Somehow, I managed to get this far in life without ever having seen the Broadway musical. Nevertheless, I am pretty certain that the movie is objectively superior in every way to the live musical. You can see all of the characters close up, the sets are gorgeous, and every scene is going to have a higher level of perfection because they can be shot multiple times until they are just right, and then they are edited afterward. Live theater is a positional good which is desirable because it’s expensive. Thorstein Veblen would no doubt call it “conspicuous consumption,” and the consumers of such can demonstrate their superior bourgeois tastes over the uncultured proletarian masses who watch movies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
I’ve also managed to get this far in life knowing very little about the period of French history in which Les Miserables takes place. I blame the mediocre public school system for this gap in my education. (I highly recommend sending your kids to private school if you can afford it.)
The movie itself is long. Are you ready for more than two and a half hours of singing? Unlike what I consider the quintessential musical movie, Grease, which features a lighthearted story alternating between normal spoken parts and the characters doing lip-synched musical performances, Les Miserable is more like a modern high tech English-language opera. There are hardly any spoken parts, nearly everything is sung, and as other reviews have pointed out, the characters are truly singing their parts and not lip-synching them. There is also not much about this movie that’s lighthearted at all, except for the song “Master of the House” performed by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter who play the greedy scheming innkeepers whose extortion of money from Fantine for taking care of her illegitimate daughter Cosette leads to her demise in prostitution.
I had originally thought that I wouldn’t want to listen to any of this music again, but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack all day, and I’m actually quite enjoying it.
The most significant aspect of this movie is the strong Christian theme. It’s very rare, these days, to see a movie that’s unironically Christian. Now I can see readers having two extreme points of view on this, from “darn, I thought Hollywood has finally stamped out Christianity, and now this” to “yay! about time!”
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
What makes this movie Christian? The main character, Jean Valjean, is Jesus-like in his 19 years of suffering through harsh slavery. But he is able to obtain redemption because of the faith of Bishop Myriel who saves him from arrest and return to slavery and allows him to keep the silver items he stole from the church to fund his future life, which he lives in an exemplary Christian fashion. After that, Valjean has many opportunities to do the expedient but morally wrong thing, but he always does what’s right, and the movie clearly lets you know that he will be rewarded in the afterlife for his good behavior.
*** END SPOILERS ***
This movie has my recommendation, and if it wins any Academy Awards, they are deserved.