So I’m behind the curve as usual, but I finally saw Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” on DVD and I’m very conflicted in my opinion of it. I love Johnny Depp in the title role and think he acquits himself nicely with his vocals. He can do tortured soul very well. Other things I liked:
--> the blood. I know this got some attention when the movie came out. I think the copious amounts of blood makes the horror of it all both more real and surreal.
--> The squalor. The bugs and filth and everything, particularly when we first see Mrs. Lovett’s shop. Together with the blood, I think the movie makes the intense nature of the story more visceral.
--> Laura Michelle Kelley (Lucy) and Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony) in smaller roles. Two gorgeous actors underutilized but still delightful. Alan Rickman was pretty delicious as the judge as well. (Tidbit: I saw LMK in the revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway and she was great in that too.)
Things I didn’t like:
--> I missed the ensemble numbers from the stage version. What is “Sweeney Todd” without the title song?
--> The final scene with Todd holding Lucy. The only spot where Tim Burton went too far with the blood.
--> Most critical problem: on stage, the tension when Todd finds Johanna in his shop is palpable. Sondheim has already taken your breath away with the scene when Todd dispenses with “the Beggar Woman” and now he seems on the brink of cutting your heart out. It’s one of the tensest moments in theater. In the movie, it came and went way too fast. The tension when Toby almost discovers Pirelli’s body is played much bigger in the movie.
Things I was really mixed about:
--> Helena Bonham Carter. Vocally, she wasn’t bad but not really good either. On the positive side, her age and look makes her dreams of a life with Sweeney much more palpable than when say Patti Lupone plays Mrs. Lovett. On the negative side, I think she kind of underplayed things – surprising from an actress who was one of the most frenetic Ophelias I’ve ever seen (in the Mel Gibson “Hamlet”). There wasn’t much of a motherly vibe with Toby – something I think adds an interesting element – and I didn’t get a whole lot of the somewhat vicious opportunism from her that inspires the decision to “creatively” dispose of the bodies. Of course, this could have been how she was directed.
As usual with Burton films, the art direction and costuming were awesome. But all and all, I’d give it around a B+. More convenient to see than the stage version, but less compelling in my humble opinion.