Jan 21, 2008

[Movies] Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetSweeney Todd is a classic villain of English literature that has managed to come up in various incarnations and in his diverse history has inspired many books, poems, songs, movies and even a musical by Stephen Sondheim, one of my favorite composers especially after I got to see Into the Woods on, um, Laserdisc (yikes!).

When it was reported that Tim Burton was working on his own interpretation of the musical given his usual visual style and recurring actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in tow, I was pretty excited. The movie only opened in theaters locally this month - a natural consequence of the year film festival in December - so by this time the news was already out that it had won the Golden Globe for Best comedy or Musical, albeit with very little fanfare to accompany it.

Still, even if it hadn't won I'm sure my partner and I would have gone out to see it.

This version of the Sweeney Todd tale starts with Benjamin Barker, an honest barber who is falsely accused by a judge only after his beautiful wife. He returns after 15 years using the name Sweeney Todd and discovers that his wife is dead, his daughter is now the ward of the same judge who sent him away and all he has left in his heart are thoughts of revenge.

First, people need to remember that this is a musical and not go in just expecting some violent Tim Burton movie (although there is a more than healthy amount of blood involved, mind you). I hate it when people go into a theater not knowing major details like that and then complain about it afterwards like how a lot of people were disappointed that Beowulf was actually an animated feature. Stupid, really.

At the same time, don't expect this to be a happy feel-good experience like Hairspray or anything like that - this is, after all, about a serial killer who uses shaving razors as weapons. Burton still kept the movie as a musical but dropped a lot of the over-the-top sequences and large production numbers in favor of solos and duets still in the Sondheim tone.

The movie looks like most other Tim Burton movies and if you like his worlds of stark black and white scenes, lots of dark eye make-up only broken by shocking bits of surprisingly vivid colors, then this is for you. Then again, you may have already grown tired of this manner of filming and his love for Johnny Depp given this is their 6th collaboration together, so I suppose his "consistency" in this regard can be taken either way depending on your tastes.

The singing is actually pretty good and it doesn't sound overly forced and still manages to fit into the rather macabre world they're in. Depp seems unable to shake his tendency to twitch his mouth like Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, though. Helena Bonham Carter was simply amazing and I loved her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett, a role once portrayed by Angela Lansbury. I think I liked her the best in this film and it was somewhat sad to note that she didn't win the Golden Globe for her acting, but at least she was nominated.

Despite the loss of many key songs including the title piece given their overly-theatric nature, in Burton's opinion, the movie was unmistakably still true to its Sondheim roots given his favored use of layering different lyrics by two different characters and his use of violins to demonstrate tension and various other emotions. It also maintained Sondheim's flair for wit in terms of lyrics, which was really one of my main concerns.

So as long as you can take a lot of movie-style blood that is classically ruby red in shade, then you're bound to enjoy this dark interpretation of the Broadway musical in a manner that remains uniquely Burton-esque.

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