Comments on watching and making films.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

If I could sum up my reaction to Sweeney Todd in a simple gesture, it would be this - Picture me holding my nose with one hand, sticking my tongue out, and, with the other hand, starting in a thumbs up position, and then my hand moving in a counter-clockwise motion into a thumbs down position (trust me, it's a simple gesture when its acted out. Writing it takes a lot more effort).

Not a fan of the Todd (and there may actually be some Scrubs fans who get the inside joke in that statement). The film is about a man named Benjamin Barker, who is falsely accused of a crime and  sent to jail for life. The judge who accuses him and sentences him, then takes his wife and daughter and forces them under his care. Fast forward, roughly, twenty years or so, and Barker breaks out of prison and returns to England, seeking vengeance on Judge Turpin, the man who destroyed his life. Now, though, Barker is older and filled with piss and vinegar, and with a new hair-do and some fancy black duds, he is "reborn" as Sweeney Todd. Sweeney Todd resurrects Barkers old barber shop with the help of the buildings owner (and proprietor of the restaurant downstairs), Mrs. Lovett, but his plans aren't to rebuild his life, only to seek vengeance on the man who destroyed it. I'm not going to say too much else, or it feels like giving the plot away.

As you may have been able to tell from the opening paragraph, I wasn't exactly impressed by the film. Tim Burton, in general, has been on my bad side for a while. I just don't enjoy his work anymore. And the one thing I probably enjoyed the most, The Nightmare Before Christmas, isn't even really a Tim Burton film. It's just a "Tim Burton presents".

What was my issue with Sweeney Todd? Well, I can sum it up, mostly, in one word - Musical. I don't like musicals. Never have. If people are singing more than 25% of the time in a film, I'm pretty much out. If I wanted to sit and listen to people sing for 2 hours, I would go to live theater. On film, though, musicals are often boring and flat. They often times come off as pretentious, or lacking relevance, and there is very little anyone can do to fix this (on a personal note, I can't believe they made Mamma Mia! into a film. That looks like the most pointless piece of cinema this year).

It seems like Burton made this film so that he could fill in the blanks of that which was missing from the stage show, but, when you see the kinds of things he does with it, you're left to wonder if we, as an audience, need any of that stuff in the first place. Is the CGI London any more real because you can see a little more of it? Or because they do that fancy (computer generated) shot at the beginning? Are Todd's acts any more gruesome because, as a film, Burton can have a sliced throat spew blood almost endlessly? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that when a straight razor is dragged across someone's neck, it's probably going to cut them open, and they'll probably die. What I'm trying to say is - Burton's over the top, gothic  imagination, in my opinion, lends nothing to the story. 

All told, though, it wasn't a complete wash. The film is worth watching, at least on the big screen, just to see it. I wish I hadn't paid full price for it, though.

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