Peter Mountain/DreamWorks-Warner Brothers
Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
Today I went to see the long-awaited screen adaptation of the 1979 musical thriller Sweeney Todd. It is a masterpiece and I can’t recommend it highly enough—this from someone who rarely goes to see movies. The last movie I saw in a theater was Bowling for Columbine.
The original production looks like vaudeville compared to Tim Burton’s movie. I was in panic mode throughout most of the film; in my estimation, it looks like Sweeney Todd meets Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The blood is realer than in any Sweeney before this one, and if I didn’t know what was going to happen from scene to scene, I may have had to walk out.
I loved it and will probably see it again soon; many reviews I read before I went complained that Helena Bonham Carter no longer portrays Mrs. Lovett as the wacky neighbor she was in the original production (actually, more than one said every character that every character she plays is a zombie,) and one recording engineer even complained about the sound quality. Having seen the original production once at the Uris Theatre, then at least four more times at Lincoln Center, and finally in its most recent Broadway production, I would say that the play itself is malleable, being based on a legend, and each production has stretched it different ways. Tim Burton’s version took it towards the limit of gruesomeness, although fortunately it retains Stephen Sondheim’s score. I couldn’t help lip-synching along with all the songs; there are a few notable omissions, particularly of the title Ballad of Sweeney Todd (which remains the musical theme.)
I was very happy with the casting of this production; they couldn’t have picked a better Pirelli than Sacha Baron Cohen, for instance. Also, the role of Toby the street urchin was finally played by a young boy rather than a short adult. I won’t be surprised if this film sweeps the Oscars, because the cast was so well-chosen and the performances were so intense. When Johnny Depp was first picked for the role, people wondered if he could sing; yes, people, he can sing. He took the role of Sweeney and made it his; Sweeney Todd is a wonderful Christmas film that will delight and captivate.