Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Jamie Campbell Bower, Jayne Wisener, Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by: Tim Burton
I’m not sure there’s a movie out there that I had less of a chance of enjoying than this one. First off, it’s a musical, which is a genre I generally don’t care for (although, oddly, this is the third 2007 musical I’ve seen this year). Secondly, it’s an homage to classic horror, a genre I have no particular fondness for. Moreover, it features another quirky performance by Johnny Depp, and I’ve gone on record in the past as not being all that impressed by his penchant for quirk. Finally, it’s the new vision by Tim Burton, who very well may be my least favourite director in the world (at least in terms of ones that have exhibited some level of talent, eliminating hacky directors who make movies I’d never see anyway).
So why see it? Well, the primary reason is that I’m currently visiting family in a city with only one legitimate multiplex, thus limiting choice and forcing me to accommodate others choices. The decision to be more accommodating was made easier by the fact that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has received excellent reviews, popping up in many year end lists and making the awards season rounds. I generally like to be involved in those discussions, so I figured I’d go into the movie with the best intentions possible given all my stated prejudices.
Which… was pretty much impossible. Especially since Sweeney Todd is as Tim Burtony a movie you’ll ever see. Basically, the picture you make in your mind of what “Tim Burton does Sweeney Todd” is probably a near exact approximation of what Tim Burton actually presents with his adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s musical. This, above anything else, is why I don’t like Tim Burton’s movies: because at this point he seems less like a creative individual (although he undoubtedly is one) and more like a recognisable style, like art deco or pointillism or something. Sure, he deserves some credit for creating such a recognisable cinematic style that could be described as “Burtonesque”, but it doesn’t mean that it’s particularly interesting to me to see him hash it out every few years.
Of course, if you are a fan of Burton’s style, Johnny Depp’s penchant for playing odd characters based on pop stars (this time, he used Iggy Pop as an inspiration), and bloody musicals, then I’m confident that you will LOVE this movie. It’s a gleefully macabre celebration of all things Burton, in full-on gothic style. Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are well cast as the demented duo that go on a killing spree in nineteenth century London, with Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Sacha Baron Cohen filling out the bizarre cast of characters.
If you aren’t a fan of Burton’s style, you have no hope of enjoying this movie, unless the over-the-top blood wins you over, or if you’re a big Sondheim fan, I suppose. I didn’t mind the blood, which brought some visual flair to the proceedings. I didn’t even mind the songs, although I still don’t care for developing story via song and dance. I just didn’t care about anything or anyone in the movie, which is my default position for all Burton films. It obviously couldn’t be avoided in this story, meaning that he chose his project well, but the bizarre unreality that permeates all his films completely disengages me to the point where I can’t enjoy what is admittedly a well made movie, so I should probably just give up on seeing any of his movies ever again and leave them to the legions who enjoy them.