Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Les Mis Extended First Look: Analysis

Les Misérables is finally coming to the big screen in December and an amazing behind-the-scenes featurette has been released. This extended first look focuses on the ground-breaking method that the filmmakers and actors used to bring this epic musical to life.

This is a highly-protected clip, so I can't embed it, but click here to watch it on Youtube.

This is the first time an attempt has been made to turn the musical Les Mis into a film. The show is based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. In 1998 a film based on the novel was released starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean, Geoffrey Rush as Javert and Uma Thurman as Fantine, but, though it is the same story, that movie is not a musical.

Les Mis is a show with almost no dialogue whatsoever. It's all music and lyrics. Scenes between characters are played out in duets rather than conversations, and serious, introspective moments become epic, sweeping solo numbers. The non-stop music is what makes Les Misérables so incredible. Rather than the stop-and-go nature of most musicals, the show is just one song after another, with no breaks in between.

So because there is music and lyrics in place of dialogue, the filmmakers had to find a way to allow the actors to perform on set the way they normally would, which meant recording all the singing live.

In the featurette Eddie Redmayne (Marius) explains the differences between filming Les Misérables and a normal movie musical:

"Normally if you were making an old-school movie musical, as a group of actors we would go into a studio and we'd record an album and then two months later we'd arrive on set and they would play the playback and we would mime alongside it. The problem with that is that you have to make all your acting choices three months before you've even met the actor you're working with. By recording it live, Tom [Hooper, the director] is allowing us the spontaneity of normal film acting."

This method of recording the singing live involves having a pianist on set playing the music that the actors can hear through tiny earpieces and sing along to. Later, in post-production the piano is replaced by a full orchestra.

All the interviews in the video show how much the actors loved filming the movie in this way because of the enormous freedom it allowed them. In particular, Hugh Jackman, who does the most singing out of anyone as Jean Valjean, describes exactly how he was able to use this freedom when filming "What Have I Done?"

Aside from a detailed description of how the process works, this featurette also gives a beautiful look at the filming of the movie and we get to see shots from parts of the musical that fans (this blogger included) can't wait to see on the big screen.

The very first shot gives us a look at "Lovely Ladies," the song sung by the prostitutes. Just look at how beautiful this scene looks! The set, the costumes, the choreography, the movement of the camera and the saturation of the colors.

Next, there's a quick shot of Anne Hathaway and director Tom Hooper caught in a candid moment on set. There's nothing particularly special about this shot except how beautiful and wonderful Anne Hathaway is. I adore her. I think everything she does is amazing and for some reason I just really like this shot.

As producer Cameron Mackintosh is talking about the cast, there is a series of shots showing a number of the actors filming on set. It is a great look at everyone in action. Up til now we've seen a short teaser trailer and a few photos, but here is our first detailed look at the cast. When it was announced that Les Mis was going to be made into a film, fans of the show waited anxiously for news of which actors would be cast in these iconic roles.

As I go through these shots there will be some spoilers, so beware. But, as always, I give you fair warning. Every time there's a spoiler you will see: *SPOILER ALERT* And when it's safe to read again you will see *END OF SPOILER*

First there's a shot of Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Even with all her hair cut off she's still stunning. In the scene where Fantine sells her hair, Hathaway actually got her hair cut on screen (in the same way Natalie Portman did in V for Vendetta). They put her hairdresser in costume to play the woman cutting her hair.


Fantine looks very healthy and her dress is clean, so it looks like this is the scene at the end of the movie where Fantine appears as a vision to Jean Valjean as he dies. You can see Hugh Jackman in the foreground lying down and they seem to be in a church.  Also, this is Fantine post-haircut, so it's later in the movie.


Next we get a look at Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert, the officer hunting Valjean:

Then we see Samantha Barks as Eponine. It's the scene where she dresses as a boy to bring a message from Marius, who's at the barricade, to Cosette at home. I love Samantha Barks. She played Eponine in the 25th Anniversary Concert in 2010 and she was stunning. Her voice is incredible. Later in the promo we get a beautiful bit of her singing. 

There was some controversy surrounding the casting of Eponine because there were reports that Taylor Swift was very close to landing the role, which made a lot of people angry. Apparently Swift was about to begin rehearsals for the movie, but the public backlash was so great that the casting was rethought. And thank goodness it was. I'm sorry to the Swifties out there, but Taylor Swift would have been awful. If you need proof go look up her duet with Stevie Nicks at the Grammys. Just saying...  

Samantha is the perfect Eponine.

Next we see Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne as Cosette and Marius. Aren't they cute togther? I think Amanda Seyfried is a bit of inspired casting. She's mostly known for her roles in movies like Mean Girls, Dear John, and Jennifer's Body, but she is actually a classically trained singer, which a lot of people don't know. I'm excited to see her as Cosette. Eddie Redmayne as Marius is another great casting choice. Most recently he was the lead opposite Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn. He's a new face to the film industry and he is extremely talented.

I have to admit that Marius and Cosette annoy me a little. Compared to the drama of the students at the barricade, Fantine's downward spiral into poverty, Javert's fight for truth and justice, and Valjean's inner turmoil, their fluffy love story is not very captivating. Granted, the show does need at least one storyline that isn't thoroughly depressing, but then again, it is called Les Miserables...

Hopefully Seyfried and Redmayne will make me like Cosette and Marius a little more.

Then there's a look at Aaron Tveit as Enjorlas. I had the pleasure of seeing Tveit play Fiyero in Wicked on Broadway back in 2008 and he is spectacular. However, for worldwide fans of Les Mis, it will be hard not to compare the film's cast to the cast of the amazing 25th Anniversary Concert that was performed at the O2 in London and live-streamed to movie theaters around the world. Alfie Boe's performance as Valjean was incredible, but for most people the stand-out performance was Ramin Karimloo as Enjorlas. He was electric. His stage presence was something to behold. So, long story short, Tveit has a lot to live up to.

Then comes the shot that got me SO excited. It's a shot of the filming of "A Little Fall of Rain," my second favorite song (after "Bring Him Home," of course). The first time I watched it, I literally paused the video to just stare at this shot.


"A Little Fall of Rain" is the song where Eponine dies is Marius' arms. As she returns to the barricade from delivering the letter to Cosette, Eponine gets shot and she and Marius sing this B-E-A-utiful, heartbreaking song. It makes me cry every time I see it performed.

So, in this shot we see Marius on the ground holding Eponine as Enjorlas looks on in the rain. Seriously, Marius chose the wrong girl.

"And you will keep me safe, and you will keep me close, and rain will make the flowers grow..."


And then we get to hear everyone sing!!

At 2:14 in the promo we get a wonderful display of Samantha Barks' singing. As Stephen Brooker, the musical director, explains how the piano that the actors can hear is eventually replaced by a full orchestra, we see Barks singing "On My Own." She has such a powerful voice!

Also, on a film nerd level, I love this shot because it's movie magic on display. It's Samantha Barks completely in character and singing beautifully... and just feet away from her are the camera-man, boom mic operator and various crew members in ponchos standing under the rain machine.

Then we get to hear Amanda Seyfried sing a little bit of "In My Life." She's adorable. I really like how different Amanda and Samantha's voices are. Other than the fact that they're both in love with Marius, the characters are complete opposites, so it's fitting.

At 3:00 we hear Eddie Redmayne's gorgeous voice singing "A Heart Full of Love." He has the full, strong tenor voice that Marius should have. It's interesting that this shot shows Cosette and Marius at the front gate of Cosette's house because in the stage production "In My Life" flows seamlessly into "A Heart Full of Love" and in the previous shot we see Cosette singing "In My Life" in her bedroom. I am very interested to see how this whole film is going to be edited.

And to finish off the promo we hear Anne Hathaway singing "I Dreamed a Dream" while we see more shots of various scenes from the movie. The cinematography in these all of these shots is breath-taking.

Jean Valjean rescuing young Cosette:

Fantine working in the factory:

Cosette in her wedding dress:

Jean Valjean in the church at the very beginning of the movie after he's released from slavery:

Jean Valjean and the other slaves. I like the little rainbow flare that's happening on the camera lens in this shot:

Young Cosette lost in the woods. This is the scene where Valjean finds her and saves her. Isabelle Allen looks a lot like Amanda Seyfried. Just look at those big, blue eyes:

"And the Oscar goes to Anne Hathaway."
Seriously. Just look at this performance:

Then an AMAZING shot of the barricade. If you can, go watch this shot in the video because the camera movement is amazing as well. Look at the sheer size of this shot. They are holding absolutely nothing back in this movie.

Eponine in the rain:

Two shots of Javert looking like a boss:

Marius and Cosette seeing each other for the first time:

One final shot of the barricade:

And that's about it for this featurette.
Pretty awesome, right?

In all these promo pictures and videos, there is a distinct lack of any footage of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron-Cohen as the Thenardiers, the scheming innkeepers and young Cosette's abusive guardians. I'm assuming they're keeping that a secret for us to discover when we watch the movie.

People who don't know Les Mis have probably heard "I Dreamed a Dream" or "On My Own" or "One Day More" anyway, but the Thenardiers seem to be the show's best kept secret. Of the people I know who haven't seen the show, none of them know who the Thenardiers are, so I'm sure the marketing people want to keep the audience guessing about who Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen will be playing.

Les Misérables will be in theaters on Christmas Day.

Are you as excited as I am?

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