Over the years, the musical has battled hard to maintain its standing in cinema. The genre was huge in Classic Hollywood cinema, but lost its distinction in the latter part of the 20th century. In 2002, "Chicago" heralded the genre's return to the mainstream cinema but few musicals since have really garnered similar critical reception or even widespread love from audiences. Ten years later, Tom Hooper's "Les Misérables" has the potential to bring back the prominence of the genre.
Based on the hugely popular musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (which in turn is based of Victor Hugo's gargantuan novel), Hooper's film is massive in scope and grandeur. The presentation of the film is highly operatic as Hooper balances the visual requirements of cinema while also allowing the music to dominate throughout. For those unfamiliar with "Les Miz" (as it is often called), the musical is essentially through-sung. There are few extensive moments of spoken dialogue; instead the characters sing to one another continuously even when they are not in the context of a song. During the songs, Hooper rarely moves his camera and maintains the performer in a close-up. Occasionally, he'll create a great deal of movement or action in the context of the song (such as in the Thénadiers' "Master of the House") to propel the plot forward, but his choice to stay close on the soloists during their respective songs maintains an intimacy and realism that is often lost in the pomp of other films of this genre. Some might complain that the technique is overused and keeps the film from developing a visual dynamic, but Hooper's decision serves the actors (who all give tremendous performances in all respects) and also enables Schönberg's music to resonate. Continue Reading