Unlike many of my friends, I am not a Broadway fiend. I had no reference to the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim in my head when I sat down in the theater. Heck, afterwards I even had to look up Sondheim resume to see what else he had done (Was he modern? Was he from the turn of the century like Gilbert and Sullivan? I was clueless…). So I had absolutely no baggage or preconceptions going into the movie.
But I do love Johnny Depp. And I do love Helena Bonham Carter. And, well, I respect Tim Burton and his goofy goth visions more than LOVE him, but I was willing to give him a chance. So when the crazy horror-movie organ thundered over the WB logo, I immediately had a smile on my face.
Sweeney Todd, for those not in the know, is indeed a musical. In fact, much of the story is told through song, and I’m talkin’ big, booming Broadway-style song. A scowling, ashen-faced man (Johnny Depp), along with the pretty sailor-boy (Jamie Campbell Bower) arrive in London on a ship. The boy is excited, but the man sees more what we see: a grimy city washed of color, practically black-and-white, a city that has robbed him of his past. We find out that hollow-eyed fellow used to be a happy married man named Benjamin Barker, but an evil judge named Turpin (Alan Rickman) wanted Benjamin’s wife, stole his child, and got Barker sent off to the penal colony of Australia for 15 years. Now that Barker is back, he is a changed man, even with a new name: Sweeney Todd. And Todd is pissed and bent on avenging the family that was lost to him.
Todd finds himself boarding at Mrs. Lovett’s (Bonham Carter), who owns the upstairs flat that he once shared with his family. She even kept his beloved shaving-razors from his past life as a barber. As he unveils the glory of their still sharp and glistening blades he croons a whole song in their honor, “My Friends” (one of my favorite moments) while Mrs. Lovett, already smitten, tries unsuccessfully to get his attention. She knows of his intention to wreak revenge, and doesn’t really discourage it, especially after he offs his first victim (who recognizes him). Because, after all, Mrs. Lovett’s pub is in need of some new, fresh ingredients for her meat pies. Ew. When Todd finds out that his own daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener), raised and basically imprisoned by Judge Turpin, is set to marry the judge against her will, it is just a matter of time (and a matter of piling up bodies—er—pies) until he gives the judge his just revenge.
Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter should be crowned the First Couple of Goth. In Sweeney Todd, their pasty pale skin is gray and they have dark circles under their eyes. He glowers, and she swoons. His hair is a swooping mane with a silver streak, and she looks like she stuck her finger in a light socket. You can practically smell the must in their clothes. And when they are awkwardly dressed in vacation beach attire, during the fantasy-sequence “By the Sea”, they look more so than ever like real-life imaginings of their very own Corpse Bride characters. They look fantastic.
But can they sing? Heck, they sounded fine to me. Since I’ve seen the film, I’ve heard grumblings that especially Helena Bonham Carter’s voice wasn’t up to snuff, but personally I didn’t notice. Helena steals all of her scenes with the funniest lines, but also has the most emotional moment, singing to the devoted street urchin Toby (Ed Sanders) who starts to get suspicious of her business partner Todd. Therein lies the difference of casting actors who can sing, as opposed to singers who can act.
But be prepared. Apparently in the stage version, the blood was… well… implied. In Burton’s film, however, the blood splashes, spurts, and runs in rivers across the floor. And if that isn’t enough, Todd’s efficient barber-chair/trap-door contraption is a device that will be sticking in my head (and in my nightmares) for a long time. Burton never lets you forget that this movie is about a serial killer. But dark as that concept may be, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is easily one of the more entertaining, and dare I say watchable serial killer movies to come along in ages.
The Two-Disc Special Collector’s Edition DVD allows you to spend almost as much time with the Extra Features as you did watching the movie itself, and is jam-packed with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and making-of material. The familial bond between Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham-Carter is obvious, and it’s hard not to feel like you’re spending time with old friends as you watch the extra features. Not only have we come to know them through their previous collaborations, but they’ve come to know each other so well that they’re comfortable sharing history and teasing one another almost as though the cameras aren’t rolling. The “Moviefone Unscripted” segment where Johnny and Tim interview each other is especially priceless, as is the November 2007 Press Conference, where Burton can be seen doodling on a notepad while the others are talking. What wouldn’t we give to see what he was drawing?! For those interested in the history of Sweeney Todd, historical featurettes take a look at the real life legend of the serial killer (which dates way back to the 1700s), and follows the story’s progress from urban myth to stage to screen. If you’re into Sweeney, this edition leaves no stone unturned.