THIS adaptation of the timeless stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic 19th Century novel sets an all-star cast the challenge of singing live to camera.
The innovative technique aims to transform the experience of the on-screen musical and is pioneered by director Tom Hooper, who also helmed The King’s Speech.
Hugh Jackman, who plays|ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, found himself singing ten hours a day and reportedly went off coffee during the four-month filming process, opting for water and lemon instead.
He even carried a portable steam machine around with him to nurse his vocal chords.
Valjean is hunted for decades by ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. Then when Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.
Hopper clearly hoped to make the film an emotional experience doing justice to the universal story, which exposes the social injustice and class struggles of the time.
It is a testament to the survival of the human spirit, punctuated by broken dreams, unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption.
Though the film sets the cast a tough musical challenge they can only meet by following a gruelling rehearsal schedule, all the major stars have previously sung professionally.
Jackman and Hathaway have sung in West End and Broadway productions, and Russell Crowe has performed with his rock band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.
Amanda Seyfried, as Cosette, had already proven she can sing in Mamma Mia! and hits some equally high notes here, too.
To sing live the cast had to use tiny earpieces, through which they listened to an electric piano. A 70-piece orchestral accompaniment is then edited in later.
The stars do not pre-record the songs in a booth, as is the norm.
Dodgy lip-synching techniques are nowhere to be seen and the cast can act more freely, changing the pace of the song as they please.
As a result, Hathaway is able to find fresh pain and regret when performing the plaintive ballad of the doomed prostitute Fantine, I Dreamed a Dream, because her imperfect rendition is choked with sobs.
All the big numbers – Bring Him Home, One Day More and On My Own – had to be filmed in just one take, the aim being to keep the intimacy found on the stage alive on screen.