Tim Burton’s highly anticipated horror-musical Sweeney Todd arrives in theaters everywhere tomorrow and already we’ve posted a positive review of the film, courtesy of BC. Today writer David Harley sends us in his opinion, which can be found inside. In addition, Fatally Yours supplied us with a review of the 1982 TV movie, which starred Angela Landsbury. Click here to read that review or read on to see what Harley had to say. Stephen Sondheim musical thriller revolves around Benjamin Barker alias Sweeney Todd, (Depp) who returns to London after being deported to find out what happened to his wife and child at the hands of Judge Turpin. When he learns of their terrible fate he joins fortunes with Mrs. Nellie Lovett, the baker downstairs from his barbershop, and sets out to seek revenge.
Review by; David Harley
Score: 4.5/5 Skulls
Interestingly enough, Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd are similar in many ways. For one, both are the only films in Burton’s filmography that don’t feature music from the wonderfully talented Danny Elfman. And quite honestly, its for the best. While I do enjoy a good Elfman score (and Oingo Boingo), Stephen Sondheim’s original music serves the film quite well. After all, it was his music that made the Broadway play such a smash hit.
The other prominent similarity is that I don’t feel either film has Burton’s trademark quirky goth approach. Oh, the film certainly has a gothic feel to it but this time, its inherent in the material, rather than brought upon by Burton’s own style. That’s not to say that the film is completely devoid of Burton-esque intricacies, it’s just toned down. That larger than life feeling of the incredible and impossible are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the fantastical is replaced by a semblance of reality, even if its a bit over the top in its violence.
But that’s not what is most impressive about the uniqueness of Burton’s work. The fact that he has no theatrical training whatsoever and that he could mastermind this version of Sweeney Todd is what really impresses. Burton, whose other work usually shows an inherent appreciation for musical aspects, shows great prowess in adapting the musical, keeping the film flowing and entertaining. He doesn’t attempt to create a chorus line or make any number more lavish than it needs to be. Each musical number is intimate, usually a solo or duet, and keeps the content of the film flowing. Josh Logan’s script has managed to turn a three hour story into a two hour cinematic feat, only trimming a few versus and songs with little affect to the film, in order to serve the its screen time as best as possible. That, in short, is what makes this film so great. Burton and his collaborators didn’t want to make an exact replica of the show and instead opted to make it their own, which is something some people don’t have the gumption to do. *Cough* Joel Schumacher *Cough*
Stephen Sondheim, who was the composer and lyricist for the Broadway production, should also be given a lot of credit. Not only did he write the music and lyrics for the film, he also had final say on choosing the cast and director. Not only did he approve of a director who could represent his musical cinematically, he assembled an almost perfect cast, minus Helena Bonham Carter. Don’t get me wrong, two of her songs were among the strongest and most memorable of the film (“Not While I’m Around” and “By The Sea”) and she doesn’t exactly cause my ears to bleed. But, I can’t help but think that there was someone out there with a better voice. Nepotism on Burton’s part seems to be the culprit here but if that meant getting everything else pitch perfect, so be it.
However, the cast, much like Burton’s direction, knows their limitations and doesn’t try to make their songs anything more than the screen can handle. There are no divas trying to hit unfathomable notes or attempting to shatter glass. Johnny Depp, in particular, kept his voice perfect, with just the right timbre and pitch, showcasing great emotion and the importance of the lyrics. One song in particular, “Epiphany”, stands out as the best song of the film and really shows Depp’s talent at its fullest. Even Sacha Boren Cohen and Alan Rickman turn in some great performances, both even having duets with Depp. All of the cast members use their own voices and convey a sense of the normal, everyday man, never feeling over produced, which I think ultimately helps the audience identify with the film.
Above everyone involved in the production, Colleen Atwood (Costume designer) and Dante Ferrelli (Production designer) stand out above everyone. The costumes are absolutely incredible, giving the characters a disheveled, yet unique look complimentary to the time period. I will never imagine any of these characters looking like anything besides what’s in the film. Ferrelli has also created some amazing sets, really capturing the despair and gloomy atmosphere of 18th century London. In particular, the set designs during the song “By The Sea” are incredible, illustrating Mrs. Lovett’s fantasy of having Todd love her as she loves him. If the film gets any nominations at all this year, it will at least be for these two production members.
With a story featuring cannibalism and wild amounts of gore, the film certainly does not disappoint. Body parts and “Old Faithful” geysers of blood run abound as Todd dishes out his own brand of justice, giving his patrons the closest shave they’ll ever have.
The screening I went to was probably one of the most interesting I’ve ever attended. Waiting for the film to begin, the audience’s level of anticipation was through the roof. Then, the lights went down and Depp started singing. Where the audience’s excitement went after they realized 90% of the film was singing, I’ll never know. It’s almost like they didn’t know it was based on a famous Broadway musical. Maybe they thought the film would just be based on a musical and not actually be one. Or maybe they just ignored the marketing all together. Whatever the reason, if that low level of awareness is running rampant throughout the country, there could be a lot of bad word of mouth from those who weren’t expecting a musical and will hold it against the film, which could potentially ruin its box office. And it would be a shame too, since its one of the year’s best, regardless of genre.