Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Les Misérables vs. Rock of Ages, two high-profile, big-budget, song-belting, star-studded Broadway adaptations.
Premise The underbelly of 21st-century cultural currency has spewed out yet another film adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg’s legendary musical Les Misérables. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Mis (as it is colloquially known) focuses on the plight, survival, and redemption of several characters living in a destitute 19th-century France on the brink of its umpteenth revolution. The story is actually too dense—and sad—to contain in a brief synopsis. If asking your parents doesn’t furnish an in-depth enough recap, reminiscing about the three months spent backstage as an ensemble member of your high school’s production of Les Misérables should get you to recall the general tragic gist.
In the classic rock tradition, Rock of Ages tells the story of a small town girl and a city boy falling in love and their journey to rock -‘n’-roll stardom. Enter detached and hypersexed ’80s rockstar Stacee Jaxx, a group of Suzie Super-Christians, and the club that brings them all together, and you’ve got the most predictable show on Broadway (sharing a director with Hairspray doesn’t come much to its aid). The trailer guarantees a buttload of fun in addition to our favorite classic rock songs, which will hopefully make up for the banal storyline. Hugo’s tried and true masterpiece nonetheless has more volume—and speaks to the complexities of the human condition and that sort of thing. Advantage: Les Misérables
Probowl Factor Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) wasn’t shy in casting some of the industry’s acting strongholds as Hugo’s beloved and timeless characters: Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a prisoner who breaks his parole and steers his life upward in pursuit of redemption; Anne Hathaway takes on Fantine, an emotionally tried single mother struggling to support her illegitimate daughter; Amanda Seyfried is Cosette, daughter of Fantine, who resides with a corrupt and abusive innkeeper and his wife while her mother works; and Russell Crowe duly assumes the role of the keen and perceptive Javert, Valjean’s unrelenting pursuer. The power of the cast is almost frightening—Les Misérables won’t be Hugh Jackman and Amanda Seyfried’s first appearance in musical theater (they have played lead roles in Oklahoma! and Mamma Mia!, respectively), and Anne Hathaway has taken the movie industry by storm in the past few years, not to exclude in her most recent role of Catwoman in the highly-anticipated summer blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises (words can’t capture our excitement).
But Hooper’s cast is not frightening enough, after inspecting the Rock of Ages team roster. The movie gets your feet wet with such talent as Russell Brand, leading lady Julianne Hough, and Mary J. Blige; you’ve reached the kiddie pool with Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago? Really? We’re done), Paul Giamatti, and Alec Baldwin; slap on leather pants, bustiers, electric guitars, and hairspray and you’re plunging into the deep end. Rock of Ages beckons Les Mis to go hard or go home. However, Hooper’s roll call won’t be ousted so easily. Choosing between the two would elicit too much heartbreak, so we’ll leave this one up in the air. Advantage: Tie
Pipes If Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed A Dream” solo (which carries the entire 1:40-minute trailer) is meant to give us a taste of the vocal prowess of Hooper’s cast, we‘re a bit nervous, as much as we hate to say it. We’ve fallen in love with Anne Hathaway as Princess of Genovia, Anne Hathaway as the scrawny magazine assistant, and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman pre-production; we’re hoping and praying Anne Hathaway the singer doesn’t offset our obsession. But her voice, at least in the trailer says otherwise. Let’s just say she’s lucky this isn’t a stage production. Although we’ve only met Fantine as a vocalist, we can rest assured in the vocal experience of Hathaway’s castmates (though, Russell Crowe’s will be all novelty).
If Rock of Ages is lacking something, it’s not vocal talent—at least that’s what Julianne Hough proves throughout the trailer. Of course, the classic rock songs are a definite, if not vital, boost to the film’s ability to be a good musical, taking on a feel-good sing-along sound that’s sure to gets your parents reminiscing about their high school days spent backstage (more than likely not waiting for Les Misérables cues). The grandeur of the classic rock hits threatens to overshadow vocal talent, but there’s really no way around Mary J, Zeta-Jones, or Hough. And Rock of Ages will be Diego Boneta (city boy heartthrob)’s first big-screen gig, according to IMDb, which may mean that director Adam Shankman made cast decisions based on vocal talent in tandem with acting ability. All in all, Rock of Ages gives us more reason to trust the music—partly because there’s less to screw up and partly because the talent is undoubtedly there. Advantage: Rock of Ages
Dynamic Duos We have to give it to Hooper for reminding us that Hugh Jackman’s affinity for near-immortal, wolf-like mutants doesn’t (and shouldn’t) define him. Jackman is the perfect balance of charm, looks, and artistic ability for viewers to take him seriously as Valjean and love him while he’s doing it. Which is why we think his performance will blend harmoniously with Russell Crowe’s Javert. Both characters are virtually written to fit the filmographies of their respective players, which should make for a promising performance.
Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin play two chums we didn’t see ever working together. Based on what we do know of the pair, Brand could use someone like Baldwin to temper his British affectation, and Baldwin is a just the right dose of well-delivered comedy. This is a chemistry we’re ready to explore, but not one that can take on a force like Jackman-Crowe right off the bat. Russell vs. Russell doesn’t need to be debated beyond the rite of seniority, in which case, Brand bends to Crowe. Advantage: Les Misérables
Production Value Les Mis is missing that epic musical component that let’s you know they mean business. We’re still waiting on Hooper to put God on high. And sure, glitter, sequins, and fireworks are formulaic to a musical’s wow-factor. But Rock of Ages isn’t afraid to admit that bigger is better; it goes big and doesn’t look back. Trailer-wise, Shankman is selling us more. Advantage: Rock of Ages
The Verdict So which musical-turned-movie takes the off-Broadway Tony? Les Misérables is the third longest-running show on Broadway, with a legacy and cast that will be tough to dismantle, and Rock of Ages is our 1987 LA rockstar fantasy with a cherry-on-top cast. To be perfectly honest, we’ll probably end up seeing both. But Les Mis still has more to prove, and Anne Hathaway isn’t proving anything by herself. This summer, we’re looking for something we don’t have to question. Winner: Rock of Ages
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