Friday, February 01, 2008

There was a barber and his wife, and he was beautiful...

At this point in my life, there is no other way to describe a Tim Burton movie than as a momentous event in my life. This sounds overdramatic, but bear with me. Burton was my first "favorite" director, before I started getting pretentious and and into foreign films and other things of that nature, and Edward Scissorhands was the first DVD I ever bought. Burton remains one of my favorite directors, and, as I confessed to a friend the other day, I so want his films to be good, I actually get a bit nervous when I go to see them.

Such a line of thinking seems to set one up for disappointment, and yet, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was anything but. You surely know the story of Sweeney Todd - falsely accused barber gets revenge by slitting the throats of those who have wronged him while the woman downstairs turns their bodies into filling for her meat pies - and if you didn't, you do now.

It seems like fodder for a z-grade horror movie, not a Broadway musical, and yet, it's been both. It is composer Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece, and although he is quite the imposing figure, Burton manages to put his own stamp on the film, allowing it to be both a Tim Burton film and a Stephen Sondheim film.

The gory, darkly humorous musical is almost too perfect for Burton, the only musical you could ever imagine him directing. Blood and gore, a gaunt, pale protagonist, a bleak story with touches of equally dark humor - all hallmarks of Burton's previous works, especially the ones with his favorite muse, Johnny Depp. Depp does a surprisingly excellent job with the notoriously complex score, and Helena Bonham Carter, although not quite as good as Depp, does an admirable job as well.

Visually, the film resembles Sleepy Hollow - de-saturated with vividly colored flashbacks emphasizing the contrast between then and now, and gushing geysers of red, red blood, which, frankly, look amazingly cool against the nearly black and white background. Reflections are everywhere in Sweeney Todd, from puddles on the dirty London streets to Sweeney's beloved razor to the shattered mirror in his shop - and notably, all of these reflections are in some way distorted. Whatever they are supposed to reflect - Sweeney's own perception of himself as a pariah, the morally ugly person he's become since being consumed by revenge - they are pretty awesome solely on a visual level. And while that's occasionally been the case with Tim Burton's films - visually stunning but a bit lacking in other areas - Sweeney Todd doesn't disappoint in any way.

A note: I realize the importance of timeliness and relevance - and a review of a film that is neither nominated for Best Picture or playing for more than one showing a week is neither timely nor relevant. But I loved the movie so much and really wanted to make sure that I did it justice with my review, and I took my time. So there.

No comments: