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[personal profile] charloween
This is the fourth version of Sweeney Todd I know. I've seen it on stage in two very different versions, have the original cast recording (with Angela Lansbury as Mrs Lovett!) so it was only a matter of time before I saw this latest film version. The good, the bad and the ugly:

The good :
- The story and the music... it's still fantastic, no matter how incomplete or dilute it is in this version. I don't apologize for being a Sondheim fangirl. I left the theatre humming the songs and kept humming them for a few hours after.

- "Down By The Sea". There is so much humour in this show. I'm glad they didn't loose all of it in the interests of making another goth epic.

- The lighting (inconsistent though it was... hell, was the DP asleep or something?). At times, a scene was lit to look like it was lit by gas lamp or fireplace and the flicker made on the scene looked like the flicker produced by old film stock. It added an anachronistic-yet-archival quality to those few scenes.

- The zooming-camera moving through the London streets... just like the camera move from Moulin Rouge! but this time in a different city. Though in Moulin Rouge! the worst thing you could do was fall in love. The POINT: the similarity made me laugh.

- The production design: huzzah! Though with the sideburns and the leather jackets it did get a bit 70s at times...

- The singing wasn't so bad. Hiring actors who can sing is better than hiring singers who can't act.

- Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter have great comedy timing when they're allowed to play together.

The bad :
- "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd". Burton jettisoned the chorus, fine. It's hard to justify groups of people stopping to sing in the middle of the street. But surely they could have found a way to include this song? What would have been the harm of putting it after the film over the end credits?

It's got some of the creepiest ("Perhaps today you gave a nod/To Sweeney Todd") and wittiest ("They went to their maker impeccably shaved") lines in the show.

- Despite hiring actors who can also sing, there wasn't much acting going on, was there? The second scene between Sweeney and Pirelli, maybe. Johnny Depp was either raspy-whispering or shouting. I liked his robot/zombie(/Edward Scissorhands-ian?) physical acting to a point: he can be amusingly blank.

If, however, they were trying to make the point that Benjamin Barker was dead and this "Sweeney Todd" fellow was just the personality inhabiting that man's corpse come back for vengeance... they could have made that point without having the lead actor spend most of the film staring into the middle distance and pretending to be a zombie. The effect was ruined each time he showed any life or passion, anyway. Go all the way or don't have it there at all.

- "Down By The Sea" was damn hilarious, but the transition back to the main plot was far too jarring.

- Most of the Antony stuff was cut out. Three songs! Three cute, funny, wonderful songs. "Look At Me" (Antony looking at Johanna's window), "Ah, Miss" (the pair together and getting the escape plan worked out) and the "Wigmaker Sequence" (Sweeney teaches the younger man about hair so he can get into the asylum) are each of them short and precise distillations of plot and character.

Even if these weren't delightful little pieces (that are so very sharp!) you still need Antony's stuff to balance Sweeney's darkness AND to be a kind of flashback-in-the-present to the younger and more naive Benjamin Barker. The young lovers' story evens out the vengeance plot and gives it another dimension: they're trying to build the life Barker lost. The movie didn't have that so much.

- The plot just flew by. I didn't notice so much because I know the show back and forth, but Reed (who didn't know the show at all) said after that it seemed like Plot was happening independently of the characters involvement in said Plot.

- They lost the joke in "A Little Priest" about the Rear Admiral's privates. I guess it was too jolly a moment for this incarnation of the characters. Still. Every musical about cannibalism needs at least one good dick and/or buggery joke. It's, like, a rule.

The ugly: There might have been something wrong with the projector or this copy of the film, 'cause there was serious lighting issues going on towards the end of the reel with "Not While I'm Around". The darker tones were all faded blown out on a few angles, which is a problem in a film that's lit rather dark.

All in all, I had a good time. I giggled through the entire opening credits sequence. Even if Johnny Depp was disappointingly zombified through a lot of the film, there was still enough of the spark o'life and humour left to give a few chuckles.

(OT: saw the movie with my brother. Brother informed me that his female classmates decided he has McDreamy hair. Hate to admit it, but it's true. Minor teasing ensued. :D)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-03 04:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've never seen a stage version of Sweeney Todd and my thoughts/opinions are very similar to yours. The film LOOKED lovely and I appreciated the dark bits of humour-- man-pie and all that. Plus, the songs I thought were terrific.

But I found myself with almost zero empathy for these characters, with perhaps teh slight exception of Antony and Johanna. Not to mention I thought the storyline was patchy and somewhat predictable.

I did quite enjoy it though...

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-03 02:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There was a lot lost in the translation. Part of the charm of the Sweeney Todd character is that he's a funny, witty guy who you want to like - it's clear he's been done wrong, and that people shitting on his perfect life and ten years of brooding turned him into a monster.

However, because he is funny and open (taking Antony under his wing, for example), the whole killing-people thing becomes harder to reconcile with the rest of his personality. It's a contraction, true, but not an irreconcilable one. Some of the parts that were left out and/or underplayed speak to the human capacity for violence and cruelty, and suggest that even the best of people can be pushed over the edge.

Themes! Not as present when your main actor is a frickin' zombie.

In good hands, of course, "somewhat predictable" is a good thing, because you see the end coming and have your assumptions challenged about whether or not you agree with the moral paths taken by the characters. You know that Turpin is going to have to die, but (so calls the voice from the back of your head) isn't it enough that the younger generation gets free from Turpin's tyranny? No, the show answers, because we all have the capacity for vengeance, sometimes the good guy ends up a cannibal murderer just the same.

Also, following characters' inevitable spins toward disaster is classic, just classic, and great fun too!

Do yourself a favour and grab a copy of the original Broadway cast recording. It's pretty cheap, like $17 on, and will really flesh out the characters and everything for you.

...There was a lot lost in the translation.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-03 10:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hehe, I just posted my own review of Sweeney Todd and then went to check my friends page and found yours.

I really did like what Tim Burton was trying to do with the production design and overall cinematography. Unfortunately with Sondheim's work, especially something as challenging as Sweeney Todd, you need actors that can actually sing and not just fake it. I'll agree that 99% of the time it's better to have actors that can sing than singers who can't act. After all, the thing an audience remembers more often than not is the performance, not the quality of the music. But as far as musicals go, Sweeney Todd is practically a classical piece. It demands musicians with a high degree of technique and vocal expertise. Anything less is just...sad.

Sorry, I tend to go on and on about things like this. My mother was an actress and my father was a music major and I am therefore doomed to be a theatre person for the rest of my life. Burton's Sweeney Todd be honest, somewhat depressing. No one will ever top Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou as far as I'm concerned. But that's just me and my original broadway cast purity for you.

Still, I giggled a little when Sweeney Todd finally killed Judge Turpin. Some morbid voice in the back of my head was saying, "Now, class Mr. Todd has just demonstrated how not to give a tracheotomy. Who can tell me what he did wrong?"

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-03 02:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sorry, I tend to go on and on about things like this.
It's okay - I'm right there with you. One year our school musical was Into The Woods and I've got a solid decade of choral and solo vocal training behind me (haven't sung in years, though). I did cringe at a few parts where I could hear (in my head, obviously) Cariou's voice soaring over some of the passages... and Johnny Depp rasped or spoke them. He's got a decent enough voice, but it's just not the same.

Still, I wonder what it would have been like if they'd had proper trained singers recording the roles and these actors lip-syncing to them. (Depp did it in Crybaby.) The production design was favouring a gritty realism (under the obvious muted colour choices), and it might have been strange to have other people's voices come from those actors. Especially with the precedents set by Moulin Rouge! and Chicago, maybe audiences are expecting it?

It would have been kind of strange to hear a baritone voice coming from Depp. That's the other thing: Sweeney Todd is not a tenor. Snnnnergh.

But that's just me and my original broadway cast purity for you.
The first thing I did for my brother when we got back to my place was to play him selections from that soundtrack. All the Antony stuff and "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd", and some of Sweeney's songs so he could hear them done properly. My brother's got a similar musical background to me, so he can appreciate the difference.

"Now, class Mr. Todd has just demonstrated how not to give a tracheotomy. Who can tell me what he did wrong?"
Snerk. Yeah. Though - Turpin was still able to breathe, though. Maybe he actually did something right?

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-04 04:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for understanding. I too have a good decade of choral singing under my belt and I've been studying solo voice for the past three or four years now. I don't claim to be an expert, but I do have a better than average understanding of how the voice works so I can often times be highly critical of such things. I'm even overly critical of myself in that department. I get top marks and the adoration of my peers but still wind up feeling like I didn't sing my best. Unless I'm out of class and up on stage, of course, but that's a different story. My voice teacher keeps telling me to chill.

But yes, Johnny Depp definately has a voice in there somewhere though I don't think he was using it properly. And I totally agree with the sentiment that a tenor Sweeney Todd=lulz.

I think it would have been better if they'd gotten professionals to do the singing. But if that were the case we'd only hear the actors themselves for maybe 20 minutes of the whole movie. So much of that movie was just bad singing and poor vocal habits. I saw and heard so many examples of what not to do, it was overwhelming. I can't wait until the new semester starts and my voice coach has to make the effort to un-train everyone who comes in the door going, "Well Helena Bonham Carter sang it this way!"

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-03 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree that the film had it's faults, but I can't really comment on the content of it since I haven't seen any other form of Sweeney Todd than the Burton version.

That being said, I really enjoyed Sweeney Todd as a Tim Burton film since the last few ones I watched (specifically: Planet of the Apes and Big Fish) were terrible. It's nice to see him back on form. And I liked it a lot as a musical. What the hell has happened to musicals lately? They either have gorgeous set design, but no depth to the story (i.e. Moulin Rouge. Lovely to look at, but left me kind of disappointed with the cliche plot. See also Across the Universe.) or they just don't transfer all that well onto film (ie. The Phantom of the Opera). The design of the film was really nice, though obviously very Tim Burton and there was stuff happening. Like a plot! ;P

Johnny Depp was meh for me here, but Helena Bonham Carter was so very good (not that great at the singing, but she tried, bless her.) I agree that they are a great comedic pair as well.

But let's be honest here: it's a musical about a guy who slits people's throats because he's bat shit insane. I was on board the fan girl train the moment I heard about it.

Also, you missed a point for the good: Anthony Stewart Head's cameo. Did you miss him?! Are you blind, woman?!

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-04 03:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We seriously have to rent Scoop just so I can show you Anthony Stewart Head's cameo in it. Forget the rest of the movie (even though it was good, IMHO), we'll just watch him :D

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-04 05:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I tried watching that movie and had to turn it off and run away. I guess I wasn't in the right mood for it.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-26 04:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I wanted something off-kilter and quirky, and it delivered so ... yeah.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-04 06:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I'll just watch the movie for his cameo. I get so pleased when Buffy actors find work!

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-04 03:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"Not While I'm Around" was, hands down, my favourite bit of the movie. I'm kinda sad that my first exposure to Sweeney Todd was the movie - it had so much potential, but fell flat in many places. But the kid (Toby, was it?) was amazing and made the movie for me.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-04 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The end of "Not While I'm Around" was the only part in the Mirvish stage version that really caught me. Because the cast was all playing their own instruments, they had Toby's character play the violin passage that echoes his vocal line once they get into the duet part. It was the one moment in that production where everything worked so very well.

On stage, too, the actor playing Toby is usually played older, but with the same mental age as the child in the film.

The more I think about it, the less said about the movie the better. I'll have to see if the school library has a copy of the video made from the original Broadway cast, or at least the soundtrack.
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