So y’know how Les Misérables came out over Christmas? Of course you do: your neighbor’s been singing it incessantly since (which song? All of them, duh). While musicals are nothing new, Les Misérables was special because they recorded the actors singing live on set and added the orchestration in post-production. Usually, the songs are recorded beforehand and lip-synched to during filming. The route Les Mis took allowed them to try the songs several different ways on set. The result is a fantastic musical and a radical breakthrough in the production process.
Only, well, it’s been done before. Several times, in fact. A quick wikipedia check reveals that some early talkies as well as a couple movies I’ve never seen used it. So why the hullabaloo?
Well, when was the last time a massive musical people were this excited about came out? It seems almost as if musicals fell out of fashion a while back and suddenly we have this daringly massive new one (based on a stage production based on a book) coming out. People are excited. And rightfully so, it’s a great movie, one that might remind us that musicals are viable films. Even though Les Mis really didn’t revolutionize anything, the film has an impact and will now be the one people think of with regards to recording the songs live.
Quick! Think of a comicbook/superhero movie before X-Men came out in 2000! Besides Tim Burton’s Batman and Superman and the sequels. Unless you cheated and used wikipedia, none should really come to mind. Sure, there were quite a handful of rather lousy b-movies that came out, but no one really cared about them. Then along came X-Men and Spider-Man and suddenly superhero movies mattered. Well, not immediately, but look at the movies coming out now.
Within the span of a little over a decade superhero movies went from being absolute rubbish (Batman & Robin) to a viable economic investment (Spider-Man 2) to a legitimate dramatic form of storytelling (The Dark Knight) to an incredibly enjoyable piece of cinema (The Avengers). Was superhero movies a new idea? Nope: the first Captain America serial came out in 1944. But it took proof that it was worth it to give us this new slew of movies. Which I’m certainly not complaining about.
We like to clamber over movies as being new and revolutionary for pioneering old techniques. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not a big deal, and I’m not saying it isn’t revolutionary. Just because something’s been done to death and cast off as being a waste of time (see: Batman & Robin) doesn’t mean it can’t be done differently (Batman Begins). Good reboots are this: old things made new, done right. We can complain all we want about a lack of originality, but Star Trek and Captain America: The First Avenger are the movies we want to see.
So go see Les Misérables, go enjoy a superhero movie. Never mind it’s not entirely new or revolutionary; they’re trying on old hats, enjoying something new.
And who knows; maybe Les Mis will spark a new offering of cinematic musicals.
Writer’s Note: Apologies for the shorter/lackluster post; I’m in Spain on a school trip. Yes. That is my excuse. Now let me go get tapas.