Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables." (Universal Pictures )
A theater fan can cycle through a litany of apprehensions about the new film adaptation of "Les Miserables."
The lead, Jean Valjean, is portrayed by Hugh Jackman, an actor with Broadway chops but whose best-grossing films involve mutants, penguins and fighting robots. Russell Crowe's voice is unproven. Anne Hathaway's face dominates advertisements, but the actress last seen as Catwoman has only a few minutes of screen time, while proven stage talent Samantha Barks' performance as Eponine is getting comparatively little attention.
Leading to the movie's Christmas Day opening, Broadway message boards had been humming and reviews were all over the map.
But for most ardent "Les Miz" fans, such complaints were just another song and dance. Die-hard devotees turned out in droves to see it first, with some hitting late-night Christmas Eve showings at the Arclight in Hollywood, braving the cold and shaking off the torpor from heavy holiday dinners.
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Jeff Klein, 42, said he knows the play down to the last prop and had his concerns. A loyal patron of live theater, Klein said the last film he saw in a movie house was "Spider-Man 3" in 2007. But the "Les Miserables" commercial had him in tears, he admitted.
"I was debating whether to bring my own box of tissues tonight," said Klein.
Asher Huey dragged a group of 13 family and friends to the 10 p.m. showing. A lifelong "Les Miz" fan, he saw his first production as a child.
"My mom got me this olive-colored suit and told me I was not allowed to sing along," Huey said.
He'd heard all the complaints buzzing about the film but said he was "excited to see the genres come together."
"You have to be open to it being interpreted. That's the genre of theater," said Huey's sister, Julia Garcia Combs.
Director Tom Hooper's adaptation juggles Broadway spectacle with Hollywood grandeur. Unlike the lip-syncing of other movie musicals, the "Les Miserables" actors sang during filming with orchestration added later, which allowed the cast to make acting decisions as they would onstage rather than months earlier in the recording studio. Intimate camera shots highlight emoting during vocal performances, and Hooper's use of technology created sweeping vistas that would be impossible on any stage.
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Outside before one of the ArcLight's packed showings, John Longino, 31, said he was trying to keep an open mind. He dragged his family to the movies right after dinner to catch the packed 12:05 a.m. screening. His father and brother had to catch a flight to Italy soon after the film ended, so they had loaded the car with their luggage.
"Yeah, I've seen the stage production a few times," Longino said, nonchalantly.
His father reached out, catching the zipper of his son's hoodie, pulling it down to reveal a "Les Miserables" shirt.
"Why do you have to out me like that?" Longino protested, with a laugh.
Actually, his father had introduced him to the play and was more excited than he appeared, Longino said. "He's the one that got me this shirt."
At the concession line, Brandon Baruch, a 27-year-old lighting designer, aired concerns before seeing the film with his friends.
They had gradually lowered their expectations, still questioning the choice of Hooper ("The King's Speech") as director, he said. Why not Rob Marshall, who directed the Oscar-winning adaptation of "Chicago"? But in the end it wouldn't matter, the group concluded with a laugh.
"It might be awful, but we'll still be crying our eyes out," Baruch said. "It's just a brilliant, wonderful spectacle. Like should I go out and have fun tonight? No, because 'Les Miz' is coming out."
The clock struck five past midnight and in the theater the lights dimmed. There were several rounds of raucous cheering from the capacity audience as an usher introduced the film. Many chattered through the previews of "The Great Gatsby" and two glossy, post-apocalyptic films coming out next summer.
The film is long: 2 hours, 38 minutes. But the crowd's energy was high, with smatterings of applause after solo performances, especially Hathaway's rendition of Fantine's anguished "I Dreamed a Dream." Laughter rippled as Crowe belted a somber dirge with a giant stone eagle looming in the background. Audible sniffs marked the film's end and afterward, many posed for iPhone pictures in front of the floor-to-ceiling "Les Miserables" panorama in the theater lobby.
Baruch and his friends discussed the film outside in the cold amid clouds of cigarette smoke. Hathaway was a high point and Jackman was "beautiful," Baruch said. He cried several times, as he expected.
"I thought it was completely ridiculous," he said. "And exactly what I wanted."
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