We had a rather classic Christmas--enjoyed great dim sum at Hollywood East in Wheaton and then saw Les Miserables at the movies on its opening day. We'd seen the musical years ago at the Kennedy Center prior to its arrival on Broadway and enjoyed it. I wish I could report that it spurred me to read Victor Hugo's massive novel, which I'm sure would give me a whole different feeling about the story...but it didn't.
The movie made me recognize that this show is indeed nothing less than an opera, but having said that, it's an opera with some nice songs but falls short of total success in that genre. I liked many of the performances, including Hugh Jackman as Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert, yet Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter stole the show as the delightfully villainous Thenardiers. It's probably been more than two decades since I last (and first) saw the show, but the songs are familiar so the surprise effect was lacking this time.
My prevailing feeling about the movie was that it was slow and long. It may have been caused in part by the use of sung recitatives. I tend to feel that these have diminished in impact once Mozart and Da Ponte had completed their operatic masterpieces together, which was near the end of the 18th century. There was an overlaying heaviness from which the movie never seemed to escape.
Some of the scenes were indeed spectacular, but in the end, this film demonstrated that putting anything resembling opera on film requires approaches and techniques that vary from even the more standard form of musical. The subjects and emotions are big--but they can overwhelm the project unless channelled effectively.