The Basic Anglophone Les Mis Adaptation Formula
Or BALMAF for short
If you’ve seen more than one non-musical Les Mis movie in English (whether it’s American OR British), you might have noticed that sometimes they’re eerily similar to each other. I’m talking about the 1935, 1952, 1978 and 1998 movies, as seen above.
I honestly think these are all at least somewhat based on each other. They all follow the same rough structure, they share suspiciously specific details… it’s not really hard to make the connections. So I figured I’d try to put that structure into words.
Disclaimer: I’m not necessarily saying these are all bad things. (Although most of them are.) They’re just shared features and I get that plot needs to be streamlined when you adapt a giant novel into a movie. But it’s amusing to make fun of them. Also I only included the ones that show up in at least three of the movies.
1: This is the story of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, everybody else is mostly just there to drive the plot forward.
2: Prison porn, lots of prison porn
Okay okay not literal porn but you know what I mean. (exception: ‘98)
3: Fantine? Who’s that? Oh right Cosette’s mom. I guess we should give her a couple of scenes then… (exception: in '98 Fantine gets an actual story arc.)
4: We should really linger on this Montreuil-sur-Mer part of the plot, that’s the good stuff (but we can’t call the town “Montreuil-sur-Mer”, that would be ridiculous.)
5: The Thénardiers can only appear once, when Valjean goes to pick up Cosette, or not at all. Who needs all those plot points later on, this story is about the EPIC CHASE between Valjean and Javert!
6: You can have either Gavroche or adult Éponine but never both and they’re not related to the Thénardiers because we’re done with the Thénardiers already, didn’t I just tell you? Child Éponine may be allowed with the Thénardiers but she’s never named and has no lines.
7: Wow, Hugo really went off the plot rails after they arrive in Paris, didn’t he? There’s barely anything about Javert hunting Valjean in here! Let’s fix that and remove all this irrelevant stuff about all these side characters. We’ll just keep the love story because you gotta have a love story
8: I guess the revolution thing is kind of cool as a set piece for Valjean and Javert’s DRAMATIC REUNION. But we don’t really need to explain the politics and ideology and the fighting and all the minor character stuff, all that has nothing to do with Valjean and Javert!
9: Oh wait I guess we should still kill off whichever not!Thénardier kid we decided to include, though, for Dramatic Effect and to show how Tragic and Horrible revolutions are. (Exception: in ‘52 Gavroche doesn’t die)
10: Obviously Javert should go to the barricades to find Valjean, that’s much more important to him than “spying on the revolutionaries” lol (exception: '78)
11: Sewer chase scene! Yes, finally we’re back to the REAL story of Les Mis! Javert chasing Valjean in the sewers!
12: Well, Javert is dead so I guess we’re done now. VALJEAN WON! WHOO! HAPPY ENDING!
(more details under the cut)