Taking beloved stage musical “Les Misérables” to the big screen is no easy feat, but in the new teaser trailer that dropped today, it seems the newest incarnation’s filmmakers at least got the scale right.
Featured in the clip is Professional High School Theater Girl Anne Hathaway singing her character Fantine’s money shot “I Dreamed a Dream,” as Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean, Amanda Seyfried’s pure-faced Cosette, Russel Crowe’s militant Javert and others are revealed between sobs. There’s even a blink of Samantha Barks, who is making a huge leap from stage to film as Eponine.
Victor Hugo’s novel, set in 19th century, elegantly compounded the human condition and challenged the high and low ground of ethics and class loyalty, which made for good stage material and even romance when it was first adapted as plays — and then as a musical in the 1980s. The music of that show is why the show is so fiercely defended and well-worn, because of its strong feminine arcs around Jean Valjean’s hard-scrabble for redemption.
Which brings us back to size. What a stage musical can’t do is reveal sweeping landscape aerials and assemble enough bodies to amp a student rebellion to scale. Capturing songs in close, quiet quarters also has the appeal of nixing full-throated stage sound, for much more intimate performances in-studio. Director Tom Hooper — on whom every eye is fallen after “The King’s Speech” — seems unafraid to let the “Les Mis’ actors look like dirt and, hopefully, let them act, fight and die like dirt, too, without the quick costume changes between acts.
Beyond that, Hathaway doesn’t go too Broadway with “I Dreamed a Dream,” which is cut down in order to get to the dab-eyed lyric “Life has killed a dream I dream” after flashes of “V for Vendetta” hair cuts and symbolically isolated shots in cobbled streets. Just so it’s not promoted as two hours of gooseflesh, I hope then next look at the movie includes the beefier, resilient musical passages, to get a grip on just how Jackman will sound inside that grizzled skin of his. (I also need a Sacha Baron Cohen palate-cleanser.)
“Les Miserables” opens nationwide on Dec. 14.