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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > Poverty > Crime > Opera > Classical > Concert > Politics > War > Documentary > Les Miserables (1998/Sony Blu-ray) + Naxos Dist. Blu-rays: Claude Debussy – Pelleas et Melisande/Franz Welser-Most (reissue)/Rossini – Demetrio E Polibio (ArtHaus)/Schumann At Pier 2/Jarvi (C Major/Un

Les Misérables (1998/Sony Blu-ray) + Naxos Dist. Blu-rays: Claude Debussy – Pelleas et Melisande/Franz Welser-Most (reissue)/Rossini – Demetrio E Polibio (ArtHaus)/Schumann At Pier 2/Jarvi (C Major/Unitel Classica)/Verdi/Unitel Classica Blus: Atilla + Giovanna D’Arco (aka Joan Of Arc)


Picture: B- (Schumann: C+)     Sound: B-/B+/B-/B/B/B     Extras: C-/C/C+/B-/C+/C+     Main Programs: B (Les Misérables: B-)



Now for some classical music and storytelling…



We start with the 1998 Bille August epic non-musical feature film version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables issued by Sony in time for the musical feature film to hit theaters.  August was just coming off of my favorite film of his, the thriller Smilla’s Sense Of Snow (reviewed elsewhere on this site) when he decided to play it somewhat safe and take on this project next.


This is not the first time we have covered adaptations of the literary classic.  We have covered to previous dramatic adaptations as a double feature from Fox on DVD including the still-impressive 1935 version and the decent 1952 version at this link:




August’s version runs 134 minutes and falls somewhere between the two for the best version we have covered to date.  Liam Neeson as Valjean (who is practically a nomad), Uma Thurman, Geoffrey Rush, Peter Vaughn, Claire Danes and Toby Jones make up the most known of a very convincing cast and the film is not only good, it holds up pretty decently.  Not a big hit in its time, it only has some dull spots and flatness that holds it back a bit, but it has a following and will get a new round of people checking it out again or for the first time.


Well made and constructed, the film was built to last and also holds up much better than so many sappy costumers made in the last 30 years, so this Blu-ray is now the best way to see it and hopefully, other feature film and filmed TV versions will surface in the format next.  August can more than juggle the large production and it is definitely worth a look.


A First Look clip is sadly the only extra on the disc and paperwork is included inside the Blu-ray case for Ultraviolent Copy, but we will add an earlier musical performance of the stage musical on DVD for you to check out at this link:





Next up are more musical titles from our friends at Naxos.  First we have a reissue of Claude Debussy – Pelleas et Melisande as conducted by Franz Welser-Most that was first released by TDK.  Here is the link to that fine edition:




Now it has been picked up by ArtHaus with the same 7.1 soundtrack and HD transfer and is actually a better performer, but more on that in a minute.  I also liked the cover more, which is why I chose it for the review.  If you have not seen it, get this new pressing instead.



Gioachino Rossini’s Demetrio E Polibio has also arrived from ArtHaus in a terrific stage version with Corrado Rovaris conducting the show at the Rossini Opera Festival in 2010 in Pesaro.  This first-ever opera by the legend is about family, identity, secrets and royal power in a truly underrated work that should have and deserves much more attention than it gets.  Any mistaken identity is more about fate and plot twists than idiot plot devises and the singing is great.



Schumann At Pier 2 features Paavo Jarvi conducting the legends symphonies in a converted near-water location in two programs.  One is the actual concert at 146 minutes and the other a documentary by Christian Berger at 98 minutes that does a terrific job of showing the production and performances, while examining the players and artist who has brought them all together.  Hope this inspires C Major/Unitel Classica to issue more such double programs in what is as good a Schumann release as we have covered to date.



Our final two titles are also from Unitel Classica and turn out to be a continuation of an ambitious project to feature all the major works of Giuseppi Verdi on his 200th Birthday.  The latest entries in this Complete Operas series from the Teatro Regio di Parma are Atilla and Giovanna D’Arco (aka Joan Of Arc).


Atilla is set in the 5th Century A.D. as the warrior and his Huns intend to invade Rome, but it will not be as easy as it has been for him in past conquests and key people will get in the way in ways no one expects.  Andrea Battistoni conducts, Pierfrancesco Maestrini stage directs and Tiziano Mancini directed the HD version of this powerful 128-minutes-long version of the hit success.


Giovanna D’Arco (aka Joan Of Arc) is the first time I have experienced the opera and it is a change of pace from all the feature film versions, non-musical, I have seen including Luc Besson’s The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc with Milla Jovovich which I was not as big a fan of as my fellow writer was at this link:




In this opera version conducted by Bruno Bartoletti, stage directed by Gabriele Lavia and HD-directed again by Tiziano Mancini, there is a sense of irony in the doom she will face that the usual dramatic versions miss and not just because this is a very smartly written opera.  In both cases, the singing is top notch and you can tell all involved know they are part of a very special project.  I liked both and look forward to further installments in this Verdi series.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on
Misérables was shot by Director of Photography Jorgen Persson, who previously worked with August on Smilla’s Sense Of Snow, House Of The Sprits and Pelle The Conqueror, so their visual sense has more than melded together well and it is why this is so visually consistent.  As well, they use the widescreen scope frame to its fullest extent and you can enjoy that more than ever on Blu-ray despite the fact that this is a little softer overall than I would have liked.


It is still the best-looking and most consistent transfer on the list, helped by the fact that it was not only shot on 35mm film, but used two great sets of anamorphic squeeze lenses (versus cheaper Super 35mm or Techniscope) to get the widescreen frame.  The combination of Panavision lenses and then-less-common HawkScope lenses create a look that is hard to beat for realism and authenticity, costumes and set design notwithstanding, though they look fine too.


The rest of the Blu-rays were recorded on HD video and are all here in 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers that have good color and some good shots, though the Schumann disc has picture breakup and more motion blur than the rest of the titles.



The best sound goes to the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mix on the Debussy Blu-ray which was also 7.1 in its previous TDK version, but again sounds just that much better in this new reissue edition.  The rest of the Naxos Blu-rays offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes with fine soundfields, but the Rossini Blu-ray falls a bit short sounding a little lower and weaker than the rest to the point where I would advise some caution in volume switching.  Otherwise, it is consistent for how it turns out.  All five Naxos releases also offer alternate PCM 2.0 Stereo tracks which are good, but not as good as their DTS-MA equivalents, while Misérables is often dialogue-based and has a strong score by Basil Poledouris.


It was a multi-channel digital sound release including an 8-track Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS) release in select theaters.  Unfortunately, this mix sounds like it was sourced from a 5.1 mixdown, so the DTS-MA 5.1 mix here is accurate, but not the whole sonic picture.  That’s a shame, but maybe a special edition could get the company to go back and upgrade the sound, a treatment other catalog titles like Starship Troopers, Charlie’s Angels (2000), Hollow Man and In The Line Of Fire could use in Blu-ray reissues or newer Ultra HD-capable editions.


Extras in the Blu-ray cases of all the Naxos releases include nicely illustrated booklets with multiple-language details on their shows and that includes technical information and music tracks/chapters.  All but Debussy have making of featurettes of some sort and preview trailers.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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