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Les Misérables (iTunes HD Digital Download Review)

Being the Blu-ray snob I have been ever since the fall of 2006, I’d never thought I would ever hear myself mutter the following words.  It didn’t dawn on me until my move from Cleveland, OH to Austin, TX just how much cheaper it would have been to transport my 500 HD movies in the cloud as opposed to their real world vessels, not to mention the physical space such a collection takes up in one’s place of dwelling.  I’ve gone on record in the past how I would never support digital downloads, what a waste Digital Copies are and how I’m sore because I can’t get lossless audio from the source.  Then I think back to 1996 when I attended Kiss’ unplugged concert.  I remember hearing Gene Simmons tell the audience he would never ever think about ripping apart the Revenge lineup in favor for a reunion tour with the old members.  And guess what?  He did.  It was a business decision.  And that’s partly why I have chosen to go all digital in life.  I want to simplify my life.  I look around and I see all these collectibles and Blu-rays I own and wish I could have all the money back I spent on them.  All they do is just take up space.  I don’t want that anymore for my life.  I don’t want things just taking up space in my life.  I want meaning and sensibility in my life.  As an Apple fanboy, there’s no greater joy in the world to me than knowing I can take my favorite films anywhere in the world with me whether they’re on my iPad, iPhone, iMac or Macbook Pro.  I love the freedom, the portability and no strings/chains attached…not to mention the world of dreams that Apple TV has brought to my living room.  I say the heck with lossless audio.  Does it really matter?  Do you really need it?  Does it make a bad movie that much better?  I don’t think so.

Film 

So welcome every one to my first…um…our first all digital, iTunes HD download review here on Why So Blu.  I’m excited for it and hope there are many more to come.  Today’s menu consists of 2012’s legendary musical drama film…Les Misérables or Les Miz as I’ll refer to it here on out.  Now although I’ll never be able to properly pronounce it, there’s no way I can ignorantly say I never heard of the story.  Growing up as a child in the 80’s, the stage musical posters were plastered everywhere.  So I guess it goes without saying that this Universal Pictures production is based upon the musical of the same name by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, which in turn is based on the 1862 French novel by the infamous Victor Hugo.

Les Miz is directed by Tom Hooper, based on a screenplay by William Nicholson, and stars an ensemble cast led by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and Amanda Seyfried.  To date, the film has gone on to gross over 400 million worldwide at the box office and has been met with mostly favorable reviews not to mention highly prestigious and coveted recognitions like the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards for which Anne Hathaway took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

So with everything good the movie has going for it, why was my viewing met with such resistance and harsh criticism?  People need to keep an open mind.  Yes…musicals are not meant for every one.  I completely understand that.  But my interest in viewing this film were met with such comments from my fellow species as I can’t watch that because I have a pen1$ to life is too short to lose 2 hours of it.  Now listen up people.  If a movie makes over 400 million at the box office, garners all these rewards and positive recognitions and even motivates an attractive and talented actress to chop off her long, precious locks for 20 minutes of screen time, then HELL YEAH I’m going against the grain and watching it.  I mean I suffered through Life of Pi, why not this?!

So I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen this musical yet, but let’s cover a bit of higher ground before moving on.  What say you?  The film’s plot spans a period of 17 years and is set against a backdrop of political turmoil, mainly the pesky French Revolution.  However, the film focuses on the story of Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean (or Prisoner 24601), an ex-convict guilty of stealing a loaf of bread and breaking his parole after serving a 19-year sentence.  Sounds pretty harsh, huh?  All that just for stealing bread!  Ouch!  Years later he turns up as mayor of a small town in France living under an alternate identity.  Wise to the fact is the police inspector, Javert (Crowe), who seemingly spends his life obsessively looking for and determined to capture the elusive Jean Valjean.  Jean finds himself at a crossroad when his life intertwines with that of Fantine’s (Hathaway) character.  Upon Fantine’s deathbed, he agrees to rescue and personally care for her daughter, Cosette (later played by Seyfried).  Despite the perils of parenthood, Jean must also look over his shoulder every step of the way for Javert always seems to be a step behind, not to mention everyone else who is on to him and ready to turn him in for the fraud he is.  But you can’t keep a good man down as Jean faces the hardest lessons in life we all most overcome at some point or another, unless you are born with a silver spoon that is, the hardships of war, the downfalls of poverty and the respective predators of such economies and above all else the pain of loving someone…or simply put as one day in your life you will have to make a choice, whether it’s yours to make or forced upon you, and you will have to let go of the ones you love the most.  If you never experienced that before, one day you will.  You will.

So I loved the story, the huge expansive sets, the cinematography, the bold and impressive wardrobe selections and most of the performances, but not so much the songs (with the exception of the bigger numbers).  God!  I hated some of the musical numbers in here.  There’s not always signing throughout.  There’s some spoken dialog.  So why God?  Why do they have to force certain lines, which would sound perfectly fine spoken, and pass them off as musical numbers?  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t fashion myself as the number one aficionado of musicals, but I know what sounds good and what doesn’t, and believe you me…there’s a lot of not sounding good here in my opinion.  As far as Anne Hathaway’s performance…well that goes without saying.  Heck, you chop your hair off for this role; you deserve an Oscar in my opinion.  But I was also equally impressed by the emotional stirring moments provided by newcomer Miss Samantha Barks, who played Eponine.  Hugh Jackman, as one could already presume, is good in just about everything he does and Les Mis is no exception.  Jackman gives us his all and impressed me throughout with his God-given gifts and natural abilities.  He was born for this role I feel.  But probably the biggest surprise for me was that of Russell Crowe.  I have gone on record many times before as not being his biggest fan from not liking his films to despising his wild antics he has been known for in his personal life.  And probably the harshest criticism I have read in the past about this film adaptation has been about Crowe and how he was not in the same league as his singing counterparts.  But you know what?  Despite his flat vocals, I had absolutely no problems with him whatsoever.  I actually think he did a fine job and felt his flat vocal range perfectly fit his character and dynamics of what was being asked for him in regards to his role.  You might just make a fan of me yet, Russell Crowe.  Keep it up!

So I guess all in all, I’m happy to have seen Les Mis after all these months.  While I was not emotionally moved as much as the other fans of the film I have spoken to, I certainly appreciate it for what it strives to accomplish and the bold feats it undertakes.  It’s quite a journey and I truly think, like Aaron Neuwirth said in his past theatrical review of the film, whether you like this or not is going to depend upon the individual viewers themselves.  I don’t think I can honestly say that if you like the musical, then you are going to love this one because I have never seen the story before, not on film or on stage, so I can’t speak to that.  I’d say what else do you have to lose?  You like to take chances and take risks in life?  Then why not?   I can honestly say that I appreciate the film, for what it was, much more after a second viewing.  Yep you read that right.  I spent 5 hours of my life here.

As customary with our Blu-ray and DVD reviews, let’s move on and take a closer look at the A/V specs and extras you will find here.  Ready?

Video 

The Universal musical adventure makes its debut on the iTunes store with a crisp and clear 1080p HD transfer (also available as a 720p and Standard Definition download).  Let’s be honest, the 6+ GB transfer is never going to measure up to its big brother on the Blu-ray format, but things still look stellar here.  Everything is crystal clear despite the film’s murky and dark color palette.  However, one color cuts right through the HD transfer, and with good reason (you will quickly learn about after one viewing) and that’s the striking and bold richness of the color red.  There are no harsh artifacts to be found throughout the transfer and I guarantee you that despite only being a Digital Download, you can still count the individual strands of hair in every character’s large sideburns, except for Hathaway’s…because she cut hers off.  Sorry…I couldn’t resist.  Black levels are all crisp and inky throughout the many film’s many dark moments of shadows, night scenes, sadness and tight dwelling places.

Audio 

Like most HD iTunes movie downloads, Les Mis makes its presence known with a powerful, robust and commanding 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track.  I had no trouble understanding a single word, whether spoken or sung.  With that being said, the film is extremely front heavy, but what else were you expecting from a musical.  There’s time when the film gets multi-dimensional and bombastic with cannons, but with the exception of the film’s score, your full focus should be front and centered on the dialog and visuals happening onscreen.  Got it?

Extras

The iTunes Digital Download of Les Mis comes complete with 3 iTunes Extra features accessible and playable through iTunes on your Mac or PC.  Here you’ll find the 11-minute feature called “The Stars of Les Misérables,” the 4-minute retrospective of  “Creating the Perfect Paris” and the 11-minute feature that’s also found on the Blu-ray, “The Original Masterwork: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which takes a closer look at the brilliance of Hugo’s novel.  While there’s not a wealth of extras on the Blu-ray edition of the film either, something is better than nothing, right?

Final 

So there you have.  This is our first iTunes HD all digital review of a film here on whysoblu.com, but more importantly one of the Academy Award heralded 2012 musical drama, Les Misérables.  I would think this is a no brainier of a watch for fans of the stage musical and the previous film incarnation, but for every one else…how about gaining some culture? Get some exposure to something new?  Who knows?    You just might like it.  I have no regrets.  Ask yourself like Jean Valjean does.  “Who am I?”

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Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

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