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Jean Valjean, a Frenchman imprisoned for stealing bread, must flee a police officer named Javert. The pursuit consumes both men's lives, and soon Valjean finds himself in the midst of the student revolutions in France. Based on the acclaimed epic novel by Victor Hugo.
For more about Les Misérables and the Les Misérables Blu-ray release, see Les Misérables Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 11, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes, Christopher Adamson, Peter Vaughan
Director: Bille August
» See full cast & crew
Les Misérables Blu-ray Review
Nothing miserable about this wonderful film.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 11, 2012
The world never changes.
Surf the web for a moment and look the sheer number of filmed adaptations of Author Victor Hugo's celebrated literary masterpiece, Les Misérables. There may not be a book out there with more variations floating around the cinema landscape (The Bible excluded) and of such varying sizes, scopes, ambitions, styles, and qualities, including the wildly popular Broadway musical of the same name. From the Oscar-nominated 1935 film starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton to the freshly-finished 2012 Musical starring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe and including numerous versions from around the globe and staged in any number of ways, there's no shortage of options for both the longtime Les Mis fan or the newcomer fresh off a read of Hugo's novel or merely curious as to the staying power that is the multi-year tale of a French revolution-era convict. One of the finest adaptations of them all is Director Bille August's (The House of the Spirits) 1998 Les Misérables, a riveting, strongly acted, smartly made, and dramatically satisfying telling of the tale of Jean Valjean's journey towards freedom and redemption.
Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson, Taken) has recently been paroled after nineteen long, hard years of intensive manual labor, his "lawful" punishment for petty theft of food. Jean suddenly finds he has nowhere to go, no roof to cover his head, no food to fill his belly. At last, he is taken in by a kindly man of the cloth. He's fed and offered a place to sleep. Jean repays the man's hospitality by stealing his expensive silver. He's caught the following day, but granted a reprieve: the good Bishop declares the items were not stolen but instead given to Jean. In fact, he also provides Jean with a pair of valuable silver candlesticks and sends him on his way with a new lease on life and a new opportunity to make right his wrongly lived life. Nine years later, Jean is a thriving business owner and mayor of the small village of Vigo. He's taken on a new identity and left his past behind him, settling into a modest home and leading a lonely but goodhearted life. His peace and prosperity are interrupted, however, when the town receives a new police inspector by the name of Javert (Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech) who once stood guard over the imprisoned Valjean years ago and who begins to suspect that his new mayor may be lying about who he is and from whence he's come.
One of Jean's workers, Fantine (Uma Thurman, Gattaca), is fired from his factory for birthing a child out of wedlock. Meanwhile, a suspicious Javert approaches Jean with a request to conduct a census to ascertain the pasts of the peoples living in Vigo, an idea which Jean outright rejects, further confirming the inspector's belief. When Javert arrests Fantine -- now working as a prostitute to support herself and send money for the care of her daughter who now lives elsewhere -- for her innocent part in an incident with unruly potential customers, Jean intervenes, takes pity on his former employee, and cares for her. Later, Jean's now-heightened moral compass persuades him to save an innocent man from punishment by publicly identifying himself and his past. He must quickly flee Vigo, and must do so at a time when Fantine's health has drastically deteriorated. She makes Jean promise to care for her daughter Cosette. Jean obliges and sets off to retrieve the girl, knowing such an action will leave him vulnerable to an ever-vigilant Javert and forever change his life. Now, Jean must choose to remain true to himself, keep his word, and lead a new life of seclusion, else he fall into Javert's hands and destroy any chance at a good, happy life for Cosette (Claire Danes, Stardust).
This 1998 take on Les Misérables is a dazzling picture considering its soulful and honest capture of the story's themes of faith, justice, goodness, promises kept, the importance of freedom, the need for redemption, and the place for second chances in life. Certainly these are all themes that carry over across many of the great works of literary and filmed art, but Hugo's source material -- and August's film adaptation -- incorporate them more fluidly and fluently than most any other story out there. The film captures the story's tale of the past escaped, the present endangered, and the future left in question when long-abandoned wrongdoings -- a former life -- interfere with the rehabilitated man, returning to haunt him and challenge his new approach to life, to force him to question his judgment and place in life, to test his dedication to a new way of doing things when the old ways are returned to a place of prominence in his present. The core story is of course one of redemption and reformation, but it's Jean Valjean's journey through self, his steadfastness to principle through the years -- even under pursuit and forced to drastically alter his life in the name of his word -- that shapes the story into a moving, meaningful, and lasting saga of individual steadfastness and principled living, both possible even in a world that refuses to either forget or forgive the past.
More specific to this film is sturdy production design and high-end acting. August's recreation of revolutionary France feels authentic. It's worn, dirty, hostile, uneasy, and very much lived in. The film cannot be characterized as a "sprawling epic," but it blends the boundaries of such a film with a more intimate feel and setting quite well. It rightly focuses on the characters and themes, using the backdrops as a setting rather than a centerpiece element in the film. Les Misérables is largely the tale of the interconnectedness of four main characters over a period of several decades. August does well to give the film breathing room but at the same time keep it moving steadily towards its resolution. He strikes the perfect balance between "overlong" and "underdeveloped," taking a rather sprawling story and not necessarily condensing it but finding a stride suitable for his medium. Technically, August shoots not with reservedness but rather a constant steadiness that eschews rapid camera work and fast cuts in favor of simply allowing the tale to unfold and his actors to secure the film. Indeed, the cast is marvelous. Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush are nothing short of fantastic as they play off of one another; their shared dynamic breathes life into the film with an assuredness and sense of authenticity that other actors may not quite so expertly achieve. Thurman and Danes are good, too, but it's the Neeson-Rush combination that elevates Les Misérables to heights reserved for only the finest filmed adaptations of the world's most important and widely regarded literary texts.
Les Misérables Blu-ray, Video Quality
Les Misérables isn't the sort of flashy, visually explosive title meant to dazzle TV buyers on the showroom floor. Instead, it's a fairly reserved, slightly dim, mildly soft image that does translate well to Blu-ray, even if it doesn't jump off the screen in every scene. Once the film gets past its uninspired opening with dim colors and poorly defined details, it settles into a pleasant, film-like production that produces adequate details and suitably natural colors beneath an extremely light grain structure. The image isn't alive with striking and complex textures, but it does capture basic facial lines well, and it also picks up rough clothing surfaces and period building textures well enough. The movie plays through a lot of darker stretches and gray surfaces that don't push a display's color capabilities to its limits, but brighter scenes reveal vibrant greens and splashes of color across better-lit and more resplendent settings. Black crush is a problem at times, as is light noise in darker scenes and a hint of blocking in a few places, but overall Sony has done a rather good job with a movie that doesn't really command much of a striking visual presence by its very design.
Les Misérables Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Les Misérables arrives on Blu-ray with a balanced and satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The presentation produces rather good musical clarity. The opening title score enjoys natural flow and stage presence. One of the climactic moments enjoys superior presence, the track playing rather big, sweeping cinematic music with flair and natural aggressiveness that suits the moment very well. Light atmospheric effects are nicely implemented, whether trotting horses that are apt to appear in any speaker and traverse the entire stage or the general era city din that effectively transports listeners to the locale. Gunfire enjoys an aggressive presentation later in the film. The surrounds carry a fair amount of information in a natural, balanced sort of way, whether specific effects, light ambience, music, or gently reverberating dialogue in a courtroom scene. The film's general dialogue plays accurately and clearly from the center channel. This is a good, natural sound presentation from Sony.
Les Misérables Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Aside from a UV Digital Copy code, all that's included is the supplement A First Look at 'Les Misérables' (480p, 3:36), a brief look at the cast and the story, comprised primarily of film clips and short interview snippets.
Les Misérables Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Billie August's 1998 take on Les Misérables isn't heralded as the classic it deserves to be. It's a brilliant film adaptation of one of the world's great works of literature, one that's strikingly simple and streamlined but nevertheless filling and greatly satisfying. It captures the essence of Hugo's story beautifully, largely through the wonderful performances of Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush who share an uncanny screen chemistry and feed off of one another's characters and motives along the way to shaping one of the great tales of freedom, redemption, self-discovery, second chances, and promises kept. Sony's Blu-ray release of Les Misérables sadly lacks even a basic supplemental package, but the studio has delivered satisfying video and audio presentations. Highly recommend on the strength of the film.
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Les Misérables Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Les Misérables (1998) Blu-ray - October 4, 2012
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of Les Misérables, director Bille August's 1998 adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. Other than a First Look featurette, though, no additional special features or technical specs ...
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