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More Miserables

On Christmas Day, several new movies hit the big screen. The most notable this year was the latest version of Les Miserables, which opened to critical acclaim.

I sat in seat K2 at the 10am showing in Scottsdale, Arizona, which means I was amongst the first in this nation to see the already-fabled film.

"Les Miz" is the shorthand in-group fans use to refer to the show, which is a long-running Broadway musical based loosely on a 1400-page novel by French author Victor Hugo.

The unbridled enthusiasm of "Les Miz" fans led me to believe I had to see this movie if my life was to be complete.

At the insistence of my viewing companion, I read a 25-page summary of the plot over breakfast before we left for the theater. Good thing. Otherwise, I would have been utterly lost.

From beginning to end, Les Miserables was a musical. Every word was sung. They sang when they died, they sang when they killed, they sang when they swam in sewage, they sang when their molars were pulled out in a back alley for a few francs.

The director was a stickler for "authenticity," reviewers crowed. He made the actors actually sing the songs while they were acting, not mouth them and let professionals do the singing in the sound studio, the usual practice.

Authentic? Do you think anybody has ever broken out into song when they were being massacred by a regiment of soldiers? When they were dying of a wound? When they jumped off a bridge?

There is nothing authentic about musicals, period. Russell Crowe singing might be more authentic than him lip-synching, but that doesn't make it bearable.

Poor Victor Hugo. The musical people took his 1400-page masterpiece and ripped out nine pages out of every ten, leaving only those which featured actual action.

Then the producers reduced that action to rhyming couplets and set it to schmaltzy tunes.

Hugo's actual novel features complicated characters who, after 40 pages of internal dialogue, might decide to confess to a serious crime.

In the musical version, the same character dances around and sings in an operatic vibrato "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, its off to the dungeon I go!" Thirty seconds later he's disposed of and you move on to the next disaster.

If you read the novel, you can set it on the nightstand for two weeks to regain your composure before plowing forward to the next crisis.

No such respite in a theater.

If your soul is fed by scenes where people die in each others' arms while tearfully warbling, you will writhe with catharsis every ten minutes of Les Miserables.

After sobbing through her swan song, the first beautiful woman wilts and dies ten minutes into the movie.

Yay, opportunity to bawl #1!

Eventually, an irresistibly cute little boy gets shot to death. Yippee! More tears. Others die in between, all singing right to their last breath.

With Hugo's 1,400 pages condensed to a mere three hours, I felt like a tin can dragged behind a runaway horse, first through the docks, then banging down the streets of Paris, then into the sewers, then down the river, into a prison, a brothel, a sleazy hotel, then into another decade, and then a third decade, then into the middle of one of France's frequent revolutions — all while warbling in fake vibrato.

When the plot doesn't fit into rhyming couplets, the screenwriters shoehorn a whole paragraph into a single musical phrase, as if the words were commuters on a Tokyo subway.

Three hours later, the viewer has been through the mill, which is just what the masses enjoy. Sniffles from the few with sniffles left dribble through the theater as yet another beautiful person dies in the arms of another beautiful person while both tearfully warble.

This time they are covered in sewer sludge. Last time one hung upside down from a window after being shot dead. Another hits the ground with a sickening splat.

The end is near.

But it never arrives. More deaths. More shooting. More singing. More impossible dilemmas for dewy-eyed young lovers to solve as the city burns around them.

When the credits finally rolled and the only two beautiful people to survive the three-hour carnage married each other while the remainder died off around them, I escaped the Kleenex-filled theater to recover my sanity in the bathroom.

Who would willingly put themselves through this sob-fest?, I wondered as I looked myself in the mirror, relieved not to be covered in sewage. Or dead in an alley.

People who want to be more miserables, that's who.

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