|Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - 2-Disc Special Edition|
Written by Jason Flick
April, 7 2008
When Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are ever mentioned in a conversation, good things are usually always said. This dynamic duo have been making some of the most memorable and movies of our times. Be it the misunderstood life of Edward Scissorhands to the retelling of the classic tale of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, Burton and Depp never fail to impress. I have been a huge Tim Burton fan since I was a little kid when I saw Batman for the first time. Needless to say, I can usually be found standing in line every time a new Burton film hits the theaters. I am particularly fond of the Burton/Depp films. They have done six films together, including Todd, and whatever chemistry the director/actor has together is something that is a wonder to behold. Through all the press meetings and all the film extras, I doubt we will ever truly know why these two are such a good team. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the duo’s newest endeavor and all I can say is “WOW!”
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a classic tale of one man’s journey to seek revenge on the man that has ruined his life. Johnny Depp plays Sweeney Todd, the hollow remains of the joyous barber once known as Benjamin Barker. Barker was falsely convicted of a crime he did not commit by the dishonorable Judge Turpin (played by Alan Rickman) and sent away from London. During this time Turpin seduces Barker’s wife Lucy and ends up raping her. He then takes in Johanna, Barker’s daughter, as his ward and plans to marry her when she comes of age. What a sick, sick man.
Sweeney returns to London having escaped from prison hoping to return to his lovely wife and child, only to be told by his future partner in crime Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), that his wife had poisoned herself after her raping and Turpin has his daughter. Now a desperate man, Sweeney plots his revenge to get even with the judge and take his daughter back. Mrs. Lovett offers Sweeney his wife’s room back, which is above her meat pie shop. Here he is reunited with his set of spectacular razors and is one again hopeful that he will have salvation and revenge. Todd reopens his barber shop and sets out to make his name known to the public. While in the process, he happens to come across Signor Adolfo Pirelli’s (Sasha Baron Cohen) Miracle Elixir Wagon. After a show stealing performance by young Toby, Sweeney confronts Pirelli, calling him a fraudulent vagabond and wages a bet with the “King of Barbers…the Barber of Kings” that he can give any man the quickest smoothest shave they have ever seen.
He quickly proves that he is the better barber and soon has customers coming to his shop. He even attracts the attention of the Beadle, Turpin’s right hand man, and sets in motion the events to follow. However elsewhere in London, young Anthony, Sweeney’s sailor friend, happens across Johanna as she sings in her “cage.” He immediately falls in love with her only to be stonewalled harshly by Turpin. He vows to get his girl and run away with her.
Things progress well with Sweeney until the fateful day that Pirelli visits his shop to strike a deal or reveal Barker’s secret to the powers that be. In a fit of rage he does the man off, thus starting his descent into madness. However things look up as the lecherous judge pays a visit to Sweeney’s shop. He is about to reap his reward when things turn to the worse and his victim slips from out from under his blade.
When all hope is again almost lost, Mrs. Lovett hatched a simple but macabre plan to dispose of Pirelli and other future victims. Sweeney and the infatuated Mrs. Lovett join forces and soon set off on a blood soaked road to retribution and a really tasty pie. The rest I’m sure you can figure out, but then again I don’t want to spoil the show.
Sweeney Todd is one of those films that when you first hear about it, you’re not sure how it is going to work out. This is the first time Tim Burton has done anything of this sort and this is to many, including myself, the best screenplay to film conversion I will ever see. Burton took Stephen Sondheim’s award winning musical thriller and breathed new life into the already fantastic play. Burton being a fan of the Sondheim production and the only thing he and Helena really have in common, is the only director who could have done this film in my opinion.
As I mentioned above, this film is a real first for Burton as Sweeney Todd is first and foremost a musical. His style is very much present in all the little details especially in the make-up and sets department. The film is set some time in the 17th to 18th century. They didn’t want to narrow the film to a specific time period due to the legend behind Johnny’s character. The origin of the fictitious demon barber has spanned generations and has captivated audiences since the days of old.
When it came time to cast Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton and Sondheim had their work cut out for them. For this film to work they had to find a cast that had to be able to sing their own parts. They didn’t want the singing to be done by someone else for each character. If they had done that then I feel the film would not have been as successful. Tim knew that Johnny was right for the part of Sweeney but was worried that Johnny couldn’t sing. They had actually started production on the film sets and collaborations even before they had heard him sing. But sure enough Depp came through with a surprisingly good performance.
The cast of Sweeney Todd in my opinion one of the finest ever put together in a Burton film. It’s not often when you get stars like Depp, Carter, Rickman, Cohen and even Spall together for a film of this caliber. This film also allows clear separations between the youth and adults depicted in it and ultimately the hierarchy of society that is seen in many of the great tragedies of our times. Ed Sanders (Toby), Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony Hope) and Jayne Wisener (Johanna) are all first time actors to the silver screen and pull their performances with the same quality as the veteran actors they star beside, I couldn’t ask for a better cast. It was also surprising to see Anthony Head, which I recognized instantly by his voice, in the film as well, although he plays a small, unaccredited role.
The one thing that definitely set this film apart from any other musical film is the bloodletting. Many of the people I hang out with went into the theater expecting to be presented with an overly boring musical as most musicals go. Boy were they wrong. Burton does not skimp on the blood and gore. It is not so over the top to the point of becoming a full-blown blood fest, but it treads the line very elegantly. I particularly like the one time that the blood from one of Sweeney’s victims actually splashed the camera. Sweeney Todd is shown in the style of Grand Guignol, a theatrical style that blends music with horror. This style has since lost some following in the theatrical world over the years, but Burton sheds new light on the once popular London attraction.
The camera work is also worth an honorable mention. Every scene, close-up and the gliding of the camera gives the film a level of atmosphere and emotion that only Burton could have done. No one and I mean NO ONE could have done this job better than Burton.
Depp, Carter and Rickman all went through vocal training to prepare for their singing roles and to ultimately gain Sondheim’s approval to play the parts in Sweeney Todd. As Alan Rickman states in the extras; “It is the hardest thing in the world to have be put on the spot and have Sondheim walk across the room and say 'let’s hear it.' Sondheim’s score and the actor’s singing combined give this film a very powerful and very emotional sound. This film would not have done well if Sondheim had not agreed to participate.
It is said that every story starts with some sort of truth behind it. In the segment “Sweeney Todd is Alive: The Real History of the Demon Barber”, we learn of the origins of the fabled barber. It is believed that Sweeney never actually existed, but there is no real proof over the centuries to prove if Sweeney is man or myth.
Viewers are also treated with several other features including the “Making of”,” Musical Mayhem: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd”, “Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition” and even a Moviefone Unscripted session with Burton and Depp. I particularly like the conference session located on the second disc over all the features available. I‘m pretty sure I was laughing the entire time.