Movie-Hype (#749) - SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
Sweeney Todd is a London Legend. Appearing over 150 years ago, Todd was a murderous barber who slaughtered his wealthy customers (either by slitting their throats, dropping them several stories to land on their heads via his barber chair/trap door, or both). But fear not, Environmentalists! A man after Al Gore's own heart, after Todd would rob the dead bodies, his partner in crime Mrs. Lovett) would then use the dead people to fill her meat pies.
As your Grandmother would say, "Waste not, want not."
Sweeney Todd has been around in London for ages. Then, in 1979, Stephen Sondheim made the tale a Toni-award winning Broadway musical. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: the only thing better than killing and eating people is singing about it.
Cut to 2007. Master of the demented Tim Burton brings forth a movie of Sweeney Todd, based on Sondheim's musical. Johnny Depp plays the titular Todd, with Helena Bonham Carter serving up a heaping slice of Mrs. Lovett. Murder. Canibalism. Singing. Johnny Depp. Tim Burton. What's not to love?
Honor compels me to admit that the idea of SWEENEY TODD works better for me than the experience of watching the movie. I'm not sure what it was. Maybe it was my mood that night. (I saw ENCHANTED the same evening--now there's a Family Night Combo--and wasn't impressed with either.) Maybe it was just too much. Pehaps if I'd been a fan of the musical, I'd have more invested, but to me, the music seemed flat or even banal. At most it was forgettable. That's not what you want in a musical. (I loathe the movie RENT with all my heart, but two years later I can still hear some of those stupid songs in my head.)
Depp is game as the barber, doing his "Johhny Depp" thing. In some ways it feels like we've seen it before, but that's probably unfair. Depp gives it his all, and while he's certainly no singer, he does his best.
Same goes for Helena Bonham Carter, a woman who's looks have always disturbed the hell out of me, albeit in an intriguing way. She has the added disadvantage of having to sing while baking, which is harder than it sounds.
Alan Rickman shows up, channeling a character somewhere between Snape and Hans Gruber. More memorably, the acting enigma that is Sacha Baron Cohen gives it his all as Pirelli, a fellow barber with more up his sleeve than first appears. I'm never entirely sure of what to make of Baron Cohen, but I'll say this: the man throws himself into his roles with gusto.
I've been siting here trying to decide what my particular problem with the film might be, besides a non-connection to the songs. Strange as it sounds, I think my objection is that I never grasp what Todd's motivation is. Early on we learned he's been wronged (I'll leave it to you to learn the details), but his greivance, while perhaps legitimate, is with the Alan Rickman character. Why wage war on the whole community? We're supposed to believe he's just come unhinged? And still root for him? I don't know. That just didn't work for me They want us to like him, so they give us his tortured past, which becomes ironic as events play out....but that feels forced. I'd rather have Todd either killing only bad people, or just evil. At least I'd know where he was coming from.
It's also worth noting that complete newcomer Jayne Wisener plays Johanna, a girl who becomes more and more important as the story goes on. She didn't bowl me over or anything, but she's so appealing that I predict stardom for her one day. Keep an eye out.
Ultimately SWEENEY TODD is a failure for me, if only because I had such high expectations. It wasn't awful or anything like that, but I was never wowed. I felt no need to tell my friends, and not the slightest urge to see the film again.
I didn't even whistle in the shower the next morning. Not what you want after a musical, especially one where they kill people!
Suspension of Disbelief Index: It's rather hard to believe Todd could get away with this, especially since he would get no repeat custom, and word-of-mouth traffic would assumably be nonexistent. On the realistic side, have you ever had British food? 6 out of 10.
Genre Grade - As a horror film or a musical I would go no higher than B-.
Objectionable material? Let's be clear: there's blood EVERYWHERE. And I believe I mentioned the violence and eating people, right? That said, it's all fairly theatrical, and I can't see where most parents would object to teenagers and up seeing this.
DVD Features - About 30 minutes of decent material. If you're a fan of Burton, Depp or Bonham-Carter, definitely worth watch.
Pantheon Percentile: Maybe I'm way off on this, but I can't see SWEENEY TODD resonating in the hearts and minds of the public like MOULIN ROUGE. I wouldn't go any higher than 76.