I’m kicking off a marathon my wife suggested with one of her favorite musicals!
Screenplay By: John Logan
Directed By: Tim Burton
Aesthetically speaking Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street is a Tim Burton film from beginning to end. Unfortunately it’s also a Tim Burton film from beginning to end in regards to its willingness to stay within the safe zone of its aesthetics. I’m sure this isn’t a problem for a lot of Mr. Burton’s fans, but it has increasingly become an issue for me. Mr. Burton is able to create sequences and moments within Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street that are visually appealing. They are appealing in their oddness and they are appealing in how they smothered me within the visual template Mr. Burton wanted to create. At the same time the film never leaves the safe confines of the odd and dark aesthetic that Mr. Burton loves. I’m not saying I wanted the film to become sunny or cheerful in its visuals, clearly the Gothic trappings are where Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street belongs. What I am saying is that I would have appreciated it if Mr. Burton had offered some variation upon his usual visual style. The truly great directors take their personal style and add to it with each film. In the case of Mr. Burton he has been applying the same aesthetic for years now, with no changes or new personal touches in sight.
The above being said, the Gothic setting really did fit Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. I was especially a fan of the way the film decided to handle the presentation of blood. It is obviously fake, but that’s okay because every time blood was used I felt that Mr. Burton came the closest to leaving his safe zone. The almost technicolor quality of the blood contrasted nicely with the darkness that permeated the rest of the picture. The first time a throat was slit and a geyser of blood erupted I made mention to my wife of how much I liked what the film was doing with its use of blood. That contrast isn’t found anywhere else in the film, the blood is a welcome respite from the drab look the rest of the film is couched in.
As far as the story goes, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street is a slight story if ever there was one. I’ve never seen any other film versions, nor have I seen the play. I can not speak to whether John Logan’s script was simply lacking or if the story is always that slight. I did notice a hollowness to the story, and to be honest if Mr. Burton had been willing to open up a bit more visually the slightness of story wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. With Mr. Burton sticking to his tried and true visual style I was afforded the time to focus on the story and I was left wanting more. There is definitely a good premise at play, but it needs some more blood in its veins to be fully alive, pun completely intended.
Concerning the reason I’m undertaking the marathon, the music, I found it to be slightly uneven. The interactions between Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp were the best musical pieces, full of comedy and a dark quirk that suited the setting. Other instances of song, such as when Alan Rickman opened up his lyrical side, struck me as too flat. I understand that the film was going for a talking as song style, but I found the films approach to this aspect rather bland. When Mr. Rickman spoke he was speaking, when compared to the boisterous tones of Miss Carter and Mr. Depp that approach leaves something to be desired.
Contrary to how it may read I did like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. I was critical towards it because the elements that bothered me were more prevalent than the elements that I liked. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street has its share of flaws, and it is in a lot of ways typical old hat from Tim Burton. Still, I liked the overall macabre tone of the picture and that approach struck me as different from most light and cheery musicals. It’s not great, but Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street is a good motion picture and I can see why it is one of my wife’s favorite musicals.