Les Miserables Blu-ray Review
Fight, Hope, Dream, Love
PictureUnusually for 2012, the movie was shot entirely on 35mm, with a 2K intermediate. The AVC-MPEG transfer is very good, but the camerawork not perfect. Dealing with the picture quality first, the picture does not have the icy crispness of The Hobbit, feeling a little softer and with a significantly smaller colour palette and dynamic range. To be honest, this is a good thing, as it entirely fits the piece, adding a gentle muted look to the grimy sets. The main issue however is the frequent focus issues on some of the close up shots. The depth of field is in some cases no more than a few cm, with actor’s hair and clothing being much softer focus compared to their faces.
As the camera is often handheld, this means any movement affects the focus and needs to be corrected. On a film camera, neither the viewfinder nor video assist is good enough to set focus, so the focus puller relies on their skills and digital measuring aids to assess the focal distance and maintain a sharp picture. With so much movement, not even the best focus puller can keep up, so there are quite evident focus shifts and corrections. Such is the power of the performance, that Director and quite often camera operator Tom Hooper is not going to insist on a retake over such issues, but it is distracting nonetheless. As with most film transfers, absolute black level is not as good as a direct to digital movie, and detail is a little lacking at times, with the hugely detailed sets feeling a little wasted on occasions. Film grain is generally quite low and certainly does not intrude.
The hand held camera work and plenty of intense close ups can feel a bit strained at times and it occasionally feels like tension is being built up artificially. I can understand why it was done and on a reasonable size screen it works OK, but sit too close to an oversized plasma and sea sickness might just set in.
The CGI is excellent and generally seamless, with the digitally created ship fitting into the dry dock and the backdrops and French roofs grafted nicely onto the practical sets. The use of real locations helps a lot, but plenty of tidying up and addition of depth has been employed.
There are no brightness, solarising or edge enhancement issues though, so it still deserves a very high mark. It just loses a point for the focus issues, occasionally wayward camerawork and a lack of ultimate detail.
SoundThe DTS-HD MA 7.1 stream is simply stunning. A tip here though, if your surround system has weaker surround speakers – IE: satellites for the surrounds with bigger mains or a lesser centre speaker, have a listen in stereo as well as full surround. I am not suggesting the movie sounds better like this, but the stereo is every bit as good as the full surround mix and any mismatch in your system will disturb the fine balance the sound team have created and you may actually find it more intimate and immersive in stereo. The LFE is powerful and impactful where required and the surround channels carry a wonderfully ambient and spacious track, with plenty of dynamic range and power. Effects are accurately located and vocals clear and well placed in the sound field, not locked to the centre channel.
The use of live radio mics and virtually no over-dubs or lip syncing gives this movie an intimacy that I have not heard before. The sound team were juggling just as many radio mics as a full on West End show, but also had all the noise of a conventional film set to contend with. The performers all wore discrete earpieces (undetectable in the movie) and sang to a live piano track throughout. This was then replaced with the full orchestra, who had to track the tempo changes and pauses from the original vocal performances and give a powerful performance without destroying the vocal tracks. In some cases, this movie will sound significantly better on a home theatre system than at the cinema, the closer proximity to the speakers playing dividends here.
In all respects, this truly is an awesome and detailed sound mix. Ultimately slightly limited in dynamics, but this is a musical, not a blockbuster action movie and so this is entirely acceptable. I have no hesitation in giving it a 10.
ExtrasAs you might expect for a major release, plenty of time has been spent getting the extras and menus to look as good as possible. Universal have done a great job, but then allowed the marketing team to flush it all down the toilet by shoehorning in getting on for seven minutes of trailers, including one for a TV box set of Mr Selfridge! It smacks of over commercialisation and annoys me on a disc that will sell so well. So having skipped through the trailers and selected the correct language, we arrive at a very nice main menu. As with most Universal releases, this allows you to save your own bookmarks, as well as using the scene selection. You can choose your listening and subtitle language and also turn Tom Hooper’s commentary on and off. To be honest, if you have watched the extras, then you do not need to listen to him, as very little of what he says cannot be gleaned from the various production shorts.
The extras can be split into two categories, the first being a look at the original book and author, while the majority concentrate on the movie itself, coming together to form an extended making of documentary. Nicely made in HD, this highlights various aspects of the production, including casting, singing, set design and also a tribute to the various stage performers who appeared alongside the established film actors. In all, almost an hour of material and well worth watching.
VerdictDescribed as the first of a new genre, this film is without doubt a stunning production of the musical phenomenon that is Les Miserables. If the performances do not blow you away, then I am not sure what will. Some have complained it feels over-long, but I would disagree. There is little in the way of padding and indeed, some parts of the musical have been truncated to keep running time to a quite reasonable 2 hours and 38 minutes. Jackman and Hathaway might steal the show, but the rest of the cast put in equally fine performances, making this a truly compelling film to watch. Technically, the music leads the plaudits, being both intimate and powerful in equal measure. The picture just about lives up to the standards expected, but it does feel secondary to the sound at times, with quite a few noticeable focus issues and limited colour gamut.
Truly a must-have disc for any lovers of musical theatre, but even if you think that sad musicals about love and compassion during the French revolution are not your thing, this disc might just surprise you.
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