There was a time when a chap could take his gal out to the flicks and see a gosh darn good musical. That time is, like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra, long since gone.
Despite the likes of Chicago and Nine, the resurgence of the musical has never truly taken place, but then again, none of the recent efforts have truly been musicals. The odd "singing & dancing" number thrown in here and there amidst the action or dialogue hardly counts as a full-blown experience and the less said about the modern likes of Step Up the better...
Now of course that's all changed. After the world-wide success of his The King's Speech, director Tom Hooper no doubt had the pick of the crop for his follow-up project. No one would have guessed he would do a faithful rendition of the worlds longest running musical - Les Miserables. Make no mistake, this is nothing like anyone has seen in mainstream cinema for years.
For those who have never seen its source material - the theatre version - or indeed been to see and hear a musical in recent years, this will come as a big surprise to them. Here, over 90% of the film is sung - yes, you read that right, almost every single line of dialogue is sung, whether in a moody monologue or an incendiary interaction between individuals, all is imparted lyrically.
Now, it's not only this that sets Hooper's opus apart from any other song-incorporating film. Others have their stars record the song in a studio for them to then mime to or sing-along whilst on set thus aiming to achieve the best of both worlds - great sound and great acting. Here, every one has been done "live" whilst the cameras were rolling. So, for the audience, everything is captured. Every emotion felt whilst singing about unrequited love ("On My Own") or about the hopelessness of life and its cruelty upon a struggling mother ("I Dreamed A Dream") comes through on both the sight and sound being experienced. This simple yet brave and clever move helps for the emotional ties between singer and viewer to become that more binding.
Much has been said about the three main leads and their singing capabilities. Jackman, originally trained as a singer and dancer, has the bulk of the film on his shoulders and carries it as well as his character carries out his promises. You forget that this is Wolverine upon the screen and instead immediately see him as Prisoner 24601. Opposite him throughout the films 158 minutes running time is Crowe, the star who has had the most criticism concerning his voice. Nonsense. Crowe, and his voice are a match for his character - a man of stiffness, gruffness and obsession. Varying pitch and glass-shattering heights are not necessary for him and his songs of tracking Jackman down. The main heart-wrenching, tear-inducing material is left to the surprise sensation who, whilst only being in the film for the shortest time, totally steals the limelight and your heart. Hathaway. As the mother forced to sell her hair, her teeth and then eventually her body to keep her daughter alive, Hathaway delivers what should, in celluloid anyway, be classed as the most perfect cinematic song ever committed. Her "I Dreamed A Dream" is the reason she stands to win an Oscar for her role and will forever define this film in the years to come. Any musicals to follow will have to have to match this one song and nothing more in hope of being as revered or successful.
If all that sounds a tad deep and heavy-going on the soul (and the tissues) then fear not for despite the emotional train-wrecks of obsession, unrequited love and a put-upon populace uprising, there are smiles and joviality to be found. This is mainly with the double act of Cohen and Carter as the inn-keepers who are entrusted to look after Hathaway's child but are a cross between Cinderella's step-mother and Fagin. It is their light-heartedness and their smile-inducing songs that help lift the film out of the nearing depression stakes and help you to take a breath before the next disaster rolls around towards Jackman's on-the-run parole.
Brave, bold, beautiful and at times bewitching, Les Miserables is a truly unique cinematic experience. I cannot stress enough how different it is to previous films that incorporate songs in them so just remember this before you sit down and you should find yourself transported to a time that has not been seen for ages - welcome back musical - you have been sorely missed.
UK release date: 11.01.13