'Les Misérables' Movie Review: Is the Musical Better Than the Movie?

“I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted.”

Those are lyrics from the amazing song, “I Dreamed a Dream” in the musical Les Misérables. Originally written in book form by Victor Hugo, Les Mis (shortened by many people) was adapted into a musical and later into numerous films, the latest being produced in December 2012. I had the privilege of seeing the U.S. tour in early February at Miller Auditorium and watched the movie as well. Based on my opinion, the play was much better than the film adaptation.

Les Mis is a musical with very little dialogue, which makes it difficult to follow, movie or play. The best thing about seeing a musical? You encompass the characters, become immersed in the setting, and relate to the characters. When watching the musical, I lost myself and felt that I was in 1820s.

Fatine’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” the barricade scenes, and “Do you Hear the People Sing, (Reprise)” were better in the play than onscreen. The scene in which Anne Hathaway sings “I Dreamed a Dream” was astounding. The tight shot on her and the pain you can see in her eyes, was amazing. But in the musical, you hear the actress Genevieve Leclerc pour her emotions into the song and feel her pain of submitting herself to prostitution to save her daughter.

Any scenes involving battle or men were rabble-rousing were much better in the play. Again, the movie captured the battle wonderfully, but feeling the men sing “Red and Black” was amazing. I could feel as if I was fighting along with them. One of my favorite scenes in the play is at the end, where all the men who passed away sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” I cried. The men/women singing quietly and show up as ghosts, and you feel as if you yourself died with them.

In comparing the actors and actresses, most people were better in the play. Devin Ilaw, who played Marius in the play, compared to the film adaptation's Eddie Redmayne, sang much better.

Eddie was quite flat throughout the movie and Devin's voice was always in tune and had a clearer sound. Both actresses who played Eponine, Briana Carlson-Goodman (musical) and Samantha Barks were both wonderful. Neither could be compared to each other. Lauren Wiley (play) was better than Amanda Seyfried (movie).

Amanda sings quite well, but Lauren sang with more passion and clearer. Russell Crowe, as Javert, is flat throughout the movie, despite his surprisingly good voice. The actors who played Jean Valjean, Hugh Jackman (movie) and Peter Lockyear (play) were incomparable. I enjoyed the Peter Lockyear version of Jean Valjean better, mostly because of my reaction overall to the play. I do commend all the actors for live singing rather than singing pre-recorded in a studio. To sing in the conditions during the movie, is a true attribute of their ability to foray into the musical world.

One of the best things about the movie though, was my ability to follow the storyline better. Seeing the play once, and then seeing the movie helped clarify some of the points I missed during play. Javert’s suicide, in the movie, was beautifully done. The ability to see him throw himself in the water, fully reflected his remorse towards Jean Valjean.

Scenes in which important characters die (Eponine, Gavroche, all the men rebelling), are much more poignant in the movie. I cried about 3 times during the movie as opposed to one time during the play. Watching it on the big screen made it more real, since I was able to see their reactions up close.

In the play, despite us having good seats, it’s hard to make out their faces. The battle scenes were more dramatic, having the ability to see actual blood and seeing gunshots happen. In the movie, you are able to see the whole battle scene, whereas in the play, you saw the back of the barricade, so you never saw the rebel army. I personally liked that because I was able envision the army and the rest was left to my imagination. But, to somebody who wants to see an actual battle scene would love the movie.

Overall, the play was better. A lot of scenes are better in the movie because one can see the actors' reactions, but feeling the music and being in the presence of the orchestra and actors captured my imagination and brought me straight to France. It is funny, as I was writing this article, “Drink with Me” came on, and lo and behold, I had a glass of wine and was able to drink with the men before they went off to battle. Now I must try to revisit the actual book.

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Michelle Adams

Currently serving as an AmeriCorps member at the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness with the Campaign to End Homelessness program, Michelle is passionate about ending homelessness. She graduated with a B.A. in Communication and a specialization in public relations and a minor in sexuality and conflict/management from Michigan State University. Her interests lie in writing about culture, sexuality/gender and homelessness. Offline she enjoys quoting How I Met Your Mother, volunteering, swinging at parks and stargazing.

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