Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Attend the Tale...

I just came back from seeing Sweeney Todd:  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and my heart is still racing.   At the time I'm writing this, the movie has earned an 87% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and personally, I think that's a bit low.  Before seeing Sweeney, I suggest that you remember a few simple points.

First, Sweeney is a musical.  A very different musical, but a musical nonetheless.   There are some people in this world who can't stomach musicals. Having grown up with wonderful shows like The Sound of Music and Oklahoma, I don't understand this, but there it is.   If you can't abide musicals of any kind, you might want to pass on Sweeney Todd.

Second, Sweeney is not The Sound of Music or Oklahoma.   Julie Andrews will not sing about her favorite things. Shirley Jones will not vocalize about love.   This musical is about the depravity of man, the loss of hope, insanity, murder and mayhem.   It is very dark, intense and gory.   The film is bloody.   Think the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, make it realistic, and raise it by a factor of a hundred.   Lots of arterial action.  If you have a weak stomach, you may want to pass on Sweeney Todd.

Third, Sweeney is a movie.   If you saw the musical on Broadway or the film of the national tour, expect some differences.   Theater is more removed than film.   Theater is fantastical.   Although the movie did not significantly deviate from the script, the medium is much more realistic, more personal, far more intense.   Expect a different experience from the stage production.

The performances were outstanding.   Vocally, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter give respectable performances of Stephen Sondheim's music, but it was their acting that distinguished them.   Their performances are intense, manic, powerful.   The best musical performances were by Jayne Wisener (Johanna) and Ed Sanders (Toby).   Along with Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony), these young actors light up the screen.   Alan Rickman was predictably wonderful as Judge Turpin.   Timothy Spall (Beadle Bamford) was good, but I kept wondering how Wormtail ended up in 19th century London.   Sacha Baron Cohen did a good job as Signor Pirelli.

My biggest disappointment was that the Ballad of Sweeney Todd was not sung.   The greatest improvement was the direction for the song By the Sea.   That song never worked for me in the stage production, but in the movie, it's very funny and effective.

I have seen several theatrical productions of Sweeney, and at one time, I owned the soundtrack.   Knowing what to expect did little to lessen the tension.   If you ride a rollercoaster several times, you may know when to expect the drops and loops -- but anticipation only heightens the excitement.   Sweeney is very bloody, very graphic, very, very dark and intense.   It is a total thrill ride.   It's poignant, frightening, funny, gross, and sad.  Director Tim Burton is a genius at telling dark, quirky, surreal tales -- and Sweeney is no exception.  I give Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street five sanguineous stars.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like my kind of flick!


Chanticleer said...

Too kind and gentle for you, Tim. {giggle}

janet said...

I saw it with my theater geek son...AND its his favorite stage play...but just knowing the tim burton directed it made me realize that it would be dark and gory and maybe a bit so for me...but the acting was awesome...So I do give it a thumbs up!

Chanticleer said...

We'll be watching your theater geeks son someday. :-)

Sarah said...

It was great meeting you at the Michael Hauge retreat.

I tagged you! You're it! The details are on my blog at

=) Have a great day!

Chanticleer said...

Ugh. I'm not sure I have six friends with blogs to tag . . . or if they'll still be my friends once I do. But I'm still riding the high from the Michael Hauge retreat as well, so I'll be a good sport. This time. LOL

It was great being with all the folks from TARA. What an amazing group of authors!