I’m a huge fan of ‘Revenge’ movies, yada yada. I’ve got an entire subsection of DVDs dedicated to them, blah blah. Look, let’s not allow me to bore you with the same old never-ending introduction I used on The Brave One and then regurgitated on my review of Death Sentence. Here’s the link for my issue of Off The Shelf dedicated to ‘Revenge’ movies. Check it out here and let’s get on with dealing with the job in hand – taking a look at Tim Burton’s musical adaptation of the “daddy” of all revenge tales.
I used to be a massive Tim Burton fan. I used to have a subsection of DVDs within my collection dedicated entirely to his work. But then he lost his way, in my opinion, and as a result he lost me as a fan. I fell in love with his work thanks to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks and Sleepy Hollow, and then I fell out of love with him because of the horror that was Planet of the Apes, the vastly over-rated Big Fish and the passionless Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and he’s yet to find his way back into my affections.
I’m not a particularly big fan of musicals either so the idea of him doing a ‘faithful’ screen adaptation of Steven Sodenheim’s classic piece of musical theatre – albeit based on one of my favourite ‘revenge’ stories – with his ‘muse’, Johnny Depp, and his ‘missus’, Helena Bonham Carter (clearly not wanting to run the risk of losing out on bedroom privileges should he cast a good female role in his films with anyone other than her! “She auditioned like everyone else!” says Burton. Yeah right, if by “auditioned” you mean ‘gave you head’ twice a night for a week leading up to pre-production!) heading the charge, just didn’t excite me in the least.
I wasn’t in any rush to see this film. I make an effort to see any and every ‘revenge’ movie out there but most are of the schlocky B-movie variety that I tend to wait for free screeners or until they turn up on Sky. Believe it or not, this was a ‘revenge’ movie that didn’t hold too much appeal to me. Plus, the last time Burton said he was being “faithful” to a source in his cinematic endeavor he delivered Charlie & The Chocolate Factory which was so middle of the road to me it doesn’t even bear thinking about. I got swept away by that movie on first viewing, my initial overly kind review of it can be found here, but on watching it a second time I definitely saw it for what it is. Then there’s the fact that Burton’s last “quick-step” into musical territory saw him deliver Corpse Bride which was so dependent on all his fail-safe, quirky visual tics that it played like a stop-motion greatest hits compilation in some respects.
Colour me a fucking fool though because, low and behold, Sweeney Todd is good. Not just good. It’s bloody (pardon the pun) great. As some one burnt out by Tim Burton and not particularly passionate about exposing himself to musicals too, I thought this was marvelous. It’s not only a cracking piece of cinema but it works the musical aspect so well that it’s almost as if this is the ‘definitive’ masterclass for non-musical loving types. Because let me tell you, if all musicals are as much fun as what Tim Burton has presented here then consider me a jazz-handing, ‘sun-will-come-out-toooo-morrow-bet-you-bottom-dollar’ bellowing convert.
Every assertion that Johnny Depp is a David-Bowie-channeling show-stopper in his role as Sweeney Todd is totally on the money. His voice is unique and full of character. Bonham Carter also surprises with a particularly deft turn as Mrs Lovett, his accomplice in the heinous crimes he commits by way of vengeance. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent too – Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and a really rather good Sacha Baron Cohen deserve specific mention.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, to give it its full title, is this really rather weird hybrid of a movie that is uncompromisingly gruesome, which may turn off the theatre going crowd, but also uncompromisingly faithful to retaining its musical roots, which may turn away the horror-loving junkies, whilst sustaining that all important gothic sensibility that may isolate those genre-types who like their horror movies to have a masked psycho, nubile teenage girls and inventive ways of massacring them. In its altogether form it possesses more to alienate then to seduce, especially considering its intention to keep – on top of all that aforementioned stuff – a real heart, level of pain and sense of doomed romanticism.
Yet it works. It so, so, so works. It works so well that it makes me quite angry at myself for being so narrow-minded and stubborn towards a film I would have loved to have seen on the big screen, had I not been so anti-Burton about the whole enterprise. Yes, there’s things that don’t completely work – the ending feels rushed, as does the set-up that sees Todd’s real-life persona, Benjamin Barker, wrongly exiled off to Australia, and characters you come to love and hate in equal measure don’t get room to breathe as well as you’d like, but all in all Sweeney Todd was a joy to experience.
And to Mr Tim Burton, all I can say is this: “I’m sorry. Three movie missteps were no reason to doubt you completely. Well, you’ve won me back now Sir. The seduction is complete. Now, with your next movie, let the cinematic foreplay begin!”
(That’s Four ‘Popcorns’)