authority that I feel Javert as a character must possess (except where are the trademark sideburns?). I haven’t heard him sing much, so I’m not sure what to expect. Philip Quast is always going to be the perfect Javert in my eyes, which I realise is a bit unfair as that’s a big talent to match.

Samantha Barks, on the other hand, is the perfect Eponine to me and I’m very excited to see her in this film adaptation. She looks exactly as I’d imagine Eponine would look and has the right kind of singing voice. And, of course, she is first and foremost a musical theatre performer so she's flying the flag (literally) for those people who do this night after night and never tire, yet get consigned to extras in the film.

I do realise why the producers do this. It's a bums on seats deal. Big Hollywood names = Bigger audience attraction rate. Whilst this may be annoying, it's a fact of film and I'm not going to get too upset over that. If it means more people will come and see the theatrical version then it's not all bad. 

Eddie Redmayne has been a real surprise. Only when I approached writing up my thoughts of the upcoming film did I do some research into his singing voice and, I have to say, it stopped me in my tracks! I’d never have thought he’d have such a good singing voice whilst watching him crawl through muddy trenches in the gritty BBC adaptation of the Sebastian Faulks novel 'Birdsong' earlier this year. I still don’t think he looks right as Marius but that’s probably been because I’ve seen the likes of Michael Ball and Fra Fee in the role. I’ve come to expect him to be more innocent looking with curly hair. Eddie Redmayne looks harsher, more world weary. After hearing him sing, though, I’m quite looking forward to seeing what he does with this role.

We don’t see Sacha Baron Cohen or Helena Bonham Carter in this trailer (I wonder if double barrel surnames were a requirement of the actors playing these parts) but I’m sure they will be fine in their respective roles - looking at the picture below, it's not at all difficult to imagine them together as the Thenardier's. They are both known for playing comedic yet sinister characters which they both demonstrated in the film adaptation of ‘Sweeney Todd’.  I’d say this is the most important requirement for these characters over vocal ability.

In conclusion, I’m going to keep my expectations low for this film; I would rather it exceeds my expectations than disappoint. Even though there have been plenty of well made film adaptations of musicals, such as Sweeney Todd, Chicago and Rent, I’m still feeling the sting from the disappointing 2006 film adaption of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ which is one of the ultimate musicals, just like Les Miserables and I think that makes it much more of a risk. 

I found this clip on YouTube earlier showcasing each cast members singing voice, so have a listen if you haven’t heard them all already and catch them all at Christmas time, hopefully doing justice to our well loved characters, at a cinema near you:-

note: above video belongs to wolfart2003 on YouTube


  1. Well. 'The Phantom of the Opera' was released in 2004 and, yes, it did suffer quite a pedestrian translation to the screen but when I heard Schumacher was directing I expected the worst. So when I saw it I thought it was better than I'd hoped. Certainyl nowhere as near as good as it could have been, but not as bad as that 'Batman' flick which shall remain unnamed. Will 'Les Mis' suffer the same fate? I doubt it - it has an oscar winning director at the helm, not to mention several big name stars (true - this doesn't mena it's gauranteed to be a success or one of the better film musicals).

    It is difficult to judge the film based on what little the trailer shows but it certainly looks epic enough.

    As for the singing; well, singing a role onstage will be, by its very nature, different to when sung on film. Film benefits from close ups and the sound and volume can be manipulated. Basically where I song might be belted onstage to convey emotion a film can do this by other means; the close-up, a camera angle etc. so the singing doesn't have to be as assured (for want of a better word) as it must be onstage. And singing and acting in a musical are not mutually exclusive. Sondheim is one who advocates this fact so I'd always rather someone act a song (if it's that kind of song) instead of singing it technically flawless. Just look at Judi Dench singing 'Send in the Clowns'.
    Something that must be noted regarding the music in the film of 'Les Mis' is that the director has stated it will not be sung-through as the stage roduction is but will have the more typical scene, song, scene formula. Something they did with 'Sweeney Todd' to varying success. Also it's quite likely that key signatures will be altered to suit a particular cast member.

    As for the casting well, I don't really have any problem with Jackman though I still think Colm Wilkinson doesn't look too old to play the part (especially when you consider that Valjean has been through some difficult years before he's released). Crowe I loathe. Simple as that. I find him to be a rather uninteresting actor who can be very uneven. I wish they'd given the part to Paul Bettany instead. Barks and Seyfried I'm fine with (the latter is apparently classically trained). Likewise Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen. Redmayne is another choice I dislike - He has the most expresionless face and I think he looks too old. I know he's an 'up-and-coming' actor but I just find him dull and tedious to watch.

    Of course we will have to wait and see what the final outcome will be. It may be an astounding film with a cast that excels in every way. Or it may not be. Time will tell.

  2. I just simply wasn't filled with that anticipatory excitement when I watched the trailer. I think that was somewhat to do with Hathaway's rendition of 'I Dreamed a Dream' going through me a little. I appreciate what you say about film being a different medium to stage and I would rather emotion in a song that a deadpan actor with perfect vocal skill. However, I still don't think that excuses outright vocal flaws.

    Then again, Eddie Redmayne is quite vocally flawless but I agree with you about his expressionless face - that struck me in 'Birdsong' but I thought maybe that was part of the character?? I've never seen him in anything else.

    I'm not all that savvy about film directors so I couldn't make a judgement based on that. The trailer for the Phantom movie was quite exciting but the film turned out to be such a let down, so hopefully the fact that the Les Mis trailer didn't excite me that much is a sign of the opposite.

  3. Funny, I stumbled on this blog in an attempt to confirm I wasn't the only one in the world who thinks Hathaway has a decent, but not great, voice. I can appreciate an actress who can sing, but some close to me have made a hype about how amazing she is, and as a classically-trained singer, I simply can't agree. I'm not trying to be an ass, but there you have it.

    Thanks for the post (and the YouTube voice preview - I'm about to watch it now)!

  4. Good grief! Eddie Redmayne...GORGEOUS voice.

  5. I saw the trailer for Les Mis in the cinema recently and Hathaway sounds a little better in surround sound weirdly. Still not up to the standard I'm used to, of course, but maybe it'll be okay.

    I don't think it makes you an ass for not liking someone's voice :) you're allowed an opinion after all.

    I was very surprised by Eddie Redmayne - did not expect that voice from him :)