Who would've thought that Edward Scissorhands
would switch to sharp barber blades? Who would've thought that he'd be an
angry, singing monster bent on revenge? That's kind of what "Sweeney Todd"
becomes under the direction of Tim Burton and the acting of Johnny Depp.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is now available on a
Kidding aside, "Sweeney Todd" is no Edward Scissorhands, and Depp puts in
another fine performance as the English barber bent on payback. I couldn't
help but to imagine the teaming of Burton & Depp taking the sweet character
of Scissorhands and turning him into a monster. But they didn't, really.
"Sweeney Todd" has been around a lot longer than Scissorhands, and is one of
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's most famous Broadway musicals. I've
joked to friends that Broadway will turn almost any story into a
high-kicking musical. Think "Mask" or Monty Python. Who would've thought
that a horrifying tale could be turned into a bloody, graphic, and sometimes
funny musical show? Sondheim, Wheeler and Harold Prince did, and staged the
show for many years with actress Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts in Disney's
"Beauty and the Beast" for Heaven's sake!), and it's one of Broadway's
It's surprising that the film version took so long to get to the big screen.
Under Burton's direction, Dante Ferretti's production design, Depp and
Carter's acting and surprising singing chops, the film version arrives on
the scene nicely. In watching the movie, I felt as though I was transported
to the old 1960s movie musicals. The direction, the camerawork and overall
feel of the movie is reminiscent of the "serious" musicals of that time.
"Oliver!" (1968) comes to mind. Also imagine if "Mary Poppins" (1964) went
very dark, and you get the idea. Sure, everyone sings and dances (though
limited), but the darkness of the story and the film's atmosphere tells you
that this isn't a standard musical movie.
The first hour or so of "Sweeney Todd" is lovely.
I got into the dark and Burtonesque world of "Sweeney Todd." Very moody,
very dark, very sinister, this is London on hallucinogens. Not being
a fan of extensive gore, I found myself asking, "So when does the
bloodletting begin?" The first hour is well-paced and sets up Todd's
bloodlust, and the love of Carter's Mrs. Lovett has for him. Depp and Carter
actually sing quite well (though I wonder how much sweetening was
done in post-production...apparently they've never sung before) and Burton
sets up the dark feel of the film well. I enjoyed the opening title
sequence. Bloody and moody, but just right. At least there is no throat
slashing. We're also introduced, via a short scene, to the evil Judge Turpin
(Alan Rickman) and his minion, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall). Everything is
bloody-well terrific so far.
I know it's contradictory to say, but I found myself squeamish by the time
the first slashing begins. Indeed, the movie is about the Demon Barber of
Fleet Street, so I knew I what I was getting myself into. I've been warned
by the title itself! Burton handles the gore with his typical artistry,
making the slashing elegant to an extent. I guess I so much enjoyed how
Burton and the cast set up the story in the first hour, that the
bloodletting is shocking. Perhaps that was done purposely (I never saw the
stage show, so I don't know how the story was
originally structured). The slashing is probably no less horrifying
than gory scenes from today's gore porn films. From what I heard and read
about "Sweeney Todd," the graphic scenes were done tastefully as possible. I
thought they were pretty graphic. This is not to say that the film turned my
off at this point. I still enjoyed it. I just thought that it shifted gears
pretty quickly with the gore and storyline.
The plot is simple and to the point. Depp's wife and child are taken away
from him by the corrupt Judge Turpin. Depp is sent away for years, only to
come back to London with revenge in his heart. He's become so bent on
revenge that it consumes him. Quite a contrast to his innocent and loving
image we see in the musical flashback. What seems to drag the film's pacing
down are the love song scenes with Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) and
Johanna (Jayne Wisener). Of course, without those scenes, there's no real
payoff in the film.
I was hoping for a bit more humanity to Todd's character. I didn't root for
him, despite his loss of his family in the early part of the film. He's so
dark, so sinister, that I actually enjoyed Rickman's villain better.
Depp steers a little bit of Jack Sparrow into his role of Todd. Depp is
extremely talented as an actor, having more range than many actors today. In
this role, though, he seems more in tune with Jack Sparrow, though. He
scowls a lot. Also noteworthy is Sasha Baron Cohen's operatic barber
The highlight of the film is Helena Bonham Carter. She's played some oddball
characters over the years in gritty films like "Fight Club" (1999), but
she's been splendid in recent years in Burton's "The Corpse Bride" and
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). There's a sweetness and caring to
Carter in the role of Mrs. Lovett. Despite the fact she runs the worst
bakery in London and is conniving, she still has a heart. Maybe a misguided
heart, but a heart no less.
Burton's version of "Sweeney Todd" is often times typical Burton. He likes
the color of black and he likes moodiness. His work has become its own
cliché. I recently caught a video on You Tube of writer/director Kevin Smith
ripping into Burton's artsy personality. It's true that Burton has his own
style (in movies and with his public persona). I've enjoyed many of his
films, despite Smith's funny comments about him (of which I got laughs out
of). Burton is Burton, and despite his now cliché ways of making his films,
"Sweeney Todd" is an admirable addition to his credits.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © DreamWorks Pictures. All rights reserved.
A movie musical in the rich Broadway tradition
of "Oklahoma!" Only much bloodier
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter,
Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall
Making of, many featurettes
Beautifully rendered old time London
Superb sound and color
Dolby Digital 5.1
DVD RELEASE DATE
April 1, 2008