Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Review By: Joe

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (or ST:DBFS) is a new enough Tim Burton movie that I think is pretty good. It's about, of course, Johnny Depp as a revengeful barber what murders a bunch of people. And Tim Burton's wife is in it too, which is another big surprise all right.

This movie is based on a play, a musical even, which means it has a bunch of singing in it. Feh. The songs aren't particularly memorable and they're weird and kind of meandering; they don't necessarily rhyme unless they happen to feel like it or have a particularly logical tune. All things considered, this is probably the best musical I've ever seen, but then I usually still found myself thinking, "How come they have to be singing this dialogue?" and definitely more enjoyed the parts in which they weren't. I have to say I wasn't humming these songs later (although some had a few nice bits) and I largely can't even remember what they sounded like. Also, there are some professional singers in the cast and it's a noticeable difference between them and Depp and Mrs. Burton. It's not that they can't sing, they do okay, but sometimes they do less okay.

It's not a hugely deep story; you basically just have to accept that a number of the characters are just that fucked up. We're never really meant to understand what on earth would make them that fucked up, so you simply have to acknowledge that you're seeing some very overblown characters and then enjoy watching them do awful things. For example, Depp's character, the lead, Sweeney Todd (who changed his name from Benjamin Barker, so if there's some signficance or meaning to choosing his new name, as it sounds nothing whatsoever like his old name, it was lost on me) is basically at a point where he doesn't mind killing anyone. The reason for this is supposed to be that he was crazy in love (as officially documented by Beyonce circa 2003) and then got taken away from his woman and wrongfully imprisoned for a bunch of years. Yes, that sucks a big one, but a lot of his sheer insanity is compounded, we're meant to infer, from his experience whilst locked away. I personally can't imagine a situation that would make someone able to so willfully knock off their fellow man and any attempt at a full explanation of one would probably ring a bit hollow so, yeah, just go with it and watch the blood fly! Whee!

And fly it do! This is a gory one this is. It's rather ridiculous and over the top, but there's LOADS of throat slittings and dead bodies getting dropped on their heads. I think it's actually to the point that it gets comedic on some level (one musical number contains something in the realm of five or six consecutive slit-based murders), but you might not agree. And that's what's wrong with this relationship of ours. You never back me up on anything.

So, basically, you've got a number of outlandish characters in the fast lane of a downward spiral. You might even guess what's going to happen to a number of them, so it's more just about the fun of watching it happen. One nice effect, I feel, is that even the supposedly noble characters have something a bit sinister to them; i.e. the nice sailor boy who wants to save a young girl, but repeatedly sings the phrase, "I'll steeeeeal you, Joannnnna." You expect tragedy for most of these people, but even the ones who make it to the end have uncertain futures, and ones that seem fairly grim. I'm not sure that there's any message here aside from some fairly overt ones, but, at least the non-sinister characters aren't blatantly pure; it fits the world of the movie that everyone's tainted in some fashion.

I read one review that claimed the musical had a lot more humor that the movie misses. I suppose that could be true; I didn't laugh too often at this, mostly I just enjoyed the soaked-in-macabre feeling it had to it. Plus, there were still a handful of parts that were rather funny (a line about piss 'n' ink being my fave).

The best thing about this movie is probably simply that it's a horriffic Tim Burton film. After pussing out on us with his thoroughly vomitous Planet of the Apes remake, then moving on to the nearly family friendly (though definitely enjoyable enough) Big Fish, and then pulling a Nightmare Before Christmas Part II of sorts with The Corpse Bride, with Sweeney Todd good old Mr. Burton shows us he can still make something completely shocking, reprehensible and largely tasteless. Color me impressed, Timmy!!!

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