Tuesday 18 December 2007

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) Tim Burton

This was always going to be an interesting one and I was very happy to get a free advance screening pass courtesy of the delightful Midnite Movie Mamacita. I'm a big Tim Burton fan and have been for years, having seen films like Batman and Beetlejuice in the theatre on initial release. I've seen all his films except the animated features (Vincent rocked!) and I have Corpse Bride ready to go as soon as I can find The Nightmare Before Christmas. I'm also a big Johnny Depp fan though not of as long a standing as my wife. I go back to A Nightmare on Elm Street though I discovered him in Edward Scissorhands, but my wife used to watch him in 21 Jump Street.

However, I am not generally a fan of musicals. Anyone paying attention to my reviews knows that I'm still trying to quantify what I like and what I don't like. I like the sheer insanity of Busby Berkeley, the style of early Fred Astaire and the storytelling of Singin' in the Rain. However I really don't understand the appeal of many acknowledged classics, like Gigi or An American in Paris. I seem to not like Vincente Minnelli, Gene Kelly or musicals after colour arrived. I also don't like Helena Bonham Carter, having truly loathed her in Fight Club but I'm well aware that it may just be a personal subconscious bias that I need to get over, given that it's the character I loathe not her acting.

So what to think of Sweeney Todd, Burton's big screen adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim stage musical? Well I enjoyed it but there was much that left me dry. Most of what I didn't like were the songs, but that's not surprising given my general tastes. More surprising was that I really enjoyed a few of them, like 'A Little Priest' which is clever, jaunty and darkly hilarious. This film is a lot funnier than I expected it to be. I don't know how faithful this is to the Broadway production, but it would seem Tim Burton kept the soundtrack pretty much intact.

Otherwise he may just have made it his own. The colours are wonderful, with scenes shot in very limited palettes. The production quality look amazing, being a highly believable London much better than the city in his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also is presumably the main thrust behind the very gruesome gore, done in true grand guignol style. The film is also a lot gorier than I expected it to be, with very explicit throat slicings and great spurting gouts of blood often aimed straight at the camera. Normally I'd be all for it (hey, I love Brain Dead with a passion) but it seems far too gratuitous.

Johnny Depp is superb, as he always was. The part can't help of remind of Edward Scissorhands with the fancy handwork and glistening steel, but the voice is far more akin to a controlled Jack Sparrow and there's a little white streak too like the Bride of Frankenstein. I kept waiting for Depp to mouth a 'hmm' like Bogart's character in The Return of Dr X who copied the white streak first. The part is mostly posing though as there's not much depth to any of it.

Sweeney Todd was transported by a wicked judge who had the hots for his wife, the judge being Alan Rickman who was probably grinning a deliciously wicked grin while being born. Now he's back, with a new name and a thirst for revenge. Of course his wife has killed herself, Judge Turpin took their daughter as his ward and he plans to marry her. Todd must team up with Mrs Lovett who sells the worst pies in London to enact a fitting revenge. She's Helena Bonham Carter and she's gradually allowing me to forget her character in Fight Club, amazingly overdone mascara or no.

There's also Timothy Spall as a corrupt beadle, who really hasn't changed much since Auf Wiedersehn, Pet and Ali G himself, Sacha Baron Cohen, who is an outrageous but believable Signor Adolfo Pirelli. The non-outrageous characters are new actors: Jamie Campbell Bower, Jayne Wisener and young Ed Sanders, who impressed me no end. He has a major future in front of him and he gets a few really killer scenes here. Still at the end of the day, I may have enjoyed this more than most musicals but, like most musicals, it would be hard for me to come back to it, even with such magnetic gruesomeness going on.

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