Hooper collaborated on the film with Mackintosh and other creators of the stage musical: musician Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer. While maintaining a fealty to the stage version that should make any "Les Miz" fan proud, they altered the score to better fit a cinematic version. In the process, they moved Fantine's iconic number "I Dreamed a Dream" to the end of her societal descent from seamstress to prostitute, while giving hero Valjean a new song, "Suddenly" to reflect his new role as a father, after he rescues Cosette.
"We tried to reinvent the score for the movie," says Mackintosh. "We wanted it to be very big and very small, to reflect what was being directed on the screen by Tom, without diminishing its power from the stage. We took it all apart and put it back together so it can only be a film score."
While all the actors were on board with singing live, the experience proved grueling, both emotionally and to the actors' vocal chords. Redmayne, for example, performed his solo "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" 23 times.
The result, in Hooper's mind, is more authentic singing performances from each actor. "These actors are not doing renditions, they are authored by them, like soliloquies in a Shakespeare play," he says.
The intensity of the performances is compounded by Hooper's decision to shoot many of the songs at very close range, which has drawn a mixed response. Writing for New York magazine, David Edelstein said: "When an actor begins to sing, the camera rushes in and fastens on the performer's face, positioning itself just below the head, somewhere between the navel and the Adam's apple — and canted from 30 to 45 degrees. ... I imagined the cameraman to be small, fleet and extremely high-strung, like Gollum."
Adam Shankman, director of the 2007 film version of "Hairspray" and this year's "Rock of Ages," says: "I think it is challenging, especially when you add the close-ups. ...It can feel a little relentless."
"The nice thing about opera and sung-through [stage musicals] is that you have the distance," he added. "But I think it's an amazing achievement. [Hooper] went for it, man."
The reaction seems to reflect the divided response to musicals in general, and even to "Les Miz," which opened in 1985 in London to critical pans, but producer Eric Fellner of Working Title isn't concerned.
"The bulk of people love it. It's why the original show is so successful, even though it opened to horrendous reviews," Fellner says. "I think critics look at it and feel it's manipulative but it's the real people that made 'Les Miz' happen. They adored it. They loved it."
Still, not all beloved Broadway shows translated successfully to the screen. Joel Schumacher's adaptation of "Phantom of the Opera" only earned $51 million domestically in 2004 (the equivalent of $60.4 million today), while Christopher Columbus' "Rent" grossed only $29 million the following year. Watchers of the genre chalk up those failures to bad reviews, tough subject matters and unknown casts.
Even though "Les Miz" is a tale of poverty set 200 years ago in France, some say audiences these days are eager for more movie musicals.
"Starting with 'Moulin Rouge!' at the beginning of the century, it's amazing how many musical movies and television shows there have been — everything from traditional musicals, to movies and television shows that depend on a lot of musical expression, like 'Pitch Perfect' or the 'Step Up' movies," says Bill Condon, screenwriter of "Chicago" and director of 2006's "Dreamgirls." "I think it's back, and I think it's been back for awhile. I don't think it's the issue it used to be."
The most recent audience pre-awareness surveys suggest "Les Miz" is on track for a strong opening, generating substantial interest among all demographic groups but especially women.
"Les Miz" costar Samantha Barks, who plays the romantically scorned Eponine, says she's witnessed the teen-girl adoration for the musical since she first played the part on the West End stage in 2009.
"I get a lot of tweets saying 'I am Eponine' or 'I've had such an Eponine day,'" says Barks. "It's got something for everyone. Whether you're a young guy and you want to be Enjolras on top of the barricade or little Gavroche. I always wanted to be Eponine, which is strange because she's such a tragic character."
Adds Redmayne, "It's the same stuff as the 'Twilight' series. There's an 'emo quality' to watching the tragedy and the teenage angst. I'm alone and it's miserable."
Correction, Dec. 22, 2012: An earlier version of this story gave the name of the character played by Russell Crowe as Javier. It's Javert.