A Country Parson Reviews Les Mis

I wanted to like Les Mis, the Movie. I really did.  I love the themes of law and redemption that are so powerful in the stage musical. (Every story is either the story of the fall, or of the redemption. Les Mis is both, beautifully wound together.)  But all of this was obscured by a directorial decision that was so bad, I can confidently call it “The Single worst directorial decision in the history of filmmaking.”

At some point, there was a production meeting that must have had this, or similar dialogue:

Studio Exec: We want you to Direct Les Miserables, the Musical. We want you to capture the epic scope of the grand chase that spanned a lifetime, the misery of the great masses of the poor, the failed revolution at the great barricades. It was a massive musical on Broadway for two decades, and you are being given the reigns to bring the glory and majesty of Les Mis to the big screen!

Tim Hooper: I think I’ll film the entire movie in extreme close up so that the audience can spend 2 1/5 hours counting nosehairs while they listen to the Les Mis soundtrack.

Studio Exec: Perfect!

I just don’t get it.  I’ve never seen a movie so thoroughly ruined by such a horrible directorial decision.  I’ve seen movies more thoroughly ruined by bad directing (I’m talking to you Star Wars Episodes 1, 2, and  3) but they were the result of thousands of bad decisions piled on top of one another.  I love Les Mis. Seen it in the theatre five times: Detroit, Chicago (twice), New York, and London. But this was thoroughly unwatchable. I had to leave in the middle because the shaky-cam was making me ill.

Shaky Cam.

For an opera.

I spent most of the movie thinking how much better each shot would have been if it had been farther out.  It’s a really bad thing when the audience is so distracted by camera technique that they spend their time thinking of ways to do it better.  The few times that they backed off of the yellowed teeth of the actors I got angry – I realized how awesome it could have been if they would have only filmed the whole set.  But then, immediately, we went in for a close up again.

My wife commented “These close ups are really distracting” ten minutes into the film. “There’s nothing to see, It’s boring” came during Fantine’s first solo.  There were still two hours of movie left.

The shots were so close that the actors could have been holding the camera themselves. A couple of scenes looked a lot like they were filmed in helmet cam – the camera matched every small movement of the actor’s upper body.  It was like watching reality TV.

I don’t care if Gladiator was chasing Wolverine, who was trying to save Catwoman’s Daughter from Borat (Which would make a great movie in its own right).  I couldn’t actually see any of that. I saw “SINGING HEAD!” “SINGING HEAD!” “SINGING HEAD!”

Afterwards I had a headache for three hours. A blank screen with the soundtrack playing would have been preferable to the lousy visuals inflicted on us by the director. (I know, because I’ve listened to the Complete Symphonic. You can picture the grandeur in your head. Apparently the director didn’t want any of that on the screen.)

As inspiring as the stage musical was, as grand as the scope could have been, this should have been “Triumph of the Will” (Without all the National Socialism). Instead it was “The Bourne Musical.”

If I were Anne Hathaway, I’d want my hair back.

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