Musical, Musical Comedy
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"I will have vengeance. I will have salvation." Those are the words uttered by a maniacal Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's latest film, an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award winning musical about a barbaric barber and his cannibal mistress, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street". The film is another in a long line of musical adaptations. We've had everything from the ritz and flash of "Chicago" to the sway and swagger of "Dreamgirls", but none have been as dark or as violent as "Sweeney Todd", one of the darkest musicals ever mounted on the stage. When you think about the tone and story of the stage production, there really is only one director who could ever bring such a world to life in a convincing manner, and that's Tim Burton. His visual style is perfectly matched with the visual style of the Broadway production. Burton, a self-professed hater of musicals, doesn't bring any of that grimmance to this film, however. "Sweeney Todd" is one of the most visually captivating films of the year, a musical that does so much more than "Chicago" and "Dreamgirls" because it deals with emotions far more powerful. "Sweeney Todd" is one of those films that doesn't feel like a traditional musical because it's not a traditional musical. It's all over the musical map, and Tim Burton makes it work. That is an accomplishment all right.
The film opens with the arrival of Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), formerly Benjamin Barker, who was sent away on a crime he didn't commit so a corrupt judge (Alan Rickman) could woo his wife (Laura Michelle Kelly), eventually forcing her to poison herself, and then take Barker's beautiful daughter (Jayne Wisener) as his ward. When Sweeney returns, he is greeted by the cook behind the worst meat pies in London, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). The two form a unique and dark partnership, with Sweeney dispatching of his customers upstairs and then dropping them into the kitchen downstairs, where Mrs. Lovett uses the meat for her delicious pies. Sacha Baron Cohen co-stars as Signor Adolfo Pirelli, whom when Sweeney returns to London, is the most accomplished and talked about barber in town. When Sweeney wins a 'shave off' with the Italian, the judge's henchman, Beadle (Timothy Spall) guarantees that he himself will be seeing the barber soon. And, as Sweeney's ticket to the judge, he bides his time above the meat pie shop, waiting on the day when he can finally get his revenge against the man who stole his life away. Oh, and if you haven't out two and two together, "Sweeney Todd" is a musical. It's got quite a few songs therein.
This production is all Tim Burton, from the amazing production design by Dante Ferretti to the lavish costumes by Colleen Atwood. "Sweeney Todd" looks like you would expect a Tim Burton version of a musical to look. But, Burton does something else that is rather remarkable. He does not take the musical too big. It's a small musical, on stage, and Burton translates that to film. He uses special effects for the London skylines, but you never get the sense that he is trying to make some musical epic like "Dreamgirls" or "Phantom of the Opera". He knows how this story works best and he doesn't stray from that. I also enjoyed Burton's choices regarding the throat slashing sequences. He directs them in such a way that they seem like poetry, which is in keeping with the story. He also uses a bright red blood that looks absolutely comic book in texture, but works like a charm. That same color of red is visible throughout the film, and offers some of the most pleasant and striking imagery in the film. I went into "Sweeney Todd" expecting to find Tim Burton trying too hard to make a Tim Burton movie, just like De Palma did with "The Black Dahlia". What I found was a director so comfortable with himself and his own style that it just oozed out like the very blood Mrs. Lovett is collecting in her kitchen. Burton knows how to do musicals.
As far as the performances are concerned, fans of the musical need to know - these are not the same performances you are used to. The biggest shocker was that, at the end of the day, even some of the lackluster performances were overshadowed by Burton's amazing production. Johnny Depp does a remarkable job as Sweeney Todd, finding ways to inject so much expression into scenes that were really not designed to have much at all. Depp's vocals are fine, and sometimes outstanding, though he is not the vocal range most are used to in the role. Helena Bonham Carter was an odd choice for Mrs. Lovett and her vocals are the weakest in the film, but she has her moments and she is nowhere close to bad - she just seems like she might not have been the perfect choice for the role. Sacha Baron Cohen steals the movie for the few minutes he's on screen, and his numbers is one of the most entertaining in the film. Alan Rickman brings his usual intensity to the screen, and also lends one of the film's most authentic voices. The real vocal talents are the ones you've never heard of, like Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony, Jayne Wisener as Johanna and Ed Sanders as Toby. But, don't worry - Depp and Bonham Carter carry the film, and their duet of "A Little Priest" is just outstanding. It's probably my favorite number in the film, with the exception of "No Place Like London", sung by Sweeney as he provides his customers with happy faces and by Anthony as he walks down the streets singing about his lost love. But, most of the songs work here.
What a treat "Sweeney Todd" was. I went into the picture pessimistic because I didn't want to get my hopes up like "No Country for Old Men" and have them dashed. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. "Sweeney Todd" turned out to be the best musical adaptation since pre-"Chicago". Maybe it was all the blood and violence that made me enjoy it so much. Maybe it was my amazement at how good Johnny Depp actually sounded in the role. Or, maybe I was just in one of those Tim Burton moods. All I know is - when I saw Depp sitting on the beach wearing the black and white striped long johns, a smile crept across my face thinking back to all the other Tim Burton films I had seen with those exact same colors. It was an obvious throwback to "Beetle Juice", to the worm in the sand, and I appreciated it so much. "Sweeney Todd" is, indeed, one of the best films of the year and hopefully an Oscar contender. I would love to see Johnny Depp up for Best Actor, Sacha Baron Cohen for Best Supporting Actor, Tim Burton for Best Director and then, of course, the Best Picture nomination. "Sweeney Todd" might disappoint some fans of the musical, but I saw the film with several fans of the musical - big fans - and they loved the hell out of it. It's not a feel good film, just like it wasn't a feel good musical. It's about death and despair and revenge. Rock.
- added 12/22/2007, 11:12 PM
I abso-fucking-lutely adored this movie. I saw it
last night, and I had a huge smile across my face
the whole time. I wasn't familiar with the
original musical before seeing the movie, but
after seeing this, I want to see it on stage (I
also added the recorded version with Angela
Lansbury to my netflix). I haven't been able to
stop listening to the soundtrack. As you said,
Johnny Depp doesn't have the range (or I imagine)
of the other actors who played Sweeney on stage,
but he was still wonderful, my favorite musical
number of his being Epiphany. Jamie Campbell
Bower's got a great voice, and I loved him singing
Johanna. Edward Sanders was fantastic, too. And we
can't forget about Sacha Baron Cohen, who was
hilarious, as usual. But enough about the actors;
the movie was just amazing to look at. I loved,
loved, loved this movie. Probably my favorite of
the year. The final shot was absolutely haunting.
- added 01/06/2008, 03:13 AM
Holy hell, this was absolutely amazing. 10/10. By
the way, what was the name of the song that he was
singing when he took his razors out for the first
time, "My Friends"?
- added 01/06/2008, 03:55 AM
Yes. The name of the song is "My Friends".
- added 04/06/2008, 02:18 AM
I've never been a huge fan of musicals, and with
the exception of this and the upcoming Repo, none
of the musicals from the recent flood of releases
have interested me in the least. With the praise
that this one got, I decided to give it a shot;
after all, I like Tim Burton (not fanatical about
him, but he's pretty good) and the storyline
sounded interesting, so maybe this one would
change my mind... right?
Damn, now I
remember why I hate musicals - I threw this disc
right back into the Netflix envelope after twenty
- added 04/06/2008, 02:24 PM
Tell me, how can you give a movie a fair rating
if you only watch 20 minutes of it?
- added 04/07/2008, 02:06 AM
I wouldn't have reviewed it like that, but unless
the rest of the movie did a complete 180 after
that point, there's no way I would have enjoyed
- added 04/07/2008, 11:03 AM
Well...I assure you...the first 20 minutes are
nothing like the bloody gruesome rest of the film,
with heads splitting open and Sacha Baron Cohen
and all sorts of Tim Burton goodness.
- added 04/07/2008, 06:54 PM
The movie is like 2 hours long, and like
bluemeanie said I assure you that the rest of the
movie is not as 'bad' as the first 20 minutes.
- added 07/15/2008, 07:39 PM
An excellent cast for an awesome script. Johnny's
voice and the set up of the story made the first
twenty minutes a beautiful treat, the rest was
bloody desert. There was barely a kiss yet the
romantic feel was evident throughout. Hellena
Bonham Carter played Nellie so well I would have
sworn she was madly in love with Sweeney and when
he put his blade to her throat the look on her
face took my breath away.
Praise to Tim
Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan
Rickman, Ed Sanders, Jayne Wisener, and even
Timothy Spall! Laura Michelle Kelly made my teeth
hurt, but that's what FF is for. Best musical ever
and one of the most romantic films ever made.
"Oh, well that's a
different matter then. For a moment there I
thought you lost your marbles.... Ugh! All that
blood. Poor bugger. Oh well! ... Well, waste not,
Rest Easy Soul
- added 01/24/2010, 08:24 PM
Slasher meets musical.. Finally something a boy
and girl can agree on.