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 Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street   Sat Feb 21, 2009 6:38 pm

In March 1979, acclaimed composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim unveiled his latest musical offering, Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which was originally staged on Broadway at the Uris Theatre starring Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, the musical was based in turn on a 1973 play, The Legend of Sweeney Todd by Christopher Bond. The musical had many successful runs, mainly in America, and won plaudits for Sondheim, (who was already famous for musicals such as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Gypsy and West Side Story.) A film version of Sweeney Todd was rumoured for years, directors such as Steven Spielberg and Alan Parker were interested in making it, a few years back, DreamWorks picked it up, and Sam Mendes was interested in doing it with Russell Crowe as Todd. Shocked That version never happened. One director who was always interested in Sweeney Todd was Tim Burton, whom we all know for giving his films beautiful gothic overtones. He'd approached Sondheim back in the late-1980's about doing it. Then, in mid-2006, DreamWorks put Sweeney on the fast track, Burton was asked if he was interested, he said yes, but who was to play the title role?? A role that required alot of vocal activity and dramatic gravitas. For Burton, there was only one man for the job, his prefered choice and good friend, Johnny Depp. Very Happy Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a contender for Burton's best film, as he takes the old Hollywood musical, and does it up as a Hammer Horror!! Very Happy

The film version of Sweeney Todd differs from the original stage version, it's been reduced from the 3-hour production to a 2-hour film. But, the story remains. Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) was a successful barber in Victorian London, with a wife, Lucy, and daughter, Johanna. But, the evil Judge Turpin, (Alan Rickman), wants Lucy, and frames Barker for a crime he didn't commit, and sentences him to a life of hard labour in Australia. 15 years later, Barker returns as Sweeney Todd, now moody, brooding and plotting his revenge against Turpin. He returns to his old Barber shop, which is above the pie shop owned by Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), which makes "The Worst Pies In London". Todd restarts his business, and he and Mrs. Lovett hatch a plan which will see both businesses bloom, and it involves something in the pies... Wink

In some cases, a musical about a serial killer wouldn't be a good sell for a studio, but Burton succeeds. Sondheim's original musical, as dark and as violent as it was had good music, and quite witty lyrics in places. Burton retains that for the screen version, giving the film has a pitch black sense of humour throughout. There were musical numbers in Burton's previous film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), this was the proof that Burton would probabily be able to handle a full-scale musical, and he shows here. Whilst there's not much dancing, there's plenty of singing, and our leads CAN sing, even Depp can hold a good note, (even if he has a background from singing rock when he was younger.)

There will be those moaning on about how this is simply just another excuse for Burton and Depp to work together again, (their 6th collaberation), but this time, IT WORKS!! Very Happy Burton made a wise choice casting Depp, even it does seem like Sleepy Hollow (1999) all over again. Razz Depp's Todd has a crazed look in his eye, this is a man who will not stop until he has his vengeance, in his previous Burton films, he's always been playing the naive, timid hero, here, it's very different, he's an angry, tortured anti-hero. This is a contender to being their best film together, as it's so different to the others, but Burton's stamp is EVERYWHERE in his gothic vision of Victorian London, brilliantly realised entirely at Pinewood Studios by brilliant Italian production designer Dante Ferretti.

The rest of the cast shine too, some will call it nepotism on Burton's part, but Helena Bonham Carter can also hold a note as Mrs. Lovett, who profits from the "killings" Todd makes in the room upstairs. Wink She too can hold a note, and compliments Todd with an duet they share together. But, the real scene stealer comes from an outsider with only two scenes, Sacha Baron Cohen, having the time of his life as rival barber Signor Aldolfo Pirelli!! Very Happy Who adds some good humour and Italian stereotypes to his role, and boy, he can sing too and hold a high-note!! This'll make people forget he was Borat!! Razz The film has a romantic side from newcomers Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony Hope, a sailor who befriends Todd and falls for Todd's now-teenage daughter Johanna, (Jayne Wisener), now trapped by the voyeuristic Judge. Rickman adds menace and creepiness to Judge Turpin, yet playing it with a very cool exterior, Timothy Spall also appears as the nasty Beadle Bamford, the Judge's cruel henchman, and yes, Spall can sing too!! Razz

And then there's the violence. Yep, to get to the Judge, Todd murders hapless customers in the barbers chair by slitting their throats to a fountain of blood, (think Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, which inspired Burton), and releases them to the cellar, where Mrs. Lovett has them made into meat pies!! Very Happy You wouldn't think you could make a musical with themes of murder and then cannibalism, but it works, even if it does lead up to a very tragic and gory ending... Shocked



For horror fans, it'll be a delight, providing they can stand the singing before they get to the throats being slit!! For musical fans, they'll love Sondheims light and cheerful music, only to find it punctured by Burton's darkness that surrounds it, and the violence. But, Burton brings out the best in his cast, he's proven he can do a musical, and he brings out the best in Victorian London, (that and his gothic stylings are a marriage made in heaven.) But, as another film for Depp and Burton together, it's a huge success, they have such a good working relationship together, and they bring out the best in one another, from seeing this, it's the ultimate proof that they need to work together more often!! More please, Messrs Burton and Depp!! Very Happy
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