I love literature, and I love theatre, so naturally I was all about going to see the new movie adaptation of Les Miserables, directed by Tom Hooper and starring Wolverine and Jor-El. (You may know them better as Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe. But whatever.) I personally loved it. I thought it was a great movie. It hit the right notes (pun... naw, pun intended) I thought the singers were good with a few exceptions, and it was as close to going to see the actual musical you can get without running the risk of hitting a matinee where Hugh Jackman is replaced by a lesser X-Man understudy.
Of course, if I was just talking about musical adaptations then you would have read all about my experiences with Rock of Ages and the literary implications of Tom Cruise singing “Pour Some Sugar One Me.” No, the Les Mis movie brought out something even more disturbing in reviews, and it really started to bother me. It led to the rise of people declaring they didn’t like the movie (which is valid) and proudly declaring they had no familiarity with the course musical. Which sadly, is not valid.
Movies and theatre are two very different mediums. There’s something to be said about witnessing something that is happening now, and something that was filmed. Wolverine will ALWAYS pop his claws at the same moment, Superman will always take flight when he’s supposed to, Bruce Willis will always let out the right cool quip just before he takes down the bad guy. In a play, you run a million different little things changing at each moment, a missed cue, a missed line, a decision to inflect a different moment.... you could go see the same play twice and end up with two different experiences. Movies aren’t plays; plays aren’t movies.
That being said, research is still research. When I write these little posts, if there’s something I have to confirm or double check, you can bet I will double check it. I will do the basic research necessary to ensure that I can talk at least a little intelligently about it. A few weeks back I wrote about The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor. Now, I am not intimately knowledgable about every single thing about the comic book series. I’ve seen every episode of the show, but the book itself is based on the comic book. Now, if I had started my review with “Now, I’ve never read The Walking Dead, and I know nothing about the comic book, so I don’t know why we focused on this sadistic character. Made no sense! I know there’s a show, but I’ve never watched it. Zombies suck!” Seriously how serious does that make my review? I’d hope that you would stop taking me seriously at that point, and discount the review. I don’t have to know all the ins and outs of what makes the comic book tick. But I have to know the Governor is a bad guy, I need to know that the Governor is a major turning point in the book - a focus on other people as bad guys vs. zombies as the enemy, and I have to know why a backstory look at him would be interesting.
But there was a large amount of reviews that started with a reviewer’s distaste of musical theatre, or almost proud declaration that they haven’t seen Les Mis the musical. That’s fine, we can’t all get to the theatre. But it takes five seconds of Googling to realize that the Bishop at the beginning is Colm Wilkinson, one of the most famous Jean Valjeans to date, and when handing Hugh Jackman the candlesticks he is handing him the role - and in essence telling us that he’s in the role now. It takes just a moment to pop in the musical and listen to a few tracks for comparison. “On My Own” is one of the most covered musical songs in history... why wouldn’t you take a minute to compare a few? A lot was made of Russell Crowe’s voice. Do you know anything about the character of Javert?
I’m just trying to say that bragging because you don’t have knowledge of these things isn’t something a good writer or reviewer does. Opening up a review with your distaste of musical theatre? Why would you do that? Then you’re not reviewing things on their merit, you’re reviewing them with your bias. And yes, all reviewers do that to some extent, but it’s not something to be bragged about at the start of your one star review because you get to be the first person to complain about how the Oscar-nominated movie sucked. (You did hate it before anyone else.)
Good writers take some time to learn something about what they're writing about, even if it's a review or opinion piece. They don't brag because they are more apt to hate something, then they hate it.