Tim Burton#039;s Sweeney: A bloody good time

by Beacon Staff • December 12, 2007

In Tim Burton's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, it's apparent that Burton enjoys giving Johnny Depp sharp objects to play with. Todd, played by Depp, looks very much like a post-pubescent Edward Scissorhands, only in this case he is not cutting plants-he's slicing throats.

The look and feel of Todd will not disappoint Burton's loyal fans. The set flaunts Burton's signature exaggerated dark and gloomy look. The color palate is restrained to various shades of gray, black and blue, but they're often interrupted by thick blotches of crimson blood, which flow like rain. But the appearance of the film isn't the only aspect that is dark.

The dark script parallels Burton's brooding visual effects. Sweeney Todd is the musical tale of a barber named Benjamin Barker who once lived in London and, after being falsely accused and banished to prison, returns too seek revenge on the man that ruined his life. Barker assumes the alias "Sweeney Todd" upon his return. His accomplice, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), invites Todd into her meat pie bakery (which is located underneath his old barber shop) for "the worst pies in London," and with this musical number she sets the tone for the dark and twisted humor that overtakes the first half of the film. As she slaps away the cockroaches and watches Todd choke down the awful pies, she figures out his true identity and supports his idea to get back into "business."

Depp's awkward body language, which is similar to the way he has played many other odd characters, enhances the crazed energy of Todd. Carter, as Depp's comedic and thematic accomplice, enhances this energy with her sociopathic sense of humor. She adds a sick and twisted hilarity that draws laughter from the most awful and horrible happenings.

Although the cast could not have been comprised of better actors, the vocals are not as strong as a Sondheim musical demands. Though the characters were in fact on key, the vocals are weak and grating. It seems as though Burton had to choose between singing or acting-and he chose the latter. The strongest singing performances in the film came from the youngest character, Toby (Ed Sanders), who is hired to work in the pie shop after the treats made of Todd's killings prove to be selling like hot cakes.

Although the first half of the movie is comedic in its own sick way, the second half commands a very different type of laughter-one that comes from nerves and discomfort. Because of the comedy that pervades the beginning, the first violent slash of a client's neck surprises the viewers. Bright cartoon-like blood spews from the customer's throat. Todd then pulls a lever on the trick barber's chair to send the lifeless, bloody body down a chute into Mrs. Lovett's bakery. This begins the montage of slash-pull-plop-grind. Depp slits throat after throat, blood squirts, spurts and sputters from the delicate necks of unsuspecting clients, then bodies flop, plop, and smash on the floor down the shoot, It is here that Mrs. Lovett grinds the client up until he becomes one of the delicious pies that keep her bakery open and thriving. Even though with every slash of Todds' razor, each death is more vile, disgusting and uncomfortable, the gore does not become blaseacute;. It is though it is unexpected to be so gory when the first half of the film is so comical. This is one aspect of the film that did not translate well from the stage. Musicals are known for getting dramatic and tragic during the second half, but films are expected to stay consistent.

As each person comes into Todd's barbershop never to leave, he eagerly awaits one specific client, Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Turpin is responsible for stealing Todd's wife-who is now believed to be dead-banning him from London and holding his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) captive. Todd wants nothing more than to get his kin back and to glide his razor across the throat of Judge Turpin. Throughout a series of devastating events, Sweeney Todd ends with a series of ironic twists.

For those who love theater, it is always a bit nerve racking to hear that a play is being adapted to a movie. But don't fret, because Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd stays remarkably close to the plot of Sondheim's musical. There are less songs in the movie than the play, but the most noteworthy numbers are included. The minor-key obsessed-orchestra's booming reprise of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is constant throughout the play, which complements Burton's creepy atmosphere while staying loyal to the musical intentions of Sondheim. Although the singing is not strong, the movie will leave you covering your throat rather than your ears.