Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

sweeney todd

“How about a shave?”

The Scoop: 2007, R, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman

Tagline: Never forget.  Never forgive.

Summary Capsule: Wrongfully imprisoned barber returns to London to seek vengeance.  Also, there’s people in pies.

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Lissa’s rating:
Try listening to “Pretty Women” and not thinking of “Soft kitty, pretty kitty.”  You Big Bang Theory people know what I mean.

Lissa’s review: Okay, question one.  Do you like Tim Burton?  If your answer is no, you will not like this movie, do not bother, because it is utter Tim Burton.  If your answer is yes, proceed to question two.

Question two.  Do you like musicals?  If your answer is no, you will not like this movie, do not bother, because it is a musical and they sing a LOT.  If your answer is yes, proceed to question three.

Okay, I lied.  There is no question three.  The thing about Sweeny Todd is, if you like musicals and you like Tim Burton’s style, you’ll love this.  This musical was made for Tim Burton to direct, seriously.  If you don’t like either of those things, you won’t.

If you stayed away for any of your high school English classes, you probably know that Sweeny Todd is the story of a barber who kills his customers, and then sends them downstairs for the woman who lives below him to make meat pies.  Oh, there’s definitely some humanity there.  Sweeny Todd (Johnny Depp) used to have a wife and a child, before the evil judge (Alan Rickman) essentially kidnaps his wife and child and sends him to prison.  Oh yeah, he’s just that evil.  When Sweeny Todd comes back to London, hell bent on revenge, he is befriended by Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who has some demons of her own.  It’s a very macabre little story, but there’s so much dark humor in it that I find it pretty irresistible.

I have to admit, I have never once seen a stage version of this, so I have no basis of comparison.  But that’s why I love this kick of movie musicals.  I can’t get to the theater because it’s incredibly expensive, and this way I get to see these musicals I’ve been dying to see.  So, yeah.  I don’t worry about that.

This was one of those movies that I honestly felt like if you like the source material, it was great.  The performances, the sets, the style… it was all fantastic.  I wasn’t surprised by Johnny Depp, although I did not get that feeling that so many people seem to have that he defined the role like Yul Brenner defines the King of Siam.  There are still several actors I’d actually really like to see in the role- Anthony Stewart Head and Alessandro Juliani being two biggies.  I was a bit surprised by Helena Bonham Carter, because I don’t usually like her style.  She seemed really perfect for the role of Mrs. Lovett, even moreso than Johnny Depp worked for the titular role.  Plus, the chemistry they had between them was perfect.  It wasn’t sparks-jumping-off-the-screen sexual chemistry, but it was just right, perfectly creepy and somehow a little tender and strange as well.  Not to mention, the song “By the Sea” was cracking me up the entire time.

I do have to agree with Mike about the love story between Antony and Johanna being the low point, and frankly, this comes more from the script than the actors.  It does really contrast with the main story, which I suppose is part of the point.  It’s technically… well, not sweet and light, but let’s say positive and non-throat-slitting.  But love at first sight is a pet peeve of mine (although I was delighted at the hints that not all would be perfect), and I do sort of wish that they’d kept an action of Johanna’s from the stage show.  (Hint: it involved a gun.)  But yeah, Antony and Johanna can go join Maurice and Cosette in Most Boring Romances Ever for me.  However, it’s a long way out from ruining the movie.

So, yeah.  Darkness, barbers, murder, cannibalism, Tim Burton, and singing.  Really.  Is there any way this could NOT be good?

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Mike’s rating: 5 out of 5 bottles of gin offered to underage urchins

Mike’s review: Fair warning up front, this flick is violent. Pervasively so. Graphically so. Remember Sleepy Hollow? The decapitation scenes? Ok, there you go. The camera is not going to shy away from the throats slit in this one (and a freakin LOT of throats are slit), and don’t think just because it’s a musical the violence is somehow going to be “poetic”. If you think that kinda thing will make you queasy, then stay away. I mean it, if you’re a wimp who can’t hack it then go away and watch something more your speed, like the Care Bears Movie.

What? You can handle it? No, you can’t, it’ll give you nightmares and make you wet yourself. What? OK, but I don’t wanna hear a word about it later… and you’re NOT sleeping with me and your mother tonight!

I love Tim Burton. I’ve extolled his brilliance again and again, so it’ll come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his treatment of Stephen Sondheim’s rather macabre musical, chronicling London’s urban legend of a barber and landlady who killed several of his customers, disposing of the bodies by putting them into meat pies, which were then sold to the public. Of course Burton did a great job of shooting a stylish (if overly dark) movie, and Sondheim’s music is superior. Let’s move on to the less obvious praise.

First off, let’s give credit where credit’s due: Johnny Depp knocks another one out of the park as the titular “Demon Barber”, not only totally disappearing into the character, but also proving that he can carry a mean tune. Helena Bonham Carter, as Ms. Lovett, provides a nice straight-person to Todd’s increasing rages, and portrays a believable love for him that edges out everything else in her estimation, up to and including any twinges of conscience over killing a crapload of people. Sacha Baron Cohen is entertaining in a small part, and Alan “By Grapthar’s Hammer” Rickman plays Judge Turpin with genuine menace and evil, leaving behind any comedic nuances you might expect from his performances in Harry Potter or Prince of Thieves. Also, serious points to newcomer Ed Sanders as Toby. The kid steals every scene he’s in, and when you’re talking about the likes of Depp and Baron Cohen, that ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at.

The only real yawns in the movie come from the subplot of Antony and Johanna’s love story, but thankfully only a bare minimum of time is devoted to it. Both actors can sing well and can act decently, but the really action is waiting for Sweeny to open up a can of… shaving creme. Also, I have a hard time believing any sailor is that pretty after years sailing the world.

As the body count rises, the blood flows freely, meat pies are thoroughly enjoyed (tastes like chicken!), and serial killers spontaneously burst into song, all that’s left for the audience is to marvel at Burton’s beautiful shots and take in the atmosphere of a Dickens tale gone horribly awry. Just trust me, anybody offers you the meat pie, refuse. You’ll thank me later.

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By Grapthar’s Hammer, what a haircut!

Intermission!

  • Does anybody besides me wonder if Johnny Depp had to deal with migraines from all that constant scowling?
  • That roach just keeps getting away, huh?
  • When Pirelli gets brained with the tea pot, I was thinking “Caffeine’ll KILL YA!”
  • That kid really likes his Gin.
  • In the scene where Todd shaves Turpin, he does half his face, but when he stands up all the shaving creme is still there.
  • The crunching noises when somebody hits the bottom of the shoot.
  • Probably the first love song duet in which the girl is singing to the guy and guy is singing to a collection of razors.
  • When filming began, there was to be an inclusion of the spirits of Sweeney Todd’s victims (including actors Anthony Head and Christopher Lee), who would sing The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, its reprises, and the Epilogue. These songs were recorded, but eventually cut since director Tim Burton felt that the songs were too theatrical for the film. Several songs from the Broadway musical are missing from the film, including The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, Ah, Miss, Johanna (Judge Turpin’s version), Kiss Me, Parlour Songs, City on Fire, and Epilogue. All ensemble/choral singing was also eliminated, most notably from God, That’s Good in which the title of the song is now never even sung. Many other songs remaining in the film have been shortened.
  • The film was shipped to some theaters under the name “Skunk”. If you don’t get it, check out Sweeny’s hair throughout the movie.

Groovy Quotes

    • Sweeney Todd: No! Not Barker. That man is dead. It’s Todd, now. Sweeney Todd. And he shall have his revenge…

Sweeney Todd: 15 years gone on a false charge, 15 years spent dreaming I might come home to a wife and child.
Mrs. Lovett: Well, I can’t say the years have been particularly kind to you Mr. Barker.

Mrs. Lovett: Mr. T, you didn’t! You’re barking mad! Killing a man what done ya no harm!
Sweeney Todd: He recognized me from the old days. Tried to blackmail me. Half me earnings.
Mrs. Lovett: Oh, well that’s a different matter then. For a moment there I thought you lost your marbles.

Beggar Woman: ‘ey, don’t I know you, mister?

Sweeney Todd: How about a shave?

Judge Turpin: How seldom it is one meets a fellow spirit.
Sweeney Todd: With fellow tastes… in women at least.

Sweeney Todd: The years, no doubt, have changed me, sir. But then I suppose the face of a barber, the face of a prisoner in the dock, is not particularly memorable.

Mrs. Lovett: Here we are. Hot out of the oven.
Sweeney Todd: What is THAT?
Mrs. Lovett: It’s priest. Have a little priest…
Sweeney Todd: Is it really good?
Mrs. Lovett: Sir, it’s too good, at least. Then again, they don’t commit sins of the flesh… so it’s pretty fresh.

Sweeney Todd: For what’s the sound of the world out there?
Mrs. Lovett: What, Mr. Todd? What, Mr. Todd? What is that sound?
Sweeney Todd: Those crunching noises pervading the air!
Mrs. Lovett: Yes, Mr. Todd! Yes, Mr. Todd! Yes, all around!
Sweeney Todd: It’s man devouring man, my dear!
Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd: Then who are we to deny it in here?

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Little Shop of Horrors
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Oliver!

3 comments

  1. I found question three. It’s “Do you think Helena Bonham Carter can sing?” If Corpse Bride is any indication, the answer is no (one of the reasons I’ve been procrastinating on seeing this one).

  2. Good question.

    I think her voice is appropriate for the role. It didn’t make me run screaming, but bear in mind I’m not as picky musically as some. It is a bit annoying, but so is the character, so… it fit pretty well for me.

    I have not been rushing to iTunes to download the soundtrack, however.

  3. Oh, I didn’t know you reviewed this movie! It’s interesting to see your take on it. Sweeney Todd is one of my favorite musicals, and when I found out that Johnny Depp and Tim Burton were involved… I got scared. I mean… Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, that’s all I have to say.

    I was very pleasantly surprised by this movie, though some of my favorite parts were cut. (Including a song between Anthony and Johanna that probably would have annoyed you- it’s very ‘love at first sight’- but it also gets across the point that they don’t know each other at all, and that a big part of her wanting to be with him is to get the hell away from the judge.) Also, the Sweeney ballads wouldn’t have fit… but I missed them.

    I am NOT going to get over Helena, though. I don’t understand casting people who can’t. sing. in musicals. It’s not that she couldn’t ACT Mrs. Lovett- that was fine. But let’s look at the people who have played Lovett on Broadway- Angela Lansberry and Patti LuPone. These women have some big voices on them. Their performances are completely different from each other, but they still absolutely *own* the music. It was really disappointing to have such a soft-sung Lovett.

    Other than that, really, for all my fears, I left the theater pretty pleased with this one. Sweeney is my baby (I may or may not used to use it as my Going to Sleep music) and I felt like it was pretty well taken care of. 🙂

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