Published Dec 21, 2007Often regarded as one of the best Broadway musicals of all-time, Stephen Sondheims 1979 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has long been deemed impossible to adapt for the big screen. Extensive, unique and unabashedly gore-filled, the story mixes music and horror as barber Todd goes on a vengeful killing spree through 19th century London.
However, the recently revived Hollywood interest in movie musicals offered an opportunity, and Tim Burton and long-time collaborator Johnny Depp jumped aboard to attempt the supposedly unachievable. And while it is questionable whether their ambitions are fulfilled, its doubtful that there are two people better suited for the task.
The story follows Todd (Depp) as he returns to London after a 15-year wrongful banishment at the hands of the diabolical Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Turpins unholy interest in Todds wife and daughter was what brought Todd (formerly Benjamin Barker) down, and our newly demonic anti-hero is out for some serious blood. At his side is his landlady, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who, blinded by her love for Todd, assists Todds psychopathic activities, baking the victims into pies for her shop.
Burton has set himself up with a very daunting task: pleasing fans of his own work, as well as the Sondheim fanatics, while fully realising complex themes mixed into a precious balance of horror and musical elements. And, for the most part, he succeeds. The film is horribly entertaining, with plentiful and well-orchestrated gore and music throughout. Every frame looks like a painting, with the sets, costumes and cinematography complementing one another perfectly.
And Depp and Bonham-Carter, undeniably well cast, lend their untrained voices just fine. Their new variations on rather legendary characters prove well suited for the medium, and they manage to carry the film with a specific demonic grace, which is no small feat in itself.
But, in the end, as the driving force of Todds vengeance culminates in a grand finale, Burtons shortcomings expose themselves. Unlike the Edward Scissorhands of the past, Burtons Sweeney seems challenged in emotional affect. While we certainly stood in awe of the sets, blood and spectacle, we never quite get drawn in to the demons inside the "demon, and thus are at a loss when Burtons final push comes to shove. (Dreamworks)