Sunday, March 9, 2008

Movie Review - Sweeney Todd

This afternoon, I finally attended the tale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Despite the fact that I have loved the soundtrack to the 1979 Broadway cast since I was a wee lad, I have never seen the play actually performed live or on video. I cannot say exactly the reason for this - I loved the audio and wore the cassette out! It had the distinction of being one of my favorite musicals, even though I had never actually seen it. The soundtrack is simply incredible. Whether you enjoyed the movie or not, I suggest listening to the original cast recording. It is Stephen Sondheim at his best. Of course, the subject matter is dark and intense, but the tracks are so memorable and catchy, yet complex. I've been a Sondheim fan ever since.

So the movie had some expectations to live up to, and Tim Burton has disappointed me on multiple occasions. I personally find his work is more style over substance. However, in this case the substance was already solid. Add to that the perfect casting of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in the leads (I realize the two are two Burton faves, but in this case I think it works for the best), and I believed this would be the perfect opportunity to finally see the soundtrack in action.

I'm pleased to report I was not disappointed! The core of the play is intact, and Depp and Bonham Carter are in top form. It is true that Johnny's vocal range is limited, but his performance more than makes up for his singing (which is not at all bad, but can't compare with Len Cariou). Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter steps out of Angela Lansbury's shadow and makes the part of Mrs. Lovett her own. That alone should have granted her an Oscar nomination. The rest of the cast is solid as well, especially Sacha Baron Cohen as competing barber Adolfo Pirelli. I have never seen Ali G nor Borat, so this was my first experience seeing him and he gave an impressive performance.

My only major complaint with the movie version is that it is too short. The film clocks in at a little under two hours, but the original play is three. I understand the reasons for keeping the movie time low, but I think they cut a bit too much character development of the supporting players. The wonderfulness of the original musical is all the threads progressing throughout the play that eventually come together in a spectacular and (in some cases surprising) way. All these threads are represented in the movie version as well, but those of the supporting characters, particularly Anthony and Johanna, are just given limited face time. I would have gladly stayed in the theater for an additional 20 - 30 minutes to see them explored more. I believe it would have given the ending a bigger punch, or in Sweeney's case, slice.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street arrives on DVD April 1st and I definitely recommend it if you missed it on the big screen. IMHO, it is worth multiple viewings even if you have seen it. I also strongly recommend the original cast recording and I hope someday to see it live on the stage.

No comments: