BY PAMELA FOOHEY
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp & Helena Bonham-Carter
Fittingly, I watched Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a Broadway musical masterfully transformed into a movie by Tim Burton, in New York City’s Ziegfeld Theater, a one-screen movie theater named for and built down the street from the site of the original Ziegfeld Theatre, which was torn down in the late 60s to make room for a skyscraper. I purposefully saw the late night screening on opening night, knowing that the true theater buffs would come out then.
I was not disappointed, either by the enthusiastic cheers of the theater buffs who know that Sweeney Todd has been one of the most revered musicals since its Broadway debut in 1979 or by the gruesome and astonishing musical turned into an even more gruesome and astonishing movie. Sweeney Todd is not just any musical turned into a movie. It is best described as horror-musical hybrid masterpiece, possibly one of the best slasher films of all time, and a psychological thriller with cannibalistic moments and overtones reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Its characters are haunting, vicious, and disturbing in their misery; its music is delightfully dark and amusing; and its production design and cinematography are spectacular. Burton’s copious use of blood is nothing short of brilliant. If there were any less, the film would lose its preposterous charm, and if there were any more, viewers would begin to wonder where Burton would find the time to tell an actual story.
Integral to Sweeney Todd’s savage, bloody, delightful mess are its magnificently portrayed characters. Johnny Depp brings sadness, savagery, and darkness to Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd. The white streak in his tussled hair and his black-rimmed eyes ghoulishly prominent in their stark contrast to his pale face makes it seem as though he just stepped out of Second Life. Helena Bonham-Carter crafts an energetically devious and ultimately despondent Mrs. Lovett, expertly making her appear only slightly less callous than Todd.
Together they are the perfect pair to tell the story of a once carefree barber horribly wronged by a powerful judge who returns from exile determined to have his revenge and the pie maker he stays with who longs for her pies to be edible. Sweeney Todd takes to cutting some throats along with some hair, and Mrs. Lovett takes to making the most delicious meat pies in London.
Somewhat surprisingly, both Depp and Bonham-Carter succeed in the musical portion of this horror-musical hybrid. Although many would never dream of tampering with Stephen Sondheim’s work, as with most musicals made into movies, Burton was forced to cut a few songs, but I don’t think most of his viewers are the wiser, and the movie certainly isn’t affected by their absence, although I would have enjoyed hearing the full version of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”
Sweeney Todd deserved to win its Golden Globe for best picture (musical or comedy), and it should be nominated for and win an Oscar for best picture. Johnny Depp also deserved to win his Golden Globe for best lead actor in a musical or comedy; I have little doubt that he will be nominated for an Oscar, as should Bonham-Carter.Sweeney Todd is a grim, gory, gruesome, and grand movie. In short, cannibalism has never been yummier.
Rating: * * * *