Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is another feat for auteur director Tim Burton. Visually expansive and imaginative, it has a razor-keen wit for its dark tale of vengeance. It successfully marries the flight and the fancy of a musical and the grisly grimness of blood and goth. It takes pleasure in its own theatricality with a complete trust in the power of Stephen Sondheim’s music and the masterstroke of Burton’s signature visual style.
Tim Burton Biography: From His Early Years to His Early Career as a Filmmaker
Tim Burton Biography: From His Early Career to His Rise to Hollywood Fame as an A-list Director
The film starts with a Burtonish trademark: an opening credits summing up the distinctively cynical, chill-inducing, and blood-splattering cinematic operetta set in a spidery gothic world. It sets the mood for its mercilessly dark humor and oddly amusing tunes. It binds together its CGI and live action parts quite admirably with the effective approach of Burton’s expressionist elements.
From its operatic gruesomeness to its Victorian gothic moodiness, the consistently dark and foggy visuals create the right dose of menace as the murder, music, and ‘monsters’ become happily drenched in blood gore. Interestingly, when the characters break into songs, they become tailor fit for the world Burton has purposely built.
As always, Burton’s work is filled with great imagination. Having the most outlandish extremes as a skilled storyteller, he keeps his very stylized pursuits without sacrificing the thematic and emotional elements. In this film, he doesn’t allow the lavishly dark production design, the fantastically haunting cinematography, and the elegantly thrilling music to dominate the storytelling. In fact, he utilizes all these to turn a great play into a great film. Burton creates a vast world that ideally sets off Stephen Sondheim’s grimly intricate lyrics with the right scale for his film version of the grandiose 1979 Broadway musical. He seems clearly in love with his material and makes the film both strangely beautiful and beautifully strange.
As a director without much stage experience, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street impresses as a perfect fusion of the filmmaker and his material. His visuals stamp offers such an unlikely pairing of the musical and horror genres. Burton brings Sweeney Todd to life through dark, disturbing pictures blending with melodies that make for a mad synthesis that really suits the story in a way that they both coincide and contrast each other. The city is literally dark, and yet, the people living in it are even darker. The film has a wicked humor and characters initially showing ghoulishness, but they ultimately reveal themselves as sad and sympathetic. More than the brooding gothic romanticism and throat-slitting mayhem, the macabre story goes beyond the gothic yarn of revenge and lost love… it is a truly venerable human story.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is an interesting and invigorating stage-to-screen translation. It provides the audience with moments to get twisted, manipulated, repulsed, and entertained. The film benefits from Dariusz Wolski’s jaunty and swooping camera work and darkly whimsy lighting. It features a groundwork for a really discomfiting sense of horror and fantasy.
The dismal sets, cartoonish gore, and the cheeky, good-looking splatter fest from production designer Dante Ferretti and his team carefully blend with the CGI works of the special effects department. Chris Lebenzon’s elegantly stylized and spasmodic editing is in par with the cinematic imagery and propulsive orchestrations that create an intoxicating blend of vengeance and madness.
Burton’s uniquely collaborative relationship with his longtime lead actor Johnny Depp proves nothing less than film worthy. So goes with his fruitful working relationship with his off-screen and on-screen muse Helena Bonham Carter. The performances are pitched at just the right scale as fantastic morbid and fantastic sets, gorgeous costumes, and twisted CGIs all match the wry and maniacal characters of the film. Depp and Carter illustrate the psychological factors of their characters in subtle nuances, producing strongly deep emotional performances with stupendous rapture.
As an actor, Depp is such a tour-de-force. As the malevolent, ivory skinned serenading barber slitting throats in random, he really skirts along the edge of emotional chasm. He successfully incorporates Sweeney Todd as his very own. Once a pure man, he transforms into a dark, menacing persona that makes his Sweeney Todd character disturbingly attractive. His defining performance for the title role is convincingly one of his greatest.
Carter as the cheeky Mrs. Lovett is delightfully gruesome. Laced with morbid humor, she is equally charming in a dark and twisted way. Her meat pies are just as stuffed as her performance. The film’s undeniably great performances are further strengthened by a number of great acting talents appearing in this cinematic masterpiece: Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin, the true personification of evil in disguise as an elite member of the society; Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Adolfo Pirelli; Timothy Spall as Beadle Bamford; Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony Hope; Laura Michelle Kelly as Lucy; Jayne Wisener as Johanna; and Ed Sanders as Toby.
The outstanding singing performances from most of its gifted cast members have one main issue: the main performers are not great singers. It’s good Burton is witty enough not to make Sweeney Todd about the songs. Depp may not be a trained singer, but his voice is more than passable. His mere presence as a great actor overcomes the singing limitations. Despite the considerably weak vocal works from Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, this cutthroat musical effectively presents the film’s very story. They may not be carrying their tunes quite as impressive as a deadly sharp razor or as a truly delectable meat pie, but the film maintains such brilliance in storytelling.
Burton deconstructs and redefines Sondheim’s musical masterwork into a motion picture masterpiece. His musical pieces collectively provide a deliciously demonic dalliance that is as engrossing as it is unlikely. This uncanny motion picture version is true to the composer’s original vision, while being spectacularly cinematic as well. It is at once different from the play and yet not different at all. It may be rare for a film to achieve a feeling of unequivocal, breathtaking transcendence; and yet, this adaptation does just that. It makes the play’s already familiar fare into something awakening and inspiring both for the audacious Burton and his willing audience. Its “Grand Guignol-ish” appeal transforms Burton’s morbid imagination into a cheerfully gothic morality tale.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street preserves the corrosive power of Todd’s revenge. Its sense of tragedy and loss weighs heavily in its compelling story. Although not without some flaws, overall, it stays faithful to its own, uniquely haunted soul. It serves as a satiric commentary on a human being’s greed and capitalism’s cannibalistic thrust. It explores human nature’s sense of vengeance.
This elegant slasher film glories in the gory. As a wickedly entertaining blood feast, it is hypnotic, brilliantly executed, and positively electrifying. It breathes new life into the genre by dousing itself in buckets of blood spurting spectacles the way Zack Snyder’s film 300 makes its own trademark blood spurts as its own glorious treat.
Sweeney Todd offers a thoroughly entertaining, gore-filled musical experience.