Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007, Tim Burton)


The wit, tension and soaring tragedy of Stephen Sondheim's musical can withstand even Tim Burton's rigid efforts to turn it into a cartoon. The irritating technical quirks, like a silly whirlwind tour of 19th-century CGI-London, are easy to overlook, but it takes concentrated goodwill to get past the miscasting.

When Johnny Depp - looking Botoxed throughout - drones "I will have venn-geance", you want to punch him and his ego that insisted singing lessons would reduce the performance (of a character defined by operatic bloodlust). Helena Bonham Carter fares a little better if only because she pitches her performance according to her (thin) vocals and reinvents Mrs. Lovett as a desiccated, fragile ghoul with a stunted passion (in contrast to Depp's stunting passionlessness).

All the same, enough of Sondheim's melancholy and savagery survives the transition to make even this muted adaptation intensely compelling. Although in butchered form, the morbid yearning and warped genius of the songs comes through.

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