December 31, 2007

Benjamin Barker: The Barber of Fleet Street

I'd like to wrap up the end of 2007 with a review of Tim Burton's latest. I saw it yesterday at 8:00 p.m. at the Providence Place Mall. If you look at the ticket stub over there on the left, you would have seen that I was lying to you, you gullible twit. Now that I have destroyed your trust in me, let's get on with the review.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is directed by Burton and stars his regularly casted actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Tim's team would have been complete if Danny Elfman provided the soundtrack, but in his stead is Stephen Sondheim, who does an excellent job. I saw this movie because Johnny Depp is so dreamy I'm a big fan of Burton's work.

The style is decidedly Burton-esque, anything less would have been a letdown. It's a dark movie in style and atmosphere, aside from a daydream sequence. And Burton's trademark black and white stripe combo makes an appearance as well.

The film starts with Sweeney Todd and a young sailor named Anthony Hope arriving in London from Australia. While Hope is hopeful of finding a good life there, Todd's aspirations are different. London is where he spent most of his years, and when his sweet life soured he found himself sentenced to life imprisonment in Australia by a crooked judge who wanted Todd's wife for his own. But the former Benjamin Barker escaped and assumed the name Sweeney Todd and dedicated himself to literally taking the lives of those who figuratively took his own. Barker/Todd was a barber on London's Fleet Street, so he returns to his old shop which is now situated on top of the worst bakery in the city. The bakery's proprietor, Nellie Lovett, is an old acquaintance of his wife's, and she laments that Mrs. Barker took her own life with poison. A bit of a kook herself, Lovett lets Todd reopen his barbershop, mostly because she is attracted to him. When Todd reenters his old place of business, he finds his set of silver shaving razors hidden under the floorboards, which become the tools of his wrath. His first victim is a rival barber named Signor Pirelli, who recognizes Todd as the former Ben Barker. He declares that he will blackmail Todd, but the demon barber "cuts" off his attempt. Signor had a child lackey named Tobias, who is then hired by Mrs. Lovett after claiming he was abandoned by his now former employer.

Meanwhile, the young man that Todd returned to London with is sitting on a bench across the street from a luxurious house when he hears a beautiful singing voice. He looks to the window it came from and spies a young, pretty blonde woman. It appears to be love at first sight when they lock eyes, and as Hope goes for a closer look, the door opens and an older gentleman ushers him inside. It turns out that the man who lives there is the main target of Sweeney Todd's vengeance, Judge Turpin, and the young lady is his adopted daughter Johanna Barker. Turpin himself is interested in Johanna, and threatens Hope with death if he ever shows his face again. Undeterred, Hope plans on stealing Johanna away and goes to look for Sweeney Todd for assistance.

Speaking of the judge, he soon makes his way to the barbershop and Todd finally sees his chance at retribution. But Hope bursts into the room right before he can do the job. Turpin, upon seeing the youth, is outraged by the company that the barber keeps and storms out of the shop. Todd is enraged after seemingly losing his opportunity for payback, but his anger is quelled when Hope tells him about Johanna, whom he realizes is his daughter. They devise a plan that will see Hope entering the judge's house with a key Johanna threw him from the window, and bringing her safely to the shop.

Thinking that his chance for justice has slipped through his fingers, Todd starts to go crazy, deciding that everyone in the world deserves nothing but death. Everyone who is to enter his barbershop for a shave and a haircut will get their necks cut instead. Lovett, wondering how they will dispose of the corpses, suggests that she use them to improve the quality of her meat pies. And that's when the killing spree begins, the barbershop, and in turn the bakery, enjoying heavy business. Back at the judge's house, Turpin discovers that Johanna is packing a suitcase and realizes she is planning to escape, so he sends her away to an insane asylum until she "learns her lesson". At the brink of executing his plan, Hope sees Johanna being packed into a carriage and taken away to a location unknown to him. Wandering the streets, he is fortunate to spy her in the window of the asylum, but can not find a way inside.

When Hope returns to Todd, the barber suggests he pose as an apprentice wigmaker, as the hair of the asylum's inmates are used for that very purpose. The plan succeeds as Hope makes his way in and tells the asylum's keeper that he is looking for blonde locks. He is led to a room full of fair-haired damsels, with Johanna amongst them. He rescues her by revealing a gun and using it to hold off the warden as they escape.

Tobias, the young boy who works in the bakery, becomes suspicious of what kind of person Sweeney really is, which leads to Lovett locking him inside her kitchen to be disposed of later. There, he discovers discarded body parts all over the place and realizes the truth of the pies at last. Todd comes down to kill him off, but Tobias seemingly escapes into the sewer. At the same time, Hope and Johanna, who is dressed as a boy so no one recognizes her, enter the barbershop. Hope tells Johanna to stay there while he goes to fetch a carriage so they can escape and live together in happiness in another location. With Hope gone, Johanna hides inside the trunk within the shop when Todd returns, trailed by Judge Turpin who has decided to get clean-shaven in order to make a better impression on Johanna when he goes to see her. What will happen with all these combustible elements gathered in the same place in the film's final moments? The conclusion features a shocking revelation when a background character turns out to be a key figure in the story, as well as a dramatic end to the tale by an unlikely hero.

Johnny Depp plays the film's protagonist... er, antagonist... let's just say "title character". He starts off as an anti-hero, deciding to limit the body count only to those who wrong him. But he soon evolves into a sadistic murderer when he feels that no one deserves to live anymore, including, as he puts it, himself and his partner in crime Lovett. Speaking of Lovett, played by Tim Burton's life partner Helena Carter, she comes off as a gentler, albeit still crooked, woman who falls in love with Todd and supports his endeavors. Sympathy can be lost for her when she gets the idea of making her pies out of the victims of Todd's "short cuts", but she often laments about the needless killing of innocents and wishes to eventually marry and live a somewhat normal life with him. The Sweeney Todd character himself is quite similar to one of Tim Burton's original creations, Edward Scissorhands. Both have wild hairstyles, pale skin, show little emotion, adorn themselves in dark clothing, and play with sharp objects. But of course, the biggest similarity is that they were both played by the same actor.

My only complaint with the movie is that there was too much singing for my taste. Just about 80% of the dialog is spoken in song. The songs were good and all, it's just that it was unnecessarily much. Although I guess one can't fault the movie because it's based on a stage play. I guess you could say that this movie falls into the horror-musical genre. As for the gore content, there's nothing visceral. Just a lot of gushing blood from severed blood vessels in the neck. If you love musicals but abhor blood, you may want to stay away from this one.

And that's just the way it is.


Anonymous said...

Personally I think he ruined my fav musical by concentrating on the gore and leaving out the old redemptive ending. If I ever run into him I'm asking for my $$$ back.

James Gannon said...

There was an ending that didn't involve Tobias slitting Todd's throat? Or do you mean the admission of Anthony, Johanna, and the police bursting into the bakehouse at the conclusion? I do know there were several versions of the musical, and that this movie was based on the 2007 Portuguese adaptation.
And as far as the gore factor was, it was relatively tame by today's standards, and I'm not even a big fan of blood myself. Imagine if one of the directors from such movie series as Saw or Hostel got their mitts on it?

Anonymous said...

i saw it yesterday and i agree whith everything you said,as a matter of fact i don't think it is a gore type of movie, and i'm glad about that; but i also would like to say that is very depressing, it really is, even though it has amazings songs (though there are more than i wanted to listen) images, and custom.
anyway, i think there was a lack of something, like something did'nt quite fit, i'll maybe tell you later if i figure out;
"Or do you mean the admission of Anthony, Johanna, and the police bursting into the bakehouse at the conclusion? "
yes i agree with you, i really wanted to see what happened to those two, who seemed to be so in love

James Gannon said...

It' a foregone conclusion that Anthony and Johanna will still run away together and begin their lives anew, but not without some trauma. Considering the fact that Anthony would discover his friend Sweeney was a murderer, and Johanna learning the awful truths about her father.
The most depressing part is how Todd became a serial killer to avenge his wife, who wasn't really dead at all. He would have been happier if he was reunited with his whole family, which would have happened had Lovett not lied to him.

Anonymous said...

I don't care what anyone says.. this movie is AWESOME!

James Gannon said...

I agree with that. I also wish to slightly alter my original opinion on the expansive soundtrack. Many Burton films have a large quantity of songs to substitute for plain dialog. What would The Nightmare Before Christmas be like if one were to watch it with all the songs cut out? I guess the main gripe people have with the fact this movie is a musical is that it wasn't advertised as such. I would be miffed myself if I walked into a new National Lampoon Vacation movie and got an experience similar to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But I suppose I can't get mad at Timmy if I enjoyed the movie in the end, right? And the songs start to grow on you the more you hear them, with "Johanna" and "Pretty Women" being my favorites.

J'lynn Scambler said...

Personally, I think Sweeny Todd was one of Tim Burton's best creations if you ask me! It pleased me to see that he got his justice and the people got what they deserved. He did what had to be done!

James Gannon said...

While Todd did end up getting his revenge, it did seem many innocents had to die by his spiteful razors first. Vigilante justice is the best kind of justice, at least in cinema.

And thank you so much for leaving the first non-spam comment on my blog in over three years.