All Eyes On Bloggers, Ed. 2 + From Page to Screen Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

Today I’m offering two posts combined into one, because today marks one month since I posted my first edition of All Eyes On Bloggers, Ed. 1a series that features some favorite posts I’ve read around the blogosphere over the month of September. Without further ado, I present . . .

All Eyes On Bloggers, Ed. 2

I’m a new reader to Getter Trumsi’s blog, Mettel Ray, the place where she talks a lot about the small screen. I’m definitely a new fan, and one of my favorite posts of hers includes her recent Shame List, a list of movies that are considered classics or popular or must-see for any film buff, but ones she hasn’t actually watched yet. I love this idea for a post, considering that my list would likely be just as long as hers.

One movie I’m certain to see in the near future is A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014), given the positive reviews by both Tom of Digital Shortbread and Dan of Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews. Meanwhile, Chef (2014) has become an absolute must-see with great reviews by Nostra at My Film Reviews, Jaina at Time Well Spent, and Ryan at The Matinee. And if it ever shows in Milwaukee, Ruth at Flixchatter has all but convinced me that my fall will not be complete until I’ve seen The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (2014), thanks to her review.

I have joined two blogathons after being inspired by other bloggers’ participating posts: Caroline posted about her favorite guilty pleasures films at her site Let’s Go to the Movies by participating in Jenna and Allie’s Guilty Pleasure Movie Blogathon (you can check out my guilty pleasures movies too here!). One of my absolute favorite posts I’ve gotten to read so far spawned from the The Matinee, where Ryan wrote about what the movies of the summer taught him. You can read my copycat post and feel free to write a similar post if you’d like.

I also read a couple of interesting posts about two popular animated flicks: first, this post from one of my new favorite blogs to read, Writer Loves Movies, poses the question, What do you think makes Toy Story such an enduring animation? second, Mark at The Animation Commendation continues to ask questions about the background of unknown characters in animations films, this time focusing on “The Lady with the Kids” in Pixar’s Monster’s Inc (2001).

And that wraps up edition two. Thanks everyone for all the great posts this month . . . looking forward to reading this October!

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From Page to Screen: The Maze Runner (2014)

From Page to Screen Header

Switching gears here, I’ve been very excited to see The Maze Runner (2014) ever since I read the book (okay, all three) and saw the promising trailer for this YA adaptation. While I’m growing tired of teenage protagonists leading the fight to end the government in a post-apocalyptic world, I felt like James Dashner’s idea was a bit different, and the movie was worth giving my attention to. My sister, Jennifer, has written for All Eyes On Screen before, even if it has been a couple years. She helped me with this second From Page to Screen post, writing both the book review and participating in the compare/contrast section at the end.

Book Review

By Jennifer Griffin

TMR coverReleased in 2009, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner (2009) is another novel belonging to the currently trendy, young adult post-apocalyptic sci-fi/dystopian genre, and it is often compared to The Lord of the Flies (1954), a book about a group of British boys who find themselves stranded on a deserted island. The Lord of the Flies, The Maze Runner, The Giver (1993), The Hunger Games (2008), and other young adult dystopian fiction center around the theme of welfare of the individual vs. the welfare of the community.

Instead of a teenage heroine turning into a modern Joan of Arc archetype, The Maze Runner’s plot centers around 17-year-old Thomas, who wakes up one day in a metal cage realizing that he remembers absolutely nothing about himself except for his first name. When the cage stops moving, he finds himself transported to an unnaturally isolated environment in which only boys ages 12 through 18 reside and band together to survive. Every boy he meets refuses to tell him anything about what has happened or why he remembers nothing about his past. They consistently call him “Greenie,” and have added other strange colloquialisms to their vocabulary such as “shank” for idiot or “klunk” for poop. One book reviewer, Jessica Harrison of the Deseret Morning News, states that the main drawbacks of the book The Maze Runner are that it “starts out a bit slow,” and the “fictionalized slang gets old pretty fast.”

As time goes by, Thomas learns that all of the boys have been trapped in what they call the Glade, where each boy works in his own unit for the good of the group, the Maze preventing them from finding a way out because its patterns change every night. The other problem that plagues the Gladers are the nightmarish, blubbery robot creatures they call Grievers which can either kill or sting the boys, a blow that would force them to go through “The Changing” process, which will kill its victims if they do not receive the Griever serum (supplied by the Maze creators) in time. Those who experience “The Changing” also remember fragments of their past before they were marooned in the Glade. After Thomas arrives in the Glade, Gladers who went through “The Changing” target Thomas, specifically Gally and Ben, both who claim Thomas is to blame for their predicament. Ben also tries to kill Thomas at one point. Three days after Thomas’s arrival, a girl named Teresa comes up in the cage and immediately recognizes Thomas. She’s holding a note that says she will be the last person to arrive in the box.

These events prompt the gladers to mistrust Thomas until one night Alby, their leader, and Minho, the keeper of the runners, do not come out of the Maze as the doors are about to close. The Gladers consider being left inside the Maze overnight a death sentence, left to be the victims of the Grievers and the changing Maze walls. As the Maze doors are shutting, Thomas runs into the Maze to save them, trapping himself inside. Minho has given up and run; Alby has been stung and left for dead. Not only is Thomas instrumental in saving Alby’s life by hiding him in the Maze walls from the Grievers, but he also outsmarts the Grievers into jumping off a cliff to their deaths, saving Minho and himself in the process. The Gladers gain a newfound respect for Thomas, making him their new unspoken leader. Thomas motivates the Gladers to find a way out of the Maze using the patterns that the runners have compiled with the help of Teresa, with whom he can inexplicably speak telepathically. The Gladers finally discover how to leave the Maze by going through the Grievers’s entrance into the Maze and inputing the letter codes from the Maze patterns they discovered. Thomas leads a group of Gladers to their final battle with the Grievers in front of the exit, many of whom die while fighting. Only Thomas and nineteen others survive and make it through.

At the end of the book, the head of W.I.C.K.E.D., the agency responsible for putting the boys in the maze and experimenting on their minds to interpret their reactions to the trials, reveals two key pieces of information:

1) They are experimenting on more than one group of people.

2) More trials await the Gladers.

I give The Maze Runner book

Eye Art1Eye Art1

 and 1/2 EYES ON PAGE.

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Film Review

By Kristin

So I let Jennifer handle the book review, and since this is a longer post, I’m going to keep this film review fairly short. If you’ve read the book (or the review Jennifer wrote), you’ll have a pretty good idea of The Maze Runner‘s plot. So instead of reiterating the story, I’ll separate my thoughts on the movie into two categories: negative and positive. Let’s start with negative first, and get it out of the way!

Negative
  • Tangled Plot – I supposed I mean the pun when I say “tangled,” give that this movie is about a maze. Puns aside, The Maze Runner is a bit of a mess when it comes to the plot. It’s partially understandable given that the source material was complicated. You have all of those terms down that were mentioned in the book review, right? Haha. Unlike this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which introduced us to a new universe, characters, and story, The Maze Runner struggled to communicate its reasoning behind why the characters did what they did. The plot moved forward so quickly at some points, that characters were making decisions where I was left scratching my head and wondering why.
  • Too much change – While I actually applaud screenwriters Noah Oppenheim, Grand Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin for leaving out some unnecessary explanations and scenes from the book, I think they failed to include enough explanation, leaving the actors to try to be really, really convincing when the story didn’t support their actions.
  • Not enough characterization – This is one point my sister discussed with me at length, but like any good story, you can’t care about the characters if you don’t know enough about them. While Thomas seemed to be the most evolved on screen, prominent characters such as Chuck, Teresa, and Alby didn’t receive enough screen time or dialogue for us to care about their characters.
Positive
  • Great casting – This is such a subjective point, but I loved the cast, specifically Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who stood out as Newt. Dylan O’Brien plays a convincing enough lead who will undoubtedly be offered more opportunities after The Maze Runner. Aml Ameen (Alby) and Ki Hong Lee (Minho) were great in their roles as well, although they functioned more as needles in a haystack with the large cast of youthful boys in an unmemorable film.
  • Memorable soundtrack – While John Paesano doesn’t have the largest resume, he composed a fitting, fast-paced score to match the intensity and energy of The Maze Runner‘s action scenes. Apparently Paesano is also the composer behind this year’s When the Game Stands Tall‘s soundtrack, which I might have to check out now.
  • Ideal set – While I normally don’t comment much on a film’s set, the set for The Maze Runner was not only massive, but also as scary and intimidating as I imagined it could have been when reading the book. The maze acted as a character in this film, and I certainly wasn’t surprised to read that it was filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a fitting place for a set as large as that one must have been.

I give The Maze Runner

Eye Art1Eye Art1

 and 1/2 EYES ON SCREEN.

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Compare/Contrast THE MAZE RUNNER’s Book and Film

Answers given by Jennifer Griffin

Which did you hear of first, the book or the film? I heard about the book first. After I read The Hunger Games (2008), it was a book series recommended to me being of the same genre. Only thing is, instead of a heroine, we have a hero.

What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the book?

Favorite – My favorite part of the book was the interpersonal relationships between the characters, and how they all seemed to work together. They’ve all been marooned for almost 3 years in the maze, and they all have established this society that has helped everyone survive, and actually in some respects, prosper more than what they would in their dystopian world in which they’ve come from.

Least favorite – My least favorite part – there’s not necessarily one thing that’s horrible or great – obviously they establish their own language, which for me took a long time to get used to. Something that was an even bigger deal to me: in the book, Thomas and Teresa can communicate with telepathy backand forth, and Dashner never explains how or why they can do it, or why they’re special, or even why the characters remember certain things, but don’t remember others.

Do you think it was inspired by any other books? A lot of people compare it to The Hunger Games, but there was no way Dashner could “taken” an idea away from Suzanne Collins because of when it was published. He’s definitely inspired by Ray Bradbury, because Fahrenheit 451 (1953) is one of the first dystopian books. I also think he’s been inspired by Lord of the Flies (1954), which The Maze Runner shares a lot of the same ideas.

What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the movie?

Favorite – I would say the actual maze. It was very interesting to see how they showed how the maze change, the different noises it made, and just the terrifying concept of running into this maze in the middle of the night.

Least favorite – The explanation of things: I understand how you can’t explain all the terminology throughout; it would take forever. But I felt the like the whole explanation of “The Changing” made no sense in the movie; also, [it was never explained] why a person would go through “The Changing” and what that would explain for them. In addition, the character Teresa is made to look like an idiotic, throwaway character in the movie. (She actually fills in a lot of the blanks in the book.) One other part I really disliked is that I felt like the movie had a lot of missed opportunities in the scene with just Thomas and Minho.

Do you think the movie was inspired by any other movies? One thing that makes the movie appealing is that you don’t really see anything like this; it doesn’t really remind of anything except for maybe The Matrix (1999), but it’s so different it’s really hard to compare.

Will the book, movie, or both forms, stand the test of time? No, because I don’t feel like [the story] is original enough in a lot of ways. The whole idea of studying people for years on end and seeing how they react to things, even international crises going on, is not a new idea. The only new idea is that they’re testing it on teenagers. And both the book and movie have been released at a time when a lot of other young adult franchises that have come out that are either more well-written as a book or more effective as a film.

Thanks again to Jennifer for both her book review, as well as answering all of my questions about The Maze Runner.

It’s your turn now. Have you seen The Maze Runner? If not, do you plan to see it? What do you think of the film compared to the book? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts.

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Movies and Video Games: A Crossover of Actors and Voicework Talent

Sean Bean and his character Emperor Martin Septim in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Guest Post by Matt Phelps

Just recently, Kristin came walking into the room while I was playing the latest iteration in the Elder Scrolls franchise, Elder Scrolls Online (2014). After watching for a couple seconds, she shouted out “that’s Michael Gambon!” in somewhat bewildered disbelief. Sure enough, the aged character with a staff in Elder Scrolls Online was voiced by Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon. In a marketing ploy to ultimately bring more dollars in, Zenimax Studios hired several well-known screen actors to voice characters inside the video game, including Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy, Kate Beckinsale, Alfred Molina, Malcolm McDowell, and John Cleese. This isn’t the first time an Elder Scrolls game has brought in talent from the big screen: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) had Sir Patrick Stewart, Sean Bean, and Terrence Stamp while The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) utilized Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow’s talents. The publisher itself, Bethesda Softworks, has been known to tap screen talent for its games, bringing in Liam Neeson for Fallout 3 (2008) and Ron Perlman as a narrator for the Fallout series’ marketing materials.

Check out this fun video featuring interviews with the cast of Elder Scrolls Online:

 

Why are video game publishers trying to bring in big name movie actors? Is it truly because of talent, or just to bring in more money so they can develop the next installment in the series? Popular consensus seems to suggest that studios should leave the voice acting to the voice talent and leave the screen acting to the screen talent and any crossover is just a money-grabbing scheme by big corporations.

Let me submit that perhaps being a good screen actor and being a good voice actor are not mutually exclusive. Many film and TV actors have found success from lending their voice to a video game character. My opinion is that there is a pool of acting talent out there from which films, TV shows, and video games all draw. One video game character that I find to be pretty cool is Morrigan from Dragon Age: Origins (2009) and Inquisition (2014), who is voiced by Claudia Black, an actress who gained recognition from acting in the sci-fi TV shows Farscape (1999-2003; which I still haven’t been able to bring myself to watch) and Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007). Yvonne Strahovski, who came to prominence as Sarah in Chuck (2007-2012), starred as a main character in the video game Mass Effect 2 (2010), won a Saturn Award for her guest work on Dexter (2006-2013), and most recently, starred alongside Keifer Sutherland on 24: Live Another Day (2014).

Yvonne Strahovski and her character Miranda Lawson in Mass Effect 2

Perhaps in today’s age of interconnected everything, actors at their core transcend just the screen- or voice-talent stereotype. Maybe acting now consists of being more than just a pretty face for the big screen. One of the more brilliant actors I know of, Benedict Cumberbatch, has an extensive resume that covers film, TV, theatre, radio, and video games. Now more than ever before, I believe actors are breaking out of the traditional boxes created for them and showcasing their talent in a variety of ways.

So while I do agree that a lot of big-name hires are done just for attention, I think it does some good as well in breaking down traditional lines drawn for types of media. A future of overlapping and intertwined media is inevitable, so why not start now?

It’s your turn now. Have you noticed any actors’ voices from video games? Do you have any favorite video games that feature big screen actors’ voices? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

Guest Post — Accomplished Directors and Their Film Debuts

My friend, Matt, has gladly agreed to guest post once again for me so I can have a little break from blogging. Last month, he did multiple Q/A blog post sessions on the Oscars with me. He’s an excellent writer and he continues to build his film knowledge with research, discussion, and film viewing. Be sure to check out his bio at the bottom of the page to get more acquainted with who he is and what he’s been up to.

–Kristin

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By Matthew Roth

Ever heard of Firelight, The Bellboy and the Playgirls, or The Pleasure Garden? How about Piranha Part 2: The Spawning? What if I told you those were the debut features of the men who brought us Schindler’s List, The Godfather, Rear Window, and Avatar? Everybody has to start somewhere. It’s enjoyable to see a filmmaker’s creative process from first feature to Lifetime Achievement Award. Some filmmakers seem like they were born to make movies; others really have to work to become great.

Film should be studied the way we study any other art. In most cases, we can’t look at movies on an individual basis; the study of film should always come back to the author of the picture, perhaps a producer or writer, but usually a director. Just as you wouldn’t study The Great Gatsby without learning about F. Scott Fitzgerald, so you shouldn’t view a film without, at some point, doing a little research about the director and his body of work.

Someone recently made a statement online saying that the director spends his life trying to make the perfect version of the same movie. Obviously, that oversimplifies things; however, there still is a good deal of truth in that statement.

When studying film, it’s good to go back to a director’s first feature. What genres, techniques, visual styles, and themes inspired the author to start making pictures to begin with? Often you will find the things a director explores in his first film show up in many that follow; with each subsequent film, he tweaks characterization, plot, themes, and visuals in an attempt to create a perfect version of that first film.

Not every director is like this. Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to look at the first features of some of the directors I admire, and how their debut film relates to their work today.

The Coen Brothers: Blood Simple

Usually, it’s difficult to pinpoint just what genre of film a Coen Brothers’ movie is. They include elements of the crime, comedy, drama, and thriller genres. Their films are a unique blend of those elements; in reality, the Coens have created their own genre. Ironically, Blood Simple is the only film by the Coen Brothers I’ve seen that is not instantly recognizable as a Coen Brothers’ movie. That’s not to say, however, that this film fails to match their future brilliance. As their movies tend to be, Blood Simple is extremely entertaining. It also contains elements that are prevalent in many Coen Brothers movies: an abrasive but memorable character; a wealthy, powerful man the audience loves to hate; an ordinary protagonist thrust into an extraordinary and dangerous situation; oh yeah–and loads of violence. Visually, the film’s style foreshadows their later work, even though the brothers were yet to team up with the fabulous Roger Deakins. Highly recommended.

Christopher Nolan: Following

Nolan’s first film is a thriller about a writer who follows people in order to acquire material for characters in his stories. As far as content, Nolan’s films have been fairly diverse. The constant of his work seems to be the non-linear structure in which he molds his stories. Following is cut up into several pieces randomly strewn about, its scenes jumping forward and backward on the story’s timeline. Often this would disorient an audience; with Nolan’s film, it sets the the audience on edge. Because of the vast, unexplained changes in the main character’s appearance (a black eye, a new haircut, different style of clothing), we become curious about the events we obviously have missed. Suspense is created through missing pieces. We pay closer attention because we want to find out just what we have missed. Nolan’s first feature seems like a dress rehearsal for Memento, a film in which the non-linear storytelling serves a justified purpose. Nolan uses a non-linear storytelling device once again in The Prestige. He masters this device in Inception, where he jumps between the past, and the many layers of the dream world’s present. Following is a wonderful debut film, proof that Nolan doesn’t need $185 Million to make a great movie. Great things can be done with as little as $6,000.

Terrence Malick: Badlands

Malick’s movies have been called many things. Polarizing things, really. Few directors simultaneousy carry the title “brilliant” and “pretentious.” Perhaps this is because Malick stretches the conventions of film in all of his movies. For those who find Malick more pretentious then brilliant, Badlands may be just the film for you. This film does contain both a plot AND a linear structure. While it is without a doubt his most accessible film, Malick’s debut feature is by no means conventional. You can find one of my favorite film blogger’s video review of  Badlands here.

In his first film Malick introduces us to the detached narrator, a device he would use to an even greater extent in his following feature, Days of Heaven. Narration can be a tricky business. To me, it usually seems like the easy way out in storytelling. Malick’s narration in Badlands proves how useful the device can be. Rather than using the narrator as a crutch, Malick’s narrator allows us to actually learn something about that character, not only in the things she does say, but also in the things she doesn’t. With great cinematography, acting, and a haunting score, Badlands may possibly be my favorite Malick film.

Alfred Hitchcock: Blackmail

So you probably know that this isn’t actually Hitchcock’s first film. The “Master of Suspense” did not always make thrillers; he worked his way up, sweating and toiling on–you’ll never guess it–romance pictures. The Pleasure Garden and Fear o’ God were both commercially unsuccessful. It wasn’t until Hitch started making the type of pictures for which we know him that he became a commercial success. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog was the first of his films we would label Hitchcockian. The Lodger is a film that tries to crack one of the most perplexing crimes of all time: the murder of Jack the Ripper. Now, I know I should have watched The Lodger; however, it was about 2 last night when I finally started watching. The online copy was horrible, so I opted to watch Hitch’s second thriller, and one of the first talkies in Britain, Blackmail. The first thing I noticed was Hitch’s use of the Kuleshov Effect, a now standard but once groundbreaking editing technique that Hitchcock popularized. The story is about a young girl who finds herself in a difficult situation after killing a man in an act of self defense. Many of Hitch’s movies involve normal people being thrust into dangerous situations due to their curiosity or foolishness. This film follows that pattern to the letter. Other sequences made me think of both Psycho and Vertigo. While it is a flawed film, I found it definitely worth my time. If you do view the film, you will find little snippets that foreshadow the greatness that was to come. You can view it on Hulu here.

For those of you not familiar with the Kuleshov Effect, the first two minutes of this video explain it a lot better than I could by writing about it.

What are some of your favorite debut films, and how do they (or don’t they) point to that director’s future work?

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Guest Post – Will Tom Hooper Be Able to Tackle Les Miserables?

Hey all! I’ve been in need of a serious break from blogging, so today, my sister, Jennifer, will be guest posting on the Tom Hooper’s upcoming adaptation of Les Miserables. The first half of the post is more introductory on the story of Les Mis, and the second half is a “Recast Edition,” a fun type of post where the author will recast a film if he or she thinks there is a cast who can better fill the roles. Feel free to chime in and share your opinions below. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out more about Jennifer!

–Kristin

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By Jennifer Griffin

A Little Introduction to Les Miserables

There’s been a great deal of hype regarding the upcoming film adaptation of the novel (Victor Hugo) turned musical Les Miserables (Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg). According to director Tom Hooper and cast member Hugh Jackman, the casting is still being finalized, and the actors are just being to learn the music this month.

Les Miserables has been credited as the most successful musical ever written. A little over three decades ago, Boublil and Schönberg finished adapting the novel to musical format and premiered the musical in Paris. Five years following the premiere, the musical opened in London as a 3-month touring group engagement. The show sold out within the first week, and the box office received several record orders. Two years later it hit Broadway and did not close until after 6,680 performances. Les Mis is the third longest running Broadway show today and has been since revived on Broadway as one of its most successful shows. Altogether, the musical has been produced in 38 countries and translated into 21 languages, with over 70 different official recordings.

All of that to say . . .

Hooper obviously has a huge legacy to live up to in his bold decision to make this musical a successful film. Despite already having 6 film adaptations, Hooper’s version will be the first to actually have the musical–not just the book (or dialogue only)–adapted for film. Converting Les Mis to a musical film production will be an incredible task for Hooper to take on for several reasons:

  1. The music is extremely hard for actors who are not trained singers to perform.
  2. The novel is one of the most well-known pieces of historical fiction, and like adapting any novel to the film format, doing it justice is not easy—(it was debated that writing a musical based on the novel would be “sacrilegious”—there are many negative reviews in England and France if you look at articles from the 1980s!)
  3. The musical itself is extremely beloved, so living up to it in film with singers who can equally sing/act the roles is a challenge.
  4. Finding a cast that have ample acting experience both on stage and screen is normally necessary when making this sort of film—actors like this are not as common as they used to be.
  5. A great nonmusical film adaptation of the book with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush came out in 1998 and was very successful, possibly making this film version look unnecessary until more time had passed.
  6. The resources—the elaborate prison, battle, and abbey sets, the rights to the music, the large stage and off-stage chorus needed, the orchestra, etc.—are very expensive.

While I look forward to seeing Hooper’s take on Les Mis, I have two major reservations:

  • the cast
  • the way Hooper has decided to film/record the singing

Recast Edition: Tom Hooper’s upcoming Les Miserables

Below is Hooper’s main cast, and who I would cast in place of them:

Jean Valjean: Hugh Jackman

Character Description: Dramatic tenor—very, very high voice in this musical—burly French peasant imprisoned for 19 years who vows to turn his life around after he escapes prison and in so doing helps Fantine and later adopts her daughter, Cosette.

Hugh Jackman actually does have screen and stage experience as well as singing experience, but Jean Valjean is probably one of the top 2 hardest tenor roles in all of musical theatre (the other one being the Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera). Perhaps Hooper feels like he needs an actor with a big name in the title role in order to successfully market this movie, but in the case of casting this particular character, he would actually do well to err on the side of screen experience because of the difficulty level of musicality as well as vocal range and ability the role demands.

My first choice for casting Jean Valjean would be Alfie Boe because he has a great deal of screen and stage acting experience, and he played Valjean in the London 25th Anniversary version of Les Mis (check out the video here). Other singer-actors I would choose include Matthew Morrison (Glee) and James Marsden (EnchantedHairspray), although both would have to buff up.

Inspector Javert: Russell Crowe

Character Description: Baritone—high officer of the law, sets out to bring Valjean to justice.

I believe Crowe is miscast altogether. The police inspector is a commanding force in the novel and the musical, but not physically. He is commanding because of his reputation as a successful inspector, his reputation of dedication to the law, and the nobility as well as the rest of the police force supporting him. Javert needs to be smaller than Valjean, not bigger; plus, Javert is a vocally-demanding role. I have never heard Crowe sing, and I fear that this will remind us all of the “lovely” singing of Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia (2008).

Norm Lewis (25th Anniversary edition as Javert) or Michael Ball (the original London cast of Les Mis as Marius) tie for my first spot in casting Javert, because both have a great deal of screen acting experience. Philip Quast would also be an interesting choice, despite his older age.

Fantine: Anne Hathaway

Character Description: Mezzo-soprano or alto—sickly woman that sells everything, including her body, to support her daughter Cosette after Cosette’s father leaves her.

Based on a couple of instances on SNL, the Oscars, and Princess Diaries, I think Anne Hathaway sings decently. The role of Fantine, however, is known as one of the toughest belter roles in all of musical theatre, including the iconic “I Dreamed a Dream” song. I wish Hooper would have picked someone with more singing experience. The only trait about Hathaway that matches Fantine’s description is the that the character looks like she is dying of consumption or suffering from anorexia.

My first choice for Fantine is Kerry Ellis. She was in one of the original casts of Wicked as Elphaba and in the televised version of Chess in London a few years ago. Depending on the age of the Valjean casted, other options I would consider include Lea Salonga, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Idina Menzel.

Eponine: Taylor Swift Samantha Barks

Character Description: Belter or low alto—daughter of the Thénardiers, peasant, tom-boy in love with Marius.
As of January 31, Taylor Swift is no longer in the works to play this role. In her place, Hooper has chosen Samantha Barks to fill the role of Eponine. Barks’s experience includes screen acting on BBC television as well as playing Eponine in the 25th Anniversary edition performance of Les Mis.

Despite Swift no longer filling the role, I did want to give my opinion on the casting: most well-trained singers and musicians do not like Swift for the sheer fact that she is rarely on pitch when she sings live, her voice is weak, and she tends to whine. I won’t say any more as to not offend anyone who is a Taylor Swift fan, but nevertheless, it was a 100% miscast if nothing else.

Aside from Barks, my next choice for Eponine would be Lea Michele (Glee, Les Miserables).  Other options I would consider include Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) and Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible). I’m sure there are many others that would be better for the role than Swift, but these are the first ones that come to my mind.

Cosette: Amanda Seyfried

Character Description: Soprano—innocent, beautiful, cultured daughter of Fantine, adopted by Valjean, in love with Marius.

I am extremely excited about this casting; Seyfried is typecast and sings very well.

If Seyfried couldn’t play Cosette, other people I would consider include Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera, film version), Hilary Duff (Raise Your Voice), and Katie Hall (25th Anniversary edition).

Marius: Eddie Redmayne

Character Description: Baritenor—student revolutionary, friends with Eponine, in love with Cosette.

I have never actually heard Redmayne sing, but he has both a big screen acting and musical theater background, so I will be eager to see what he brings to this role.

My first choice in casting Marius would be Josh Groban, because he is absolutely typecast in looks and voice. Darren Criss (Glee, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) would be my runner-up, and other considerations include Zac Efron (Hairspray), Ben Feldman (Drop Dead Diva) and Jamie Campbell Bower (Sweeney Todd).

Enjolras: Aaron Tveit

Character Description: Baritenor—leader of the student revolutionaries, good friend of Marius.

Tveit is the other cast member I have yet to hear sing, but he has a nice resume as well including both screen acting and musical theater.

Ramin Karimloo (25th Anniversary edition) is the first person I would cast as Enjolras. Other people to consider include Adam Pascal (RentChess), Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, original cast), and Neil Patrick Harris (Rent, Dr. Horrible).

Madame Thénardier: Helena Bonham Carter

Character Description: Alto—married to Monsieur Thénardier, Eponine’s mother, Cosette’s aunt, despicable pickpocket and thief who manages the inn with her husband.

I am also excited about Helena Bonham Carter in the role of Madame Thénardier. She’s also typecast and sings well (Sweeney Todd).

After Bonham Carter, other options to consider for the role include Bernadette Peters (Mack and Mabel, Annie Get Your Gun), Brooke Elliott (Wicked touring cast, Drop Dead Diva), or Dot-Marie Jones (Glee).

Monsieur Thénardier: Sacha Baron Cohen

Character Description: Baritone or tenor—married to Madame Thénardier, Eponine’s father, Cosette’s uncle, despicable pickpocket and thief who owns the main inn in town.

Sacha Baron Cohen fits the role characteristically and physically; however, has anyone even heard him sing? I just don’t know about this one.

Jason Alexander (Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, The Producers) has an incredible singing voice, so he would be my first choice to play Monsieur Thenardier. The only other option that came to mind was Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd).

The second issue is due to the way Hooper has decided to record the singing. Hooper plans to record the scenes with singing live as opposed to pre-recording with lip-synching in the actual scenes like most musicals are filmed. Normally, as a singer myself, I would be all for this; however, when you have a cast in which most are mediocre singers and fairly inexperienced musicians, I don’t think it is such a good idea. Those who are Broadway vets are obviously used to having to sing, dance, act, and do crazy staging all at the same time. Those that are not used to all of these aspects will struggle though, and it will come out in the recording process.

Again, I am very excited that they finally are making a film version of this awesome musical, but unfortunately I do not have the highest hopes of it coming close to measuring up to actually seeing it in a theater live with well-experienced singer/actors. I hope Hooper and the rest of the cast prove me wrong.

The seventh film adaptation of Les Mis will hit theaters December 7.

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Jennifer Griffin is an Adjunct Music Professor at Northern Illinois University. With two Masters degrees in Vocal Performance and Musicology at the ripe age of 25, she makes music a priority in her life. In her free time, Jennifer teaches voice and piano at private studios, accompanies singers and instrumentalists, and daydreams about making it big someday at the Lyric Opera. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter at @jgprimadonna