Les Misérables (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after breaking parole, agrees to care for a factory worker's daughter. The decision changes their lives forever.

July 17, 2023 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Every year there are films that are just destined to try and get noticed by “The Academy.”  Usually those opening on Christmas Day are surefire bets and anything released in the award season is also no doubt, trying (and going) to get noticed for the impending awards.  Obviously the hope is that these movies will be nominated and win Golden Globes, SAG and the granddaddy of them all – the Oscar.  If you’ve got some sort of checklist going, Les Misérables pretty much satisfies every major component.  Academy Award winning director?  Check.  All-star cast? Check.  Big budget, over the top film? Check.  You get the idea.  And I’ll go out on a limb and will assume that most everyone has heard of Les Misérables, based on the work by author Victor Hugo.  And if you haven’t, you’ve seen the iconic image of the blonde-haired girl with her mane blowing in the wind?  I’m a big fan of musicals, heck one of my top three favorite movies of all-time is Singin’ in the Rain, but Les Misérables is a bit of a departure from the traditional Hollywood film.  It was a risk, certainly, and I’d ask if it paid off but judging from its 8 Oscar nominations (and subsequent 3 wins) – it worked.  Admittedly until this film, I really didn’t know the exact plot of the movie and even after seeing it, I’m probably off on a few points, but bear with me and I’ll do my best!

The story focuses on two competing plot points, that of Jean Veljean (Hugh Jackman, in probably his best role to date), a man imprisoned by the “evil” Javert (Russell Crowe) for two decades for stealing a loaf of bread in which to feed his family.  He’s eventually released, though he’s forced to carry some papers that identify him as a danger to society.  Valjean eventually finds some hope via a Bishop (Colm Wilkinson) who mentors him and eventually helps him become Mayor of a small French village.  Contrast this with the story of Fantine (Anne Hathaway, in her Oscar-winning role), a factory worker employed by Javert who later fires her.  This leads her to a life of prostitution.  The two stories intersect when Fantine shows up in the village, she dies and Valjean vows to take care of her younger sister (remember the iconic young blonde girl with her hair blowing in the wind?  Yeah, that’s her.). I’m sure I missed several things, but that’s the gist of the storyline.  As mentioned before, some love it and some won’t.  I’m not sure exactly where I stand just yet.

I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but this movie is so polarizing that it’s nearly impossible to predict how the viewer will react.  I kind of went in wanting to hate the film namely since every line is in the form of song.  Yes, that’s single-minded and pretty much against everything I try to do with this site, but it’s just the way that I feel.  I have to admit that, if anything, it enhances my adoration for Hugh Jackman, who might be one of the better actors to come around in the last few decades.  Oh yeah, and he’s played Wolverine in four movies – how awesome is that?  Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and though I think the role screamed it, I do have to admit that I think it was well-deserved.  The ensemble cast also features Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe and Sacha Baron Cohen.  Love it or hate it, Les Misérables was a hit with audiences, both critically and commercially.  Universal has done a top notch job with the technical aspects of the production, so it’s now up to you, movie-goer to make the ultimate decision.

Video: How does it look?

Les Misérables epitomizes the big budget Hollywood film. Visually, anything short of perfection simply won’t be heard of.  The original Blu-ray looked great, not perfect but great. Flash forward and now we’ve got a 4K 1.85:1 HEVC image that’s, well, stunning. The intricate detail gives us just what we want to see.  The actors’ hair (or lack thereof in a few cases), little patches of missing skin, the beads of sweat and so forth – amazing.  Black levels and contrast play off one another nicely here as the film has several dark moments.  The movie encompasses just about every atmosphere, both interior and exterior so sit back, relax and realize that you’ll be getting a top notch presentation that looks superb. Add to this, the HDR and it’s a worthwhile improvement.

Audio: How does it sound?

Do you like singing?  Yes?  Ok, that’s good, because you’re going to get 158 minutes of nothing but song.  Nope, those weren’t rumors you heard – every single line of dialogue in this movie is in the form of song.  Some like that and others don’t (put me in the latter category).  Still, I do have to admit that the included Dolby Atmos soundtrack is simply perfect in every way, shape and form.  Vocals sound majestic booming from all 7.1 channels and we’re treated (or tortured depending on your point of view) to such a variety of talents with Hugh Jackman’s performance leading the way.  And then we have Russell Crowe’s performance.  The sheer scope of the movie and the richness of the sound make this something unforgettable and it’s an amazing audio experience. Like the video, this is another upgrade that we didn’t necessarily need, but its presence is welcome (and felt).

Supplements: What are the extras?

Sadly, there have been no new supplements added, but what we have is fairly substantial.

  • Audio Commentary – The included audio commentary with director Tom Hooper is actually pretty interesting with his technical know how, his decisions about some of the songs and the interpretation of the play as a musical via film.  It’s actually not a bad track and it was a breath of fresh air to actually watch this and hear someone speak, as opposed to sing.
  • Les Misérables: A Revolutionary Approach – is a series of shorter featurettes that focus on the sheer depth of the play, the planning and production as well as some interviews with the cast and crew.
  • The Original Masterwork: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – is a ten minute look at just that, the original novel by author Victor Hugo.

The Bottom Line

For those that loved the source material, great performances or singing (and lots of it) this one is for you. Likely this will be the standard for its adaptation for years to come and there really are some great performances. The film itself is an acquired taste, but I found it more enjoyable the second time around. Universal’s disc retains the same supplements as the original version, but adds a lovely new 4K transfer and a booming Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

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