I recently watched three movies based on favorite books of mine: Les Miserables, The Life of Pi, and Hunger Games. I don't think I've ever been fully satisfied by a film rendition of a book I loved. But I was largely satisfied by these movies.
I would have to say the negative reviews are right about two aspects of Les Miserables: That too much is crammed into 2 hours and 40 minutes, and that Russell Crowe doesn't sing well enough for his part. The added song "Suddenly" doesn't particularly stand out. I also find a disjunct in the presentation of the first and second acts. In the first part so many scenes appear so staged, in particular the opening and "Lovely Ladies."
Storytelling on stage and film differ because we expect a more natural rendition in film, as it is more realistic and intimate. Events such as people falling down to the beat of the music look too horribly contrived for film. And the compression of time that we easily accept on a pared down stage is less believable for us in a movie. My husband and I agree that "Lovely Ladies" would have been better spread out over several days to make Fantine's descent into degradation more believable. And at the same time the story could have been told more efficiently with such devices as integrating the scenes of Fantine entertaining her first client into the last four lines of the song. The camera doesn't have to follow a person's every movement; they could have easily cut to a bedroom scene. And I was expecting MTV sequences during songs like "I Dreamed a Dream" that would show us more of the character's life. Or some visual metaphor like the exquisite cemetery scene in the movie version of The Phantom of the Opera. "Stars" did not make full use of the obvious visual metaphor, being performed on a hazy night. That seems illogical: Who would be inspired to sing to stars they could barely see? And I'm not sure how I feel about the impromptu fencing scene between Javert and Valjean. On the one hand it was a little silly, on the other it heightened the drama of the scene. I think it was really ripping a beam off the wall I found over the top. It's just not something people would normally think of. You'd look for something loose lying around for a weapon--a curtain pole might have been okay. Even a bedpost would have made more sense. At least it's at eye level. People just don't normally look for something they can use on the ceiling, especially if it's something firmly fixed. That's what made the scene look ridiculous.
In any case the second act was rendered much more naturalistically. It helped that it used more open space in actual Paris. Marius was presented very sympathetically here. Here is where adding material from the book really helped. I never liked Marius in the musical although I found him a sympathetic character in the book. Knowing about his aristocratic grandfather makes us understand more why deep down Marius is kind of a snob--which is why he would never take romantic interest in Eponine and why he easily agreed that Valjean should not be a part of his and Cosette's lives.
I'm glad that both Eponine and Gavroche were given screen time here though not nearly enough. But then, even the book doesn't deal with them enough. They are fascinating characters because their better natures manage to shine through despite the influence of their parents the Thenardiers. I like how the little Eponine was included in the "Master of the House" scenes to show how she was raised to be a rogue. Cosette in comparison is horribly dull once she grows up. Though one has to wonder why she doesn't remember her past at all. Still, I don't think Cosette is interesting enough to have two sequels focused on her (both badly reviewed on Goodreads, where I learned about them). Take-offs focusing on Eponine would have been more interesting. It's a pity really she is reduced to barely more than a lovelorn girl in the musical although the film tried to work in more of her back story and her struggles with her conscience. At least you can see more of her habitual actions in the movie, sneaking around and following people.
I like how much of the best of both musical and book were incorporated here, though I have to say it was overwhelming even for someone like me who's familiar with both. And I wish that they had put in "Little People" somehow. I was a bit bothered by the fact that little Gavroches seemed to have led all the students to their death. Thinking about it, though, he was one of the actual little people they were fighting for so his determination to keep up the fight may be forgiven.
All in all, it is a beautiful and affecting film and the best version of Les Miserables I've seen on screen. It captured the romantic spirit of the story, which the Liam Neeson version pared down.
As for the other films I mentioned here, I don't have much to say except that Life of Pi was incredibly beautiful visually. I still have to return to the novel to recall how true it was, but it seemed generally true to it and presented the experience of struggling for survival at sea believably. The attention to detail was amazing. I wish I'd watched it in 3D.
I'd have to say the same for The Hunger Games. Furthermore, the addition here of behind the scenes details make us more aware of the reasons behind the events experienced by what was in the book a first-person narrator.
Film versions of books make us realize there are so many ways to approach and present a story. And various types of media have different advantages which should be utilized to the utmost in storytelling. Visual elements must be the focus of film, but what makes a book unforgettable is language. It also does better in introspection and analysis. Song makes it possible to present experiences succinctly, as "I Dreamed a Dream" which gives the impression of a woman's life story in a few verses.
Obviously, though, prose is the ideal medium of me as I'm kind of a rambler. Enough said for now.