A Les Miserables TV spot ran this morning on MSNBC. Vivid, special — it woke me up. The finely textured 19th Century atmosphere and the exquisite, carefully composed, grimy-beautiful visual scheme is clearly top-of-the-line, but the emotional atmosphere seems to be (duhh) largely about pain, anguish and affliction more than anything else. Which isn’t necessarily what the film finally is, or what it will finally feel like.

It was observed three weeks ago that the Les Miserables material is familiar and classic and not exactly thrilling in and of itself, and that the stage musical is over 25 years old and quite traditional and retro-defaulty by today’s standards, and that Tom Hooper‘s innovation of having the actors sing live on the set is (this was a Glenn Kenny riff) doesn’t necessarily mean that the film will work splendidly. Live singing may seem to some like an exciting new approach to shooting movie musicals, but what will finally matter is whether or not Les Miserables works altogether…whether the entire working mechanism harmonizes in a way that inspires “wow, that was truly exceptional!” or “that was an entirely respectable rendering of a classic musical that was all the rage in London and Broadway back in the ’80s.”

If the latter impression dominates and Les Miserables becomes merely one of the Best Picture contenders then we’ll have an uncertain and perhaps even mysterious Best Picture race on your hands — an egalitarian race without a frontrunner or heavyweight contender, a competition among jacks and knaves and outliers without a big gorilla (or gorillas) that everyone’s looking to beat.