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Friday
Jan252008

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" Review

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street could split audiences like its title character splits jugular veins. Some could embrace Tim Burton's dark vision for the material. Others could have the opinion that the film continued Burton's descent into his own increasingly narrow world view, showcasing his reliance on the same collaborators (Depp and Helena Bonham Carter) and the same type of gnarled cityscapes and murky production values.

With the potential for such sharp disagreement about the quality of the film, a person's own Burton biases may help determine his or her feelings about it. So being a fan of Tim Burton, I would fall down on the side of the fence of liking it. However even though Depp and Bonham Carter hold their own on the singing, I have never been a fan of musicals, they make me cringe and take me out of the film, I’m sure I would be of a different opinion if people broke out in song on a regular basis in real life, but they don’t. The dark style of the film did help to some what temper the ridicules plot device of singing to express thoughts and feelings, but I still can’t help thinking that this would have been so much of a better film if it was “normal”. But what is normal when Tim Burton is concerned?  

What's beyond dispute is that Burton commits to grisly violence like never before. Even in a movie in which beheadings were the standard (such as Sleepy Hollow), there was never this much blood and this many dead bodies. Like almost everything else in the film, even the blood is some shade of brown or black. It's clearly a conscious effort on Burton's part to be so unrelentingly dreary, but it may turn off viewers seeking colour, which we get only during a day at the beach for Todd and Mrs. Lovett. Set apart stylistically from the rest of the film, this scene does well to contrast and to highlight just how bleak the London setting is, but this sequence may have unintended consequences. It may make audiences miss the Burton they once knew, who regularly saturated his films (such as Big Fish) with colour. Without colour, this bloody film is frequently and confusingly bloodless, as well as cynical to the nth degree.

Burton's vision of London is fully realized, if not entirely original. Then again, the biggest complaint about Sweeney Todd could be, not that Burton is stealing from others; rather, he's stealing from himself.

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