In Theatres December 21, 2007
Tim Burton is at it again, bringing back two of his prime actors Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow) and Helena Bonham Carter (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) on screen for another ghoulish tale.
With four Golden Globe nominations, one for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Director; movie goers anxiously await Tim Burton’s newest masterpiece, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
The thrilling trailers of the film lead you to believe that this is a horror movie with just a bit of musical accompaniment. That folks is hardly the case; this is a full blown musical.
While the opening credits of the movie gives you a bone chilling view of sliding down the barber shaft and being ground into one of Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies; the music softens the blow and at times annoyingly interrupts the terror of the story. Although, I wasn’t prepared for this brand of storyline, I’d have to say some parts of the musical are quite funny, regardless of its cheesy counterparts. Sweeney Todd adoringly singing to his razors as if they were his long lost lover, the constant pleading of attention from Mrs. Lovett as Sweeney Todd blankly ignores her with ennui; these are just a couple of examples you are to expect a jolt of laughter from the audience. However, every once in awhile a chill runs down your spine as Depp gets that creepy look on his face, the score swells in crescendo and razors are extended from his arms. The one burning question though is can Johnny Depp really sing? Yes, he can - extremely well. Just like the infamous roles Mr. Depp continues to play, his voice is dark, sexy and inviting. It is hard to believe that Johnny Depp has never sang before in his life; except as a backup vocalist he played for in a band more than twenty years ago. Though Depp had no professional training for the film, except with the help from girlfriend Vanessa Paradis, his voice is quite flawless and at times reminded me of David Bowie or Peter Murphy from Bauhaus. Johnny Depp again proves to audiences that he is a theatrical mastermind; leaving you to believe he actually is a British pirate, a drug addicted journalist or a singing demon barber. Helena Bonham Carter also shares with Depp her own singing debut and her twisted comedic nature brings light to the gory synopsis. Although Bonham Carter never sang before co-starring in "Sweeney Todd", she has had professional training for the film. While her voice is quite lovely, I found it hard to understand her between the strong British accent and her quick spoken melodies.
Watching the movie, you can’t help but think that the characters have been resurrected from Burton’s prior films. Mrs. Lovett looks like she could be "Beatlejuice’s" strung out mistress, Joanna (Sweeney Todd’s daughter) bares a striking resemblance to Christina Ricci’s character in "Sleepy Hollow" and of course, Sweeney Todd seems nothing more than an older, angrier version of "Edward Scissorhands"; scary white face, crazy black hair and sharp blades for hands.
The storyline of this gruesome legend is quite romanticized from its original version. In the movie, Sweeney Todd is wrongfully imprisoned and loses his wife and child to the judge who incarcerated him. After fifteen years of imprisonment, Sweeney Todd is released and ready to avenge the men who took his life away. After news of his wife’s death a darker side of Todd overshadows any decency he has left – turning his barber chair into death trap. Sweeney Todd slices the throats of all who sit in the barber chair, flipping it upside down so that the bodies are disposed down a chute into the basement.
His only friend is Mrs. Lovett, a baker in the restaurant just below his barber shop.
Though Mrs. Lovett is greatly in love with Sweeney Todd, she is barely that of a shadow to him; that is until she comes up with the great idea to grind the remains of his victims and bake them into her meat pies. Despite the gore of the crimes, the songs and a well written script make you feel sorry for Sweeney Todd and at times can leave you amused by him.
The real life legacy of Sweeney Todd isn’t so easy to swallow. Sweeney Todd was not a loving father and husband wrongfully imprisoned, but just a fourteen year old boy arrested for stealing. Back in those days young boys were hung for such crimes, but Todd got off easy. Being an apprentice to a barber in prison, Todd learned the skills of a butcher and the anatomy of the human body since the barber had to often play the role of a butcher or even a doctor in jail.
The real Sweeney Todd did want revenge against the superiors who threw him in jail, however there was no love story of a lost wife or child; only the story of a young boy who snapped. The barber chute was real, Mrs. Lovett was real (she was Todd’s former landlady) and even the meat pie conspiracy was real; but this was no romantic tale. Sweeney Todd killed over 160 people in his barber shop before being executed for his heinous crimes.
Although not the horror movie of the year, I still say Sweeney Todd is worth the money if you can stand musicals and stomach cannibalism; for those who can’t, wait till it comes out on DVD. There is, however an interesting twist in the end and though the movie’s not quite what I anticipated, I still give this film an A- for effort. The visuals are great, Johnny Depp’s voice is surprisingly good, and well, the legend speaks for itself.
- Mia Carlin