In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the grand-scale movie musical was the equivalent of today’s big-budget 3D sci-fi actioners — star-packed blockbusters, often based on Broadway hits that were guaranteed to bring in hefty box office hauls. 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” one of the last whoppers of the genre, for instance, became the biggest film of all time on its release, and remains the third highest grosser of all time when adjusted for inflation. But a series of expensive flops, from “Doctor Dolittle” to “At Long Last Love” and “New York, New York,” saw the genre fall out of favor, and the movie musicals nearly disappeared altogether in the 1980s and 1990s, outside of Disney animations and the occasional exception like “Evita.”
But the last decade has seen something of a revival of the form, with “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago” both picking up critical and commercial success, and the likes of “Hairspray,” “Dreamgirls” and “Mamma Mia!,” all based on existing stage musicals, becoming big hits — although it should be said that still, for every one that landed, there was a “Phantom of the Opera” or a “Rent” tanking shortly afterwards. Still, the form has become palatable again, and, with virtually every filmmaker dreaming of one day making a musical, there’s plenty of potential projects in development, and one of them has just landed one of the hottest directors in town.
Deadline reports that Tom Hooper, the newly-minted Oscar-winning director of “The King’s Speech” (and also the successful result of James Cameron‘s attempt to Benjamin Button-ize himself) has officially entered negotiations with Universal and Working Title to direct their new film of “Les Miserables,” the long-running musical version of Victor Hugo‘s classic novel. Hooper was linked to the project a month or so ago, but he’s had a number of other projects percolating: a reteam with “The King’s Speech” writer David Seidler on “The Lady Who Went Too Far,” the long-delayed “Tulip Fever” at The Weinstein Company, and, Deadline reveal in the new piece, a new version of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
But Hooper seems to have made his choice: talks have begun and, although Hooper’s camp won’t confirm that it’ll be the director’s next film, it’s looking very likely — a start date towards the end of the year is being planned. Cameron Mackintosh, who was behind the original stage production, is producing, along with Working Title chiefs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, and the script is by “Gladiator” writer William Nicholson. There’s no word on casting yet, but expect the words Anne, Jackman, Hugh and Hathaway to start flying around fairly soon.
The tale’s obviously a classic one (if you’re unfamiliar with the text, it involves an ex-convict in 19th century France, who tries to escape his criminal past as Revolution brews in the background), but we have to confess that we’ve never been a fan of the stage show, which is turgid and musicially bland. We fear that it’ll play to Hooper’s worst instincts, but we’re ready to be proven wrong. No release date’s yet been announced, but we’d expect to see this in the awards season race of 2012 if filming hits its target.