Monday, February 4, 2008

REVIEW: Sweeney Todd

The new corpse coture

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Dir By: Tim Burton

Written By: Stephen Sondheim (adapted by John Logan)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman

What's it about? The jilted and bitter Benjamin Barker, now Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), has just returned to London to seek revenge on those who've wronged him. A sinister partnership with Mrs. Lovitt sees him through his endeavor. (Bonham-Carter)

The last thing I expected was for Burton & Depp, the darkest duo, to do a matter how macabre the material. I was delighted to hear however, that they were teaming up with Burton's missus (Helena Bonham Carter) to adapt one which I've been fascinated with since seeing Jersey Girl (which was average, but stimulated my interest Sweeney). I'm not a person who enjoys musicals, and I'm not a person who really ever enjoys big screen musicals (Moulin Rouge and Hairspray are exceptions) yet the thought of a new teaming of Depp and Burton thrilled me and I love their funeralistic style.

"Edward Scissorhands" is a fave of mine and the news got me thinking about an older Depp, minus the knives, singing his little heart out while I tingle with delight. What I didn't imagine was another "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", a very weak adaptation of a celebrated novel and a paltry remake of a wonderful 70's film.

I hate to say this, but Sweeney Todd, accolades and all, for me will join Charlie at the bottom of the Burton/Depp barrel. I look to these two for originality and superb skill but in this drab and dreary musical, I have to say they faltered, stumbled, fell.

Even with a great writer like John Logan (Gladiator, The Last Samurai), it's difficult to make something so mad and playfully gruesome work at all much less on the big screen, plus singing (one of the film's major issues). I know it's a musical with tons of fans, but for the benefit of the rest of us a few shortened versions of the many MANY songs would have been quite welcome. Depp's voice was mediocre and probably far more suited to the garage rock band he toyed with in the 90's. The only real singer here (among the actors) was Bonham-Carter who was brilliant as Mrs. Lovett.

So we take out the overlong, overdramatic "too stagey for film" songs and you'd think we'd have a decent film...right? Johnny Depp is a great actor, we all know that, but everything he did as Sweeney Todd, I've seen before in some other movie (namely Pirates of the Carribean). The sets seemed stolen straight out of Moulin Rouge then sneakily painted grayer, and I couldn't help getting bored during the film. I kept thinking to myself, haven't I seen this before?

The only highlights for me in Sweeney Todd, besides a surprisingly good turn from Helena Bonham Carter, were Alan Rickman as the judge (who is just brilliant in absolutely everything he does) and the two actors who played the young lovers, clearly experienced in stage and song.

Sweeney Todd is an overrated movie for which Oscar noms, for anything other than costume design, are unwarranted. What should have been a dark, magical and fun journey instead was a messy, old and dusty one. I wanted it to work, for the silly material to be enriched by the caliber of men and women working with it. However, the film just ended up the same way as the material went in, plain silly. If you want to see a great musical in the same vein from Tim Burton that actually resonates, rent A Nightmare Before Christmas.

(Has Burton lost it??? Comment below!)


spiderman said...

Um, I think you kind of missed the point of the film. Its an adaptation of a musical. If you dont like musicals that's fine but you need to understand that for a film to be made of a musical - you can either adapt it and put your own style on it or you can just do a carbon copy of the stage show which will most likely turn out to be a TURD (The Producers) because there are certain elements that just dont work from stage to screen. Now everyone is entitled to their opinion and I can sort of see where you are coming from but to me it seems that the reason you dont like it really comes from the fact you dont like or understand musicals. Don't be a (as we like to say in the industry) a typical film wanker.

Jen Reviews Movies said...

Thanks for your comment Spiderman (btw love your superhero work)

When I said I don't like musicals I meant the film versions. I enjoyed Moulin Rouge and Hairspray and have a fondness for movies like Grease etc.

I hated Chicago (ugh way too stagey) and wanted to walk out of The Producers.

I think it's almost impossible not to understand a musical because they are very open and obvious. I know that isn't my problem.

I love most movies, as I believe I said in my post, so I definitely don't think I fit into the 'film wanker' category. I believe it's just that anyone who is a film critic is going to be dubbed this from time to time because they dislike a popular film.

The reason I didn't enjoy the film was because they did a bad job of adapting the musical for the big screen, obviously in my opinion, and they failed to add their own flair to it seeming to copy things they have done or have been done by others in the past. That is why I was so disappointed and gave it such a poor rating. I simply couldn't, as a big fan, ignore that fact.

Thanks for your opinion. A lot of people did love this movie and don't agree with me. I just feel like I'm in one of those situations , like the Matrix, where I know the truth but no one else seems to...