The longest-running Broadway Musical has recently been adapted into a film for the big screen. This is the third major motion picture that the story, Les Miserables, has produced. Many people are unaware that before the movies existed, even before the hit musical was performed, the story was told in one phenomenal, 1500-page book by Victor Hugo. Let me repeat that, the book is 1500 pages.
It is really no surprise that the book is often forgotten, but although the length is quite formidable, I highly recommend it; its beauty and profundity are worth spending 3 or 4 books worth of time on.
One of the things I love about the productions of Les Miserables is how, unlike many book adaptations, the story is never altered, it is just cut down. I credit Victor Hugo for this; the story Hugo crafted is incredible, and it does not need alterations.
The musical is unparalleled, and the movies are all fairly true to the plot, but in both cases there are large pieces of the book’s story-line that are left out. The entire story is much more extraordinary, with every character and every action spinning together into a complex and dynamic web, which just can not be fully portrayed in 2 hours.
The first two film versions of Les Miserables focused more on the romance between Marius and Cosette, while the musical and the new film musical focus on the entire story. My main criticism with the new movie is that it is too dramatic. The book is sweet, it is funny, and sad, and powerful. The musical is the same. But the movie musical is not as moving for me. The drama and the singing were not exactly up to par. I felt as if I were watching a soap opera, and a thoroughly depressing one at that. I knew what was going to happen, and yet I did not believe many of the actors. I think that some of the horrendous singing may have made me take them less seriously. Okay, that was harsh. Though it may not sound like it, I loved the movie.
Honestly, no matter how ridiculous the production of it is, I still enjoy it because it has some basis in the book. Even so, the best productions do not hold a candle to the story line they are based on.
One of my favorite scenes in literature is left out of every production of Les Miserables. I will not give it away entirely, but it involves one child sacrificing the only food he has seen in days for his brothers. Wow, that sounded sad. The beauty is in the potency of the sadness, the hauntingly painful events, and the survival of them. That is why cheesy renditions and sappy productions are annoying: the story does not need any tears or exaggeration, if it is told plainly the power is in the people and the way they deal with adversity.
The book is heartbreaking, and yet it is stunningly beautiful. I can not commend it enough, nor can I explain correctly the impact it has. If you read Les Miserables, I can almost guarantee that it will become your favorite book. In fact, if you read it from cover to cover, and it is not your favorite book, the only explanation I can formulate for this phenomenon would be that perhaps you were reading it in a foreign language (did you know it was originally written in French?).