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Les Misérables
1998 Hollywood

2001 Bootleg

Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
Basil Poledouris

Co-Produced by:
Tim Boyle
Curtis Roush
Eroc Colvin

Orchestrated by:
Lawrence Ashmore

Labels and Dates:
Hollywood Records/Mandalay Records
(April 21st, 1998)


Also See:
Starship Troopers
Conan the Barbarian
Farewell to the King

Audio Clips:
Commercial Album:

Suite 1. Valjean's Journey (0:32):
WMA (206K)  MP3 (257K)
Real Audio (64K)

Suite 2. Vigau (0:23):
WMA (148K)  MP3 (178K)
Real Audio (110K)

Suite 4. The Barricades (0:31):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (245K)
Real Audio (61K)

Bootleg Album:

31. Revolution Time (0:34):
WMA (222K)  MP3 (284K)
Real Audio (199K)

The Hollywood Records album is a regular U.S. release. The bootleg has been widely circulated on the secondary market, often with different art (but identical contents).


Les Misérables

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Buy it... if you want a truly distinct and overwhelmingly morbid Basil Poledouris score, the final masterpiece of his illustrious career.

Avoid it... if a deeply inflective, massively rendered, and heavily layered melodrama for this famous story is too shamelessly characteristic of the transparent tactics of tear-jerking by Broadway productions for your film score tastes.

Les Misérables: (Basil Poledouris) Given that Victor Hugo's revered novel from the 19th century was an immense journey itself in length, it's perhaps laughable that so many directors for film and stage have attempted to condense its story down to an easily digestible serving. Les Misérables contains its share of commentary about France in the years after its famed revolution, but it is, more than anything, a tale of personal obsession and redemption. The allure of its dramatic story has led to countless film versions and, of course, the stage adaptation. Most digital age listeners will be familiar with the music written by Claude-Michel Schonberg for the wildly popular Broadway production. The success of that play, especially in its infinite travels to small stages around the world, led to a rebirth of interest in film adaptations of the story, including the 1995 French film that placed the story in the 20th century. Riding the coattails of the play's waning years of strength was the massive 1998 Hollywood production directed by the esteemed Bille August and featuring an outstanding duo of actors in the lead. The film was particularly well adapted compared to its predecessors, touching on the major ideas that Hugo intended to convey while sacrificing several unnecessary subplots. The score for this version of Les Misérables was to be composed by recent Academy Award winner Gabriel Yared, though his score was, like Troy many years later, rejected and subject to much banter. Perhaps more surprising was the assignment of veteran composer Basil Poledouris to the film as a replacement. While Poledouris had created some of the most vibrant large-scale scores of the previous twenty years, he had never tackled a score as morbidly melodramatic before. He would be forced to exchange his wide-ranging synthetics and ambitious percussion sections for a deeply inflective, massively rendered, and heavily layered string section. The remaining elements of the orchestra are also intact, and Poledouris utilizes the woodwinds in their usual prominent role. But for almost every minute of music in Les Misérables, there is absolutely nothing to indicate that this, in fact, is a Basil Poledouris score.

Along with the countless films and musicals for Les Misérables in the past have come many different sounds. The scores by Arthur Honegger in 1934, Alex North in 1952, Frances Lai and Michel Legrand for the aforementioned 1995 adaptation, and Schonberg for the stage have each seemed to elevate the overbearing drama of the story to increasing degrees, with none as shamelessly melodramatic as the play itself. If Poledouris' score is to be compared to any of them, at least in overarching style and tone, it would be Schonberg's musical. Many parts of Poledouris' effort are so saturated with deeply resonating harmony that the tragedy he invokes would translate well to the more transparent structures of on-stage songs. But, to his credit, Poledouris doesn't stop there. His music for the 1998 film takes Javert and Valjean on a journey so dark and weighty in the minor key that even regular Broadway audiences would probably be stricken with grief by his accentuated tones of despair. He accomplishes this magnificently brooding style by using several techniques. First and most importantly, he takes seemingly every instrument in the orchestra and restricts them to their lowest registers. The bass strings reach their lowest ranges, the piano performs it's lowest octave, and low-range brass provide a layer of broad accompaniment similar in style to John Barry. Secondly, Poledouris gives prominent roles to the instruments naturally in the lowest registers. This emphasis applies mostly to bass strings and bassoons, both of which perform enticingly menacing rhythms throughout the score. These two parts of the ensemble have rarely sounded better, with the bass bassoons mixed evenly in volume with the overbearing power of the bass strings (and occasional light tapping on the timpani to accentuate the meandering rhythms further). Lastly, Poledouris' themes and rhythmic motifs for Les Misérables are both deliberate in structure and pacing. The statements of themes are often lengthy, sometimes obscuring their existence despite whatever intensity Poledouris may be reflecting in the rhythmic counterpoint performed by the ensemble's higher ranges. This is a rare score in which the bass elements perform the theme while the treble elements provide the rhythmic propulsion.

Thematically, Les Misérables is rich with development for each character (and several locations), but don't expect any of the themes (other than the title theme) to particularly grab your attention. The primary identity of Les Misérables opens the film and receives only three major performances by the full ensemble thereafter. It's tempting to place this theme as the identity of Valjean, though Poledouris seems to associate it more with the overall journey of the pursuit rather than the particular character's change of heart. After its monumental debut for low brass and cellos in the opening cue, it provides the highlight of the entire score during a carriage ride sequence heard in "Javert Rides to Paris," joined this time by higher brass and a determined snare rhythm. Another highlight of the album is "Javert's Suicide," at the end of which the theme is treated to its most blatantly tear-jerking performance. The theme would reprise the first cue's performance at the opening of the "End Titles." A theme for Javert (or, once again, one could interpret the theme to represent the concept of "danger" in general) is masked as an ominously layered string rhythm in "Javert." This theme would be emboldened to a full ensemble performance during scenes of revolution later in the film. A theme for Fantine is introduced by mid-range strings in "Caring for Fantine," though this theme would be brilliantly shrouded in despair in "The Death of Fantine," a cue that translates the beauty of the theme into one so sinister that it's almost unrecognizable. A harp and flute are used to introduce the material for Cosette, an obvious breath of fresh air, and an ensemble led by lighter percussion and trumpets in the "Paris" cue offers a snippet of hope. By "Cosette's Farewell," Poledouris has sunk even this theme down to the levels of darkness and fear that seem to eventually envelope every thematic idea in the film. The confrontation scenes late in the film are provided with their own identity. With hints of its ranks in the bombast of "Funeral Attack," Poledouris unleashes a heroic, but doomed theme of defiance in "The Barricades." A clever and subtle mutation of this theme is performed by extraordinarily powerful bass strings in "Valjean Saves Marius."

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The overall impression that Poledouris' score for Les Misérables leaves you with is one of overwhelming sadness. It is an unquestionable triumph for the cause of brooding orchestral music that could inspire a person, quite realistically, to consider killing himself. But the beauty of its constantly harmonic and impressively mixed methodology cannot be easily challenged. Poledouris' more heroic music, even at its height of Western, sci-fi, or action drama, cannot prepare you for the relentless low-range power of Les Misérables. Perhaps the only hint of Poledouris' previous work comes in "Javert is Too Late," which erupts with folksy, percussive rhythm reminiscent of his historical fantasy scores of the 1980's. Some listeners and reviewers have argued that the score is rather boring, and this perhaps understandable given that there is little dynamic range to its thematic statements and perpetually rhythmic underscore. It is an extremely consistent work, setting up some listeners for boredom if they cannot engage with the score's deeply sorrowful attitude. But conversely, that consistency makes for a score very soothing to the ears on album. Unfortunately, the album situation for Les Misérables is not quite the same triumph. The Hollywood Records label provided a product so mismanaged that it nearly ruined the score for some listeners. About 49 minutes of the score was edited into four lengthy suites (similar to Hans Zimmer treatment from the label) and this made the individual highlights of the score difficult to find and enjoy. The packaging contained incorrect total and track times, claiming to be 15 minutes longer than it actually was, and the subtitles for each cue had no running times. Inevitably, a bootleg was to follow. Within three years, a 71-minute bootleg would begin floating about the market. It too is somewhat deceptive, though. The most important aspect of the bootleg is that it breaks the four commercial tracks into 29, not adding or subtracting any material in the process. It then adds the "End Titles" arrangement and a few bonus cues. The "Suite" you see listed on many of them contains no new material. The two true bonus cues contain some minor sound effects, though "Revolution Time" is really an outstanding variation on the "danger" (or Javert) theme. Overall, Les Misérables is Poledouris' final masterpiece, so seek it in any form you can find. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Score as Written for Film: *****
    Score as Heard on Commercial Album: ***
    Score as Heard on Bootleg: *****
    Overall: *****

Bias Check:For Basil Poledouris reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.47 (in 33 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.22 (in 33,621 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 4.25 Stars
Smart Average: 3.97 Stars*
***** 3155 
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         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
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   Re: Les MisÚrables Formula
  Sexton30Deann -- 12/3/11 (12:04 p.m.)
   Les MisÚrables Formula
  Bruno Costa -- 11/14/10 (4:47 a.m.)
   kind regards
  Sergio Escobedo -- 9/17/08 (2:25 p.m.)
   A true masterpiece
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   It is difficult to beleive how great this s...
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 Track Listings (1998 Hollywood Records Album): Total Time: 49:17

• Suite 1. Valjean's Journey (6:10) (7:12)
Theme from Les Misérables/The Bishop/Javert/The Quarry

• Suite 2. Vigau (19:02) (21:45)
Javert Suspects/Caring for Fantine/Valjean's Confession/The Death of Fantine/Flight from Vigau

• Suite 3. Paris (12:49) (22:07)
Valjean and Cosette/The Wall/Outside/Marius and Cosette/Valjean Remembers

• Suite 4. The Barricades (11:15) (12:48)
Funeral Attack/Valjean Saves Marius/Farewell/Javert's Suicide

Incorrect times on packaging in red (63:52 total)

 Track Listings (2001 Bootlegs): Total Time: 71:57

• 1. Theme from Les Misérables (2:44)
• 2. The Quarry (0:51)
• 3. The Bishop (1:32)
• 4. Javert (1:21)
• 5. Valjean's Journey (2:30)
• 6. Fantine Sells Her Hair (0:41)
• 7. Javert Suspects (1:37)
• 8. Javert Rides to Paris (0:56)
• 9. Caring for Fantine (1:28)
• 10. Breakfast (1:10)
• 11. Valjean's Promise (1:33)
• 12. Valjean's Confession (3:12)
• 13. The Death of Fantine (4:33)
• 14. Flight from Vigau (2:16)
• 15. Valjean and Cosette (1:23)
• 16. Paris (1:48)
• 17. Marius Follows Cosette (1:13)
• 18. Thinking of Marius (1:11)
• 19. Outside (3:15)
• 20. Marius and Cosette (0:53)
• 21. Javert's Visit (1:11)
• 22. Javert is Too Late (1:06)
• 23. Cosette's Farewell (1:35)
• 24. Funeral Attack (1:12)
• 25. The Barricades (1:59)
• 26. Valjean Saves Marius (3:03)
• 27. Farewell (2:13)
• 28. Javert's Suicide (3:12)
• 29. End Title* (4:21)

Bonus Tracks:
• 30. Les Misérables (Suite) (11:12)
• 31. Revolution Time* (2:51)
• 32. The Barricades (Alternate)* (1:55)

* Previously unreleased music

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert contains no extra information about the score or film. The score is dedicated to the memory of orchestrator Greig McRitchie, who worked with Poledouris from the early 1980's until his death after Starship Troopers.

  All artwork and sound clips from Les Misérables are Copyright © 1998, Hollywood Records/Mandalay Records, Bootleg. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 4/24/98 and last updated 6/17/07. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1998-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.