3. They Honor the Stage Musical

les miz 3

Some fans of the live musical are bound to be disappointed with this film, as is the case with every adaptation. However, the desire of the filmmakers to make a faithful adaptation of the stage musical cannot be denied. Fewer than twenty lines are spoken, with (as was seen in Point #1) the movie being sung-through in the same fashion as the play. And while the structure of certain songs or scenes varies from the stage production to better fit the demands and pacing of film, the emotional through-line of the musical is preserved with flying colors.

“The central DNA I had to protect was its emotional DNA,” says Hooper, who went to see the play onstage numerous times leading up to his commitment to the film. He was also able to foster this emotional connection between cast members by the many weeks of rehearsing, something Hugh Jackman states as being completely necessary to musicals. Jackman voices that the cast was “incredibly grateful” that the film’s director and producers made the effort and sacrifices to make sure that the film lived up to the show’s demands. “We’re all massive Les Miz geeks,” admits Anne Hathaway. 

If in nothing else, leery fans of the show should receive comfort knowing that the show’s original artistic team was on-board with the film from its beginnings. Broadway mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh, who produced the original show, produced this new film and worked closely with Top Hooper. Also involved was original composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and original librettist Herbert Kretzmer, who were on hand to help in orchestrating and writing new or re-arranged material.

Bonus tip: Fans of the show will be delighted to see actor Colm Wilkinson cast in the role of the Bishop. Wilkinson originated the leading role of Jean Valjean on stage, and is still widely considered the most beloved Valjean around the world.

4. They Honor the Novel

novel

It is almost surprising how evident is Tom Hooper’s respect for Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel. When asked about his process for preparing for this film, Hooper states that he began this Les Miz journey by going back and re-reading the novel (point there!). While it was naturally his desire to adhere to the musical, and to make the best film he could, he was greatly influenced and inspired by the original source novel.

This inspiration weaves through the movie, almost unnoticeably at times, such as in the opening sequence. The prologue is set in a naval shipyard, with the prisoners hoisting a wounded vessel into port. The stage production is very sparse, showing the convicts working at some form of ambiguous prison labor. Hooper learned from the book that a chief way convicts were used by the French government was to build and repair the navy’s ships.

Hooper (along with the composer and librettist) also add in a few transitional scenes, missing from the stage musical, to further drive home key moments in the novel. The most obvious example of this is the new song “Suddenly,” placed in the film as Valjean travels away from the Thénardiers after rescuing and adopting the young Cosette. Hooper explains that this moment is the second of two major epiphanies in the life of Jean Valjean; the first is when the Bishop teaches him about virtue, the second when he discovers real love for the first time, in Cosette. In the book, Hugo spends a great deal of time explaining this change in Valjean. However, it is glossed over very quickly in the musical. That presented a problem for filmmakers, says Hugh Jackman. “For the first time in this fifty-one year old man’s life, he experiences love,” explains Jackman. “Tom said ‘this is one of the most incredible, dramatic moments ever written about…and we don’t have a song for that?’”