A poll run in 2011 found that the Top Five most googled words were Facebook, Youtube, Yahoo, Google (ironically inane, but there it is) and sex (not porn, as most would expect, but close enough). The internet is such an integral part of modern society that these ‘trending words’ are constantly changing, and with the release of the first official trailer of the Les Miserables movie today, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this was the most searched phrase of Wednesday 30th May 2012.
Filming for the big screen adaption of the long-running West End musical has been underway for weeks now, and inevitably, the odd sneaky video of this process has appeared online. Apart from a few photo stills, this trailer is the first real look fans have had at the film though and it has certainly fanned the anticipatory flames for the December 2012 cinema release.
The trailer uses scenes featuring Hugh Jackman as Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Samantha Barks as Eponine and Anne Hathaway as Fantine, played over a haunting voice track of the latter singing the ballad ‘I Dreamed A Dream’. The trailer offers a hint as to how sensational the film in completion will look, and with sneak peeks at moments such as Valjean and the other convicts being put to work and the students on the barricades, it has a real sense of grittiness to it which suggests that director Tom Hooper (the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech) has completely captured the intensity of this epic story.
Les Miserables is not the first musical to be turned into a big screen adaption: Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Mamma Mia are just a few of the theatre productions which have been given the Hollywood treatment. The Les Mis movie is different to all of these however in one big respect – the live singing of its musical numbers. Turning away from the usual practice of pre-recording tracks and having the actors lip-synch along during filming, Hooper opted for all musical numbers to be performed by the actors live on set. Speaking to USA Today, Hooper explained his reasoning behind the decision, saying that, “when it’s live, you believe it so much more” and that the results deliver those “spine-tingling moments” he appreciated in the stage show. I couldn’t agree more with him on this point. Anyone who’s watched the American television show Glee will agree how much bad lip-synching can remove you from what you’re hearing and seeing on screen, and though the previous musical films I’ve mentioned undoubtedly did a better job with that aspect, you can still tell, and that knowledge inevitably distracts from the believability of the world that everyone involved in the film-making process have tried to create. That’s exactly why so many people, myself included, love going to the theatre. The experience of watching actors performing on stage is like no other; having to sing/dance/act live allows them to fully embrace the story and the character they play and give themselves over to the fantasy of that moment. It provides complete creative freedom for the actors. Hugh Jackman and Amanda Seyfried are two of the Les Miserables cast who have been involved in musical-to-film productions before: Jackman appeared in the 1999 TV film of Oklahoma! while Seyfried played bride-to-be Sophie in the 2008 big screen film of Mamma Mia, both of which required the actors to lip-synch along to the musical numbers. In the same USA Today article, Jackman and Seyfried commented on their preference for the live performance method that has been utilised on the Les Mis film production. “When you are doing miming, 60% of your energy is just doing it correctly,” Jackman explained. “Even though it is your performance, you don’t feel you are in charge of it.” It is of course challenging having to sing live on a movie set, where actors often have to do take after take in a single scene, something Seyfried acknowledges , but as she says, “the cool thing is, no-one has been tested this way before. We are all doing something revolutionary.”
Naturally, not everyone will appreciate the direction film-makers have taken in regards to singing. A number of people who have watched the Les Mis trailer immediately focused on Hathaway’s vocals, remarking on a lack of power to her voice, inevitability followed by comparisons to Britain’s Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle (who became a YouTube hit when she auditioned for the show with I Dreamed A Dream). To be frank, people who leave remarks like these are just highlighting the ignorance on their part. Hathaway is an accomplished vocalist who has a very strong voice; a fact she has displayed on numerous occasions. Every song is open to the performer’s interpretation of it and Hathaway has tapped into the raw vulnerability of I Dreamed A Dream to give an emotionally charged rendition that I guarantee will evoke its fair share of wet eyes in the cinema. It’s also worth mentioning that every musical theatre performer who has commented on the Les Mis trailer on Twitter today has had nothing but praise for both it and Hathaway.
From the moment it emerged that the actors would be singing live, I knew that people would be divided in their opinions. It is an impossible task to please everyone universally, but there has been a lot more positive reaction to it than there has been negative, and I for one am definitely on the pro-live singing side. If you’re not one of these people then that is of course just fine as one of the best things about humankind is the freedom of thought. Still, I find it slightly incredulous that people feel they are able to judge an entire film on less than 2 minutes of singing…
Previous film adaptions of musicals have proved less than successful, while others have fared better, but there doesn’t seem to have been more excitement surrounding a film adaption than there is with Les Miserables. The search for redemption, the belief in what is right, the fight against social injustice and, of course, love, are all a part of what makes this powerful story one which is beloved by people all around the world – the songs/music aren’t half bad either. In taking on such a timeless classic, there has always been the fear that everyone involved will be unable to do it justice on film; the largely critical response to the 2004 film of The Phantom of the Opera is a perfect example of how the theatre world can feel let down by this transition from stage to screen. If this first Les Mis movie trailer is any indication of what the film will be like however, then fans will sleep soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that Les Miserables is still ‘living the dream’ in this new chapter of its 26 year musical history.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 31st May, 2012