Les Misérables is the big-screen version of the world's longest-running stage musical (take that, Cats!). Since its 1985 debut, the show has been seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries and in 21 languages. Mon Dieu! For this eagerly anticipated adaptation, the Oscar-winning director of The King's Speech, Tom Hooper, shifts his focus from stuttering British royalty to singing French paupers in the 19th century. Victor Hugo's epic tale follows fugitive Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as he's hunted for decades by relentless Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), through the Paris Uprising of 1832. Whether you're a Les Mis newbie or a die-hard fan (who can't wait "One Day More"!), you'll want to arm yourself with these fun facts before soldiering on.
1. No Lip-Synching or Auto-Tuning Allowed: Les Mis is mostly "through-sung," with only a few spoken lines, so to amp up the realism, Hooper insisted the cast sing live instead of lip-synching to prerecorded tracks. Technological advances, including digitally erasing the mics on actors' costumes, allowed him to pull off the unconventional approach. While the live singing does lend a raw honesty to the performances, it also highlights the limited vocal prowess of certain actors, including out-of-his-element Crowe and even stage vet Jackman, who strains through the weeper "Bring Him Home."
2. I Dreamed a Dream…of an Oscar: Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) and Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn) are winning as young lovers Cosette and Marius, while newcomer Samantha Barks impresses as ill-fated third wheel Éponine. But it's Anne Hathaway as factory-worker-turned-hooker Fantine who gut-punches you with her tear-jerking, Susan Boyle-obliterating rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." That song alone makes Hathaway a major contender for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. It's gonna be a 19th-century smack down between her and Sally Field's Mary Todd Lincoln!
3. The Les Mis Weight-Loss Makeover: Not as glamorous as it sounds! To help convey Fantine's suffering, Hathaway lost 25 pounds and had her own hair chopped off in a scene where the character sells her tresses. Jackman also dropped poundage and went without water for 36 hours before shooting scenes of Valjean as a gaunt prisoner. (He then gained the weight back during the 12-week shoot.) To enhance the convict effect, Jackman grew out his beard, and it's a bushy look that would make any Chia Pet jealous.
4. Suddenly, There's a New Song: The movie incorporates all the show's well-known songs, though the filmmakers have made trims and occasionally shifted their placement in the narrative. They've also added a new composition, "Suddenly," which Valjean sings after rescuing young Cosette from her abusive guardians (Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen). This means "Suddenly" is eligible for a Best Original Song Oscar; it also means the Les Mis fanatic sitting near you will mercifully stop singing along with the film, at least long enough to learn the new tune.
5. Gobs of Grime, All the Time: The streets of revolutionary Paris are packed with beggars, urchins, thieves and whores. To dress the downtrodden, the wardrobe crew created some 2,200 costumes and then ripped, shredded, and blowtorched the clothing to achieve a raggedy look. The makeup team gave actors rotten teeth and diseased skin—for an effect akin to The Walking Dead! Plus, set dressers painted slime on the walls and hauled in seaweed, sand and mud. In the end, the filth onscreen is palpable, and you're grateful Les Mis isn't presented in Smell-o-Vision!
(E! and Universal Pictures are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)