While many critics of the film are quick to point out how much of the time Hooper's camera is ever-so-close to his all-star cast, the film is also full of epic shots (enhanced with CGI) of 18th century Paris. Hooper not only chose to shoot many of the film's well-known songs up close and personal, he also made the daring decision to have all of his actors sing live. As Hooper described to Indiewire's Jay Fernandez, his team attached microphones to either side of the actors so that their voices would be picked up no matter where they turned.
In some instances, the choices made to bring a nuanced adaptation to the screen hurt the listenability of the movie's songs as standalone pieces; in some instances, the stars aligned. Here's a breakdown of how different songs fared the aural close-up:
The soundtrack tracks that will be skipped:
"I Dreamed a Dream"
Let's get this out of the way first. In the context of the narrative, as Hooper's camera pays tribute to the defeated Fantine, Anne Hathaway's version of this song is breathtaking. When you press play and crank it up to sing along, you realize it's really hard to do so as Hathaway whimpers. Hathaway's version of the song must only live within the entire film in order to be listenable. Luckily, it's one of the parts of the film that make it worth revisiting.
"Master of the House"
Smack dab in the middle of one of the most tragic stage musicals of all time is one of the greatest comic songs written for theater. Unfortunately, Sacha Baron Cohen's Thénardier must sing each line of the song separately with a silly vignette to act out every line. The stilted low-key version does not have the boisterous bawdy feel of the stage take on the anthem. Bucking tradition from the London and New York stage shows and against the choices of the film's other actors, Cohen's vague European (read: British) accent is the only one that dips into French (sometimes it's 'ze,' sometimes 'the.') All this is not helped by Mme. Thénardier, a lackluster Helena Bonham Carter.
"One Day More"
When actors perform this one on a stage (or when guests perform it a Danish wedding reception), the house is brought down. The song is essential to wrap up all the narratives and send us to the denouement. In the film, the epic anthem does not benefit when each character's line is stitched together from being separately shot and stitched together.
As Hooper explained to Anne Thompson, the show's original lyricist and composer helped him craft an all-song version of the play. In order to do this (and to get some extra nominations) a song needed to be added. In "Suddenly," Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) gives a lot of exposition. And listeners doze off.