They showed Tom O'Neil, myself and a few hundred other salivating folks three scenes from the Sondheim musical, roughly 17 minutes of film. Yes, I wanted the other 100 some immediately thereafter.
The scenes --all musical ones even though the movie isn't the nearly sung through operetta that the stage show is-- were in chronological order. Burton intro'ed them only by describing them something like this
'Sweeney gets pissed'
'Sweeney gets down to business'
'Sweeney arrives' is the "My Friends" number from the stage show which is sung to the demon barber's blades. He hasn't seen them in years. Before the singing Sweeney (Johnny Depp) gets the skinny as to what's gone down with his family from Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter). Rather immediately it's apparent that Burton and design team have gone for a muted Sweeney Todd. The room where Sweeney will do his barbaric barbery is unadorned and gray. The actors are going straight for haunted drama rather than the blackly comic effect of the musical's most famous version: Mrs Lovett seems matter of fact and tired; Sweeney, miserable and single minded. Their voices? Helena sounds good but we didn't get to hear much so I could be wrong. Depp's voice is sadly lacking in the power and melodic department. He sings on key and he's a strong enough actor that the performance looks to be compensating for the vocal troubles but it'll be frustrating to musical aficionados. The Sondheim lyrics are still obviously brilliant though --you can't muck that up unless you rewrite them.
Anyway....back to the scene. The barber hardly seems to notice his female companion once his blades come out. Mrs Lovett joins his song anyway. I loved the brilliant shot of Mrs Lovett reflected in Sweeney's blade, pulling him out of his song and trance.
'Sweeney gets pissed' takes you out into the streets where the same pervasive grayness rules. The song "Epiphany" is all about Sweeney Todd's misanthropy
There's a hole in the world like a great black pitThree scenes is not a lot to go on but the desaturated, almost black and white look that this production chose is fairly striking. The new movie doesn't appear to be erring on the side of Burton's typical creepy cute visual flourishes which is a very good thing. Sweeney doesn't need cute. It needs creepy. The grayness of the palette pays off beautifully in the best scene they showed, the last: the one where the red blood starts flowing.
And it's filled with people who are filled with shit
And the vermin of the world inhabit it.
But not for long...
They all deserve to die.
Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why.
"Johanna", one of the musical's most beloved numbers, is sung beautifully by Jamie Campbell Bower who plays Johanna's suitor Anthony. Mr Todd chimes in from time to time (for Sweeney newbies, Johanna is the demon barber's daughter whom his arch enemy Judge Turpin has adopted and raised since Sweeney was sent away) and Depp's voice works much better in the scene --when he's not asked to carry the song it's not distracting, the rough quality feels more like a character choice than a drawback. In this sequence we also see several very gruesome murders. The blood is a shock in the desaturated surroundings but what'll throw hands up over eyes and/or ears in theater is the disgusting disposal of the bodies, filmed in loving detail. Gross.
To sum up: Helena and Johnny continue to be fine actors but they don't sing as well as Broadway or other movie stars with vocal training (this shouldn't surprise anyone). We saw not a glimpse of Sacha Baron Cohen or Alan Rickman. The technical elements look great --Oscar nominations can be safely anticipated (how many is where the debate will lie). I'm now hopeful that this'll be a good scary musical drama even if the songs won't sound as great as this Sondheim fanatic was hoping for.
P.S. More on that evening with Tim Burton here
P.S. II Some Oscar thoughts re: Depp and the movie.
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