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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 26.37%
Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad: 13.19%
Total Crap: 2.2%

9 reviews, 37 user ratings

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
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by Lybarger

"Possibly the best advertising for vegetarianism ever put on the screen."
5 stars

‘Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ is the movie that Tim Burton was born to direct. Pairing his morbid whimsy with Stephen Sondheim’s witty lyrics and lilting melodies makes for a combination as engrossing as it is unlikely. Sondheim’s material might seem a little sophisticated for the one-time director of ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,’ but Burton and a first rate cast rise to the occasion creating an experience that differs from the 1979 stage musical while keeping its malevolent spirit intact.

The story of Sweeny Todd has been circulating since it first popped into a popular London journal in 1846. In the decades that have followed, the skilled barber who uses his razors on his customers’ throats instead of their whiskers has evolved from a garden-variety madman to a once-decent individual driven to insatiable rage because he’s the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

In the musical that Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler adapted from Christopher Bond’s play, Todd (Burton’s right-hand man, Johnny Depp) is intent on getting back at the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) who sent him to prison on false charges. In the process, the judge tried to seduce the barber’s wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) and adopts his daughter Joanna as his ward.

Now that 15 years have passed, Todd is back in London and determined to get his life back together and make the judge pay for his transgressions. He enlists the help of a pie shop owner named Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). When his initial attempts at getting to the judge fail, his customers end up taking the judge’s place in the grave.

Disposing the bodies is surprisingly easy. Todd designs a trap door that drops them downstairs, where Mrs. Lovett bakes them into meat pies. Before you can say “Ewww, gross,” the shop that once served the worst pies in London now can’t stop customers from unknowingly dining on human flesh.

Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds, but Burton and screenwriter John Logan fill “Sweeny Todd” with an oddly effective romanticism. Mrs. Lovett is hopelessly smitten with Todd even though he’s too single-minded in his bloodlust to return her affections. Bonham Carter’s baby face and expert comic touches make the bizarre attraction rather touching. In a weird way, it’s just as innocent as a young sailor’s (Jaime Campbell Bower) toward the now-adult Joanna (Jayne Wisener).

Burton and Logan truncate the songs. The tunes where the chorus acts as narrator have all been cut because viewers don’t need them to make sense of the action. My favorite line from the original musical has become a casualty. When Todd suggests to Mrs. Lovett that he’s in the mood for dining on general, she asks, “With or without his privates?” Nonetheless, the decision proves wise because in many musicals the songs frequently stop the tale whereas in “Sweeny Todd” they are part of the action. That’s good because most of the dialogue in the film and the state musical is sung.

Sondheim’s melodies manage to endure despite the fact that Depp and most of the cast were not professionally trained singers. The composer’s melodies often require ranges as wide as the Himalayas and put trained and able singers to the test. Fortunately, Burton’s gambles pay off handsomely. Depp’s David Bowie-like delivery works, and his face subtly conveys an inner torment that the all the blood of London won’t be able to wash away.

The supporting cast is similarly strong. Sacha Baron Cohen, the man who gave us Borat, steals the show as a flamboyant rival barber.

Most of the performers don’t bellow the songs the way they would on stage. Because the camera is frequently close to the actors, this helps because it makes the sung conversations seem less stilted.

Normally film musicals cover wide vistas, but Burton presents Victorian London as a horribly claustrophobic place. As a result the film becomes more eerie and tense as characters we care about come dangerously close to sitting in Todd’s chair.

Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and production designer Dante Ferretti use deliberately muted color schemes. The film looks gray and dingy until some amusingly gaudy fantasy sequences where the colors practically explode off the screen.

With its warped blend of gallows humor, genuine shock and unabashed romanticism, “Sweeny Todd” is, like a meat pie, an acquired taste. Nonetheless, since I was a teenager in the 80s hearing the soundtrack album in my drama class, I’ve been waiting for a good film version of the musical. I can now say that Burton and company have delivered the movie I’ve longed to see.

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originally posted: 12/22/07 00:03:56
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User Comments

12/17/18 Ajpwales Boring. Over the top. Burton gets worse. 1 stars
2/14/17 Louise Enjoyable gothic horror piece - love the songs! 4 stars
3/29/16 Aj wales Bad movie dressed up. 2 stars
8/19/09 Jon B Definitely a masterpiece by Tim Burton. 5 stars
3/08/09 jcanthony A slasher film dressed up as an art film musical. The story has no value. 2 stars
2/18/09 Sally Sundeen I was disappointed by this one...but i still liked it. Love Johnny Depp! 3 stars
1/10/09 lima beautiful songs and great actors, especially depp and rickman 5 stars
11/12/08 Michael M Not a musical like it, but what detracted from it was the singing. Could have been better. 3 stars
7/04/08 mike very different. didn't like it at first but loved it in the end 5 stars
6/12/08 Jayson Could have been better. Depp was a hoot. 3 stars
6/09/08 AnnieG Everyone marked for death will die. Musical horror tragedy - what a concept! 4 stars
5/25/08 mark madsen Kinda back and forth on this one 3 stars
4/14/08 Colleen Cousineau If it wasn't a musical...............It might have been ok. 3 stars
4/05/08 smrtpants enough of depp with scissors already! 3 stars
4/04/08 bloody mustache Huzzah! Burten and Depp weave their magic yet again, another shave please? 4 stars
3/30/08 M IF they just didnt sing, Depp/Helena great! 3 stars
3/24/08 Noodle Truly amazing songs. Haunting and beautiful 5 stars
3/07/08 Millie Maelstrom Implausible and overrated, plus Helena Bonham Carter is an ugly witch. 2 stars
3/05/08 Louise A gothic blood-soaked masterpiece! No one makes films quite like Burton! 5 stars
2/17/08 SamanthaP I really liked it, the blood gushing was awesome, and Johnny was freaking hot! 5 stars
1/28/08 Mike Nearly unwatchable - only gets 2 stars for production value. Hard to follow, bland singing. 2 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic a musical with performers who cant sing 2 stars
1/23/08 john 'Once' , 'Across the Universe' light years better..this was almost terrible.worst Depp ever 2 stars
1/16/08 Kishaun Completely boring, cliched, annoying and overrated movie. 1 stars
1/14/08 Sully Loved the flick, but I don't think I'll get a hair cut this week.... 5 stars
1/14/08 Luciie i LOVED it thanks :/ 5 stars
1/04/08 Kelisha Thanks for the props on Steve. He truly is God. 4 stars
1/04/08 Catt Burton and co. did an excellent job!! Loved this artistic movie! 5 stars
12/27/07 Quigley Excellent. Burton, Depp and Carter all do amazing work; great music. Not to be missed. 5 stars
12/27/07 BestPies Sondheim is God, Burton's respect for the music is wonderful. 5 stars
12/26/07 carlos G Mostly true to the theatre version, and even Sondheim gave it his blessing! 5 stars
12/25/07 PDJ Best Movie of 2007 5 stars
12/24/07 Cindy I loved everything about this movie. I plan to see it again. 5 stars
12/23/07 Missy H. Disturbing, diabolical, yet still delicious fun! I'll take seconds, please! 5 stars
12/23/07 Ole Man Bourbon Heh I was going to say the same thing: I really liked it, didn't love it. 4 stars
12/22/07 Keystra Williams I LIKED it, but I wanted to LOVE it. 4 stars
12/22/07 Bonny I don't think the gore & violence was off-putting. Loved the movie & music. 5 stars
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  21-Dec-2007 (R)
  DVD: 01-Apr-2008



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