Now, it's something of a routine when discussing film adaptations of books, tv, video games, stage musicals - hell, anything - to first clarify what one thinks of the source material. And considering Les Miserables is adapted from a stage musical based upon a good albeit ponderously long and at points excruciating novel written by Victor Hugo, I think I need to clarify at least my stance when it comes to the Broadway show, which was one of the most iconic of the 1980s and emblematic of the 'epic musical'. Les Miserables is a gargantuan Broadway show spanning several hours, multiple decades of history, a cast of dozens of characters, and took place on a gigantic spinning stage several meters in diameter. And while I've never seen the show live, I have heard multiple renditions of the entire score and soundtrack that have been produced over the years. And my opinion out of that?
The stage musical Les Miserables is good. But it is not great.
Part of the problem is the source material - Victor Hugo's mammoth tome could probably only be properly adapted in a full-length TV miniseries, and even I would argue the musical does it best to capture the varied personalities and tones and themes for which Hugo was going. But in terms of narrative pacing, Les Miserables the stage musical is a mess, culminating in an ending that is stodgy, arduous, and goes on way too long. And while I will say there are elements of the musical that are impressive and epic, technically there are elements of the songs in Les Miserables that have always irked me, where there are points the lyrical meter isn't as smooth or flowing or organic as it could be. Yes, there are points where you can overlook the lyrical clumsiness because goddamn it, Les Miserables is going for broad and epic and sweeping and you get sucked along with the tide and it's glorious... but at other points, it feels clumsy and jerky and not particularly elegant. Musically, it's most apparent in the use of the shitty grating synth keyboard most of the stage adaptations used, but thankfully later stage adaptations and the movie excised this element.
So, enough yammering around the issue: what do I think of Les Miserables, the movie?
Well, I'll be blunt: the movie Les Miserables is good. But it is not great.