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Liam Neeson’s version of the oft-filmed ‘Les Miserables’ gets a Blu-ray upgrade

Published: Saturday, Dec. 15 2012 12:00 p.m. MST

The late 1990s version of “Les Miserables” comes to Blu-ray this week, as does “Portrait of a Woman,” along with four “Django” westerns on DVD.

“Les Miserables” (Columbia/Blu-ray, 1998, PG-13, $19.99, featurette). To say there have been many movie versions of Victor Hugo’s justly famous novel is to understate, and many of them are quite good — though my personal favorite remains the classic 1935 version with Fredric March and Charles Laughton.

Having said that, however, this one shouldn’t be dismissed, thanks to vivid location shooting in Paris and the Czech Republic (which this Blu-ray edition only enhances), and because of the very strong performances, led by Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean, the Frenchman imprisoned for stealing bread who escapes only to find himself hounded by the tenacious Inspector Javert (equally good Geoffrey Rush). Uma Thurman as Fantine and Claire Danes as Cosette also shine.

The reason for this Blu-ray upgrade is, of course, to cash in on the Christmas Day release of the popular stage musical in its first film incarnation. And if you plan to watch any earlier versions before taking in that songfest, this isn’t a bad place to start.

“Django! A Man Called Django!/Django and Sartana’s Showdown in the West” (Timeless, 1971/1970, not rated, $6.95, trailers, posters).

“Django! Django Kills Silently/Django’s Cut Price Corpses” (Timeless, 1967/1971, not rated, $6.95, trailers, posters). In the world of spaghetti westerns, films with the character/title “Django” are a dime a dozen (More than 30), and more often than not they have no relation to one another. But with Quentin Tarantino’s Dec. 25 release “Django Unchained” (also no relation to earlier films), a variety of “Django” DVDs are flooding the market.

These four films aren’t great — the usual revenge plots, unapologetic theft of ideas and music from Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name trilogy and typically lousy dubbing of English voices over Italian dialogue. But fans of the genre can justify the purchase by virtue of the nominal cost, the excellent widescreen transfers, and, of course, the fact that each disc features two films.

Of the four, “A Man Called Django” is the only title that was previously released on DVD; the other three make their debuts here and are the usual violent fare filmed in Spain by Italian filmmakers. “Man” is the best, though the others have their B-grade merits.

“The Portrait of a Lady” (Shout!/Blu-ray, 1996, PG-13, $19.97, featurettes, trailer). Jane Campion’s adaptation of the Henry James novel starts off well, is beautifully photographed (which is shown off nicely in Blu-ray) and boasts a great cast in its story of an independent woman (Nicole Kidman) who allows herself to become trapped in a loveless marriage with a slimy social climber (John Malkovich).

But then it derails, becomes boring and completely loses its way. Interesting cast in support includes Barbara Hershey, Mary-Louise Parker, Shelley Winters, Christian Bale, Viggo Mortensen, John Gielgud and, in a notable role, Shelley Duvall.

E-MAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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