On my 2011 trip to Paris, I paid a visit to the
novelist’s historic residence at No. 6, Place des Vosges (in the Le Marais
district), where a great portion of the epic novel was given birth. I stood bewildered
for a moment in that somber little room inside the mansion, wondering how the
lifeless space, in which he would remain for hours on end hunched over the
writing bureau churning out page after page, could squeeze such unparalleled creativity
out of his head.
When I came out of the cinema with tear-filled eyes,
I thought I had an idea as to why there are so many fans of the original stage
play. Music simply has that special power to add another emotional dimension to
an already tear-jerking tale. Though I’m familiar with the story, I had never
had the pleasure of seeing the stage show. But probably exactly due to that
reason, I was very pleasantly awed by Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of the ever-popular
stage musical. Not being burdened by a preconception and certain expectations
that those original musical fans may carry, I was able to enjoy this film
musical as it presented itself, on its own merits, without feeling compelled to
compare it with the stage version.
Having said that, I can still think of one
particular weakness of a live show as compared with a movie, and that is that spectators
are at such a great distance from the stage actors (unless you’re in the front
rows) that they are naturally unable to see the latter’s subtle facial
expressions. This stage inadequacy is conveniently turned into a plus in a
movie adaptation with close-up shots, thus avoiding the acting being lost on
Anne Hathaway’s rendition of the song “I dreamed a
dream” sounds especially stunning as I hear it for the first time. Her acting is
no less impressive. Hugh Jackman’s singing and acting throughout are nothing
short of superb, as are Russell Crowe’s. Other songs I like are “Look Down”
(group singing) and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” by the character Marius.
In any movie adaptation from a novel, there is
inevitably some tweaking of story details here and there. This film is no
exception. But in general it doesn’t fail to make a powerful statement, aided
by the poignant songs sung by great singers, of human love, grace, youth ideal
and passion, redemption and forgiveness, which statement does not stray the
least bit from the core themes of the novel. For me, this is all that matters.
Some critics take issue with the latter half of the
film turning off the spotlight on the lead character to focus on other
“painfully thin” characters. But I find the comic episode (that of Monsieur and
Madame Thenardier’s buffooneries) and the unrequited love bit (that between
Marius and Eponine) are actually a welcome relief as they give a neutralizing
balance to the maudlin pathos of the first half of the film.
All in all, I enjoyed the film tremendously, just as
I had enjoyed other film adaptations of stage musicals over the years, like
“The Sound of Music”, “My Fair Lady”, “West Side Story”, “Grease”, “Jesus
Christ Superstar”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and “Mamma Mia”, etc. I have nothing
but deep gratitude for the professionals in the film industry for having brought
these more affordable versions of musical entertainment to the mass market.