In a sign of extreme confidence after preview screenings sent its Oscar potential skyrocketing, the makers of Les Miserables have released five extended clips from the upcoming musical, which is sure to boost enthusiasm among moviegoers eager for its Christmas Day debut.
In an earlier trailer, we’ve already heard much of Anne Hathaway’s crushing rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” a number that is largely responsible making her the frontrunner for Best Support Actress. But these new clips tend not to be the big hit solos.
Instead, they are mostly ensemble numbers, emphasizing the musical dialogue between characters. That decision is clearly aimed at introducing those less familiar with Les Mis to the fact that it is not just a musical, but all singing.
Like it or not, our modern movie culture has somewhat lost the ability to watch musicals. It happens. The language of filmmaking — and film-watching — evolves and changes like any other. Just as audiences in the early era of talkies balked at musical scores because they didn’t understand who onscreen was playing the instruments, some moviegoers today are turned off when a character just bursts into song.
Musicals like the Best Picture-winning Chicago tried to get around this by splitting its story into two styles — the “real” world of the story, and a kind of stylized, stage world where the musicals would be performed like a fantasy sequence. Just like watching Glee and asking, “How the hell do these kids sing and dance the song perfectly when it’s their first rehearsal?” you have to suspend disbelief going in, and accept that this is part of the logic of the story.
Les Mis doesn’t have that “It’s-all-a-musical-fantasy” avenue open to it: It presents a grim, gritty world for its characters in early 19th-Century Paris. There is no fantasy or glitz. In fact, there’s no dancing at all — which is rare for a musical. Instead, the characters sing — everything. If clips like these let non-musical fans know the deal going in, they might be more open to it.
Russell Crowe as the singing policeman
I’ve posted them in chronological order according to the story, beginning with the one above from the opening scene of the movie. Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean is released from the slave life of a prisoner (his crime was stealing bread for his starving family), and Russell Crowe’s Inspector Javert — at this point just a prison guard — warns that he’ll be watching him.
Crowe’s singing hasn’t been prominently featured in any trailers for the film, so this is the public’s first big taste of it. His performance will be one of the most divisive in the film. Some dislike it because his style differs so greatly from the others — kind of a Jesus Christ Superstar rock-opera thing.
Jackman and Hathaway, for example, tend to talk-sing through their performances — using the live-performance style to inject more emotional breaks into their songs. For better or worse, Crowe sing-sings through his.
I would argue this is a good thing, and appropriate for Javert, since it emphasizes the rigidity of his character — a man who respects precision and dedication above all. A man who plays by the rules. Literally and metaphorically, he is someone who cannot forgive himself (or anyone else) for a wrong note.