1998 Movie (US)
Valjean: Liam Neeson — Javert: Geoffrey Rush — Fantine: Uma Thurman
Special Guest Stars: Claire Danes, Peter Vaughn
Directed by Bille August
A Mandalay Pictures production
M. Gillenormand: no
Both Mlle. Baptistine and Mme. Magloire: (only Mme. Magloire, and she's renamed Mme. Gillot)
Thénardiers, after the inn: no
Sister Simplice: no (a nun is shown, but not named)
Gavroche's brothers: sort of… the two boys are present but not named
Fauchelevant: yes (renamed Lafitte)
Mme. Victurnien: yes
Petit Gervais: no
M. Mabeuf: no
Hugo's original preface used
Valjean is in prison at the beginning
Bishop Myriel remains asleep during the robbery (no, he wakes—and Valjean knocks him on the head!)
Fantine and Félix Tholomyès
Fantine sells her teeth
Fantine becomes a prostitute
Valjean buries his money
Fight at Fantine's Deathbed
The ship Orion
Valjean meets Cosette at the well
The first incident at Gorbeau House
Javert chases Valjean and Cosette
* Through Paris (well, over Paris)
* On foot
* Car(riage) chase
The second incident at Gorbeau House
Valjean and Cosette see the chain gang
Lamarque's funeral is shown or mentioned
Chase through sewers
Story continues after Javert's suicide
Marius, after learning Valjean's history, treats him badly
Correct number (no number mentioned)
Works in the galleys
The factory makes glass beads (they make tile!)
The doll, Catherine (well, there is a doll....)
The garden at Rue Plumet (not named, but there)
The Luxembourg Garden
The town's name is Montreuil-sur-mer (no, for some inexplicable reason it is called Vigau)
The man Valjean saves in Arras is named Champmathieu (no, another name)
Valjean's name becomes Fauchelevant (no; he does take the other man's name, but it is Lafitte)
Eponine/Gavroche as Thénardier's child
P R O D U C T I O N N O T E S
It coulda, it shoulda... but it didn't. To say this movie was a bit of a disappointment would be like saying Thénardier is a bit dodgy. Much is missing from this version, and some things that were included are questionable—I mean, a love affair blossoming between Valjean and Fantine? Only in Hollywood. And what's this about Valjean giving the factory to the workers? As a convicted thief his property would have been confiscated... oh, never mind. Too much trouble to go into right now.
This long-awaited, big-name project caused quite a bit of stir when it was announced. Many leading men were considered for the part of Jean Valjean, including Robert Duvall, but Liam Neeson's previous experience with the book and the fact that it holds a profound place in his heart probably did a lot to winning him the role. Geoffrey Rush, fresh from his Oscar win in Shine, was tapped for Javert, and Uma Thurman won the coveted role of Fantine. Claire Danes, who played opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the latest remake of Romeo+Juliet, was cast as Cosette. Beyond that, hardly anyone in the cast is well known.
And, as often happens in big-name pictures, the budget went to the stars' salaries and not to the writers, and it shows. Not that Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush didn't deserve every penny they got—personally, I blame the director for this mess, it was his picture. Bille August made a lovely postcard with nothing written on it except "having a wonderful time, wish you were here". For example, something I find troubling, is the fact that in the press kit, a picture exists of Valjean kneeling in the road, a sack of silver in his hand, and he's weeping openly, the first time since his imprisonment that he has allowed himself to cry. This is his moment, the moment of conversion, of understanding. This scene does not appear in the film; instead, the Bishop hands him the silver, tells him to do some good with it, and sends him on his way. Not very inspiring at all.
As for the other details of the plot:
C A S T N O T E S
T H E B E S T T H I N G S A B O U T T H I S V E R S I O N
Liam Neeson looks strong enough to lift a cart. His large hands convey this as well—and yet, his face can project both Valjean's innate innocence as well as the flashes of anger that threaten to control him.
The soundtrack is wonderful. I listen to it often, it's one of the most haunting scores I've come across in a long time. And, thankfully, there is no pop version of the theme song anywhere.
Valjean shown as illiterate in the beginning when he meets the Bishop, and then, as Mayor, he is teaching himself to read and write… and his staff is helping him do it. Very powerful.
Captain Beauvais, a character not seen in the original, is a good addition, as is Javert's spy among the students. They help to tie up loose plot threads that otherwise would have been left hanging.
T H E W O R S T T H I N G S A B O U T T H I S V E R S I O N
Not enough Thénardier. His five minutes of screen time are more than an indication that his character should have continued through the film… but Javert is portrayed as the ultimate villain here, and so there is no room for Thénardier.
Although Javert's suicide is spectacular, he does it in front of Valjean—who then walks away, smiling, happy… an ending that turned my stomach. If he saved Javert once he would have saved him again, or at least try....
Valjean is caught stealing the silver by the Bishop, so he cracks the guy across the head with it. Valjean strikes the Bishop? On the other hand, the actor playing the Bishop did such a crude job of it he deserved to get womped on.
Neeson's good Valjean isn't good enough and his bad Valjean isn't bad enough. The hatred in him as he beats Javert's head against the wall at Fantine's deathbed—this is the Valjean before the candlesticks, not the one after. He is shown seriously lapsing, without repentence.
Marius is seen as the leader of the students, which isn't the problem. His second, however, is a young black man. See this image of the students to see what I mean. Now, I know from my personal research in that time that there were many free people of African descent in France then (thanks to the edicts passed under the Revolution abolishing slavery). However, at no point in this film is he referred to by name, and it is only in the credits, by process of elimination, that one can assign a name to him, and I still may be wrong: Courfeyrac. (note: I have been informed that the actor is Lennie James, and the character is in fact credited on IMDB as Enjolras) (note 2010: which begs the question I didn't ask when I first wrote this: is a black Enjolras not good enough to be the leader of the students? WTF Mr. August?) Still, American audiences being what they are, this single black man in the midst of a French classic is to them incongruous, and distracting, especially when one considers that he is also for all intents and purposes anonymous; he seems tacked on as a "token", which, while that may not have been the original intent, is how it is conveyed. I have spoken to many audience members at the various showings I have been to and all of them wondered why there was a black man at the barricade, thinking it might be some form of political correctness on the director's part to avoid an all-white cast. After I got strange looks from explaining that there were personnes du colour libre (free people of color) in France, I drop the bombshell about how the guy who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo was one-quarter black, the grandson of a French count by way of a Haitian slave, a heritage he neither hid nor took shame in. Yet another attitude difference between American audiences and European ones: the latter would never think twice about it, and the former would think about nothing else. Whether this is the fault of the director or the fault of the audience is left up to another discussion.
T H E S I L V E R C A N D L E S T I C K A W A R D S ( " STICKIES® " )
And the awards go to....
W H E R E T O F I N D T H I S V E R S I O N
Available anywhere. Currently the easist version to get your hands on. Although (as of 2010) I am comforted that I keep seeing them for $9.99 at the Food-4-Less