Tim Burton is unquestionably one of my favourite directors, if not my absolute favourite director. It's a fact that no matter what the film or the subject matter, I will view a film helmed by Tim Burton (at the time of writing this review, I have seen all of Burton's work and own all his films). The partnership of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp will forever be a movie occasion to treasure, be it Ed Wood or Edward Scissorhands among an enormous number of others. It was the end of 2006 when Dreamworks fast-tracked Burton's latest collaboration with Johnny Depp...and I initially discovered Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The plan was to transform the lucrative Broadway musical into the world of live action cinema. The best part is that Burton promised a full-on musical to maintain a sense of fidelity to Steven Sondheim's brilliant Broadway production. Before the announcement of Burton's cinematic version of the musical, I hadn't possessed any prior knowledge of the source material. I had no idea what the film was about until my interest suddenly flared and research followed.
If you're familiar with the Broadway musical, you'll be aware of the dark humour and gothic style that is such a prominent feature. Sweeney Todd is a story intended for Tim Burton. The director possesses a distinctive superiority when it comes to the macabre and gothic tones. With the completion of creepy period films such as the wondrous Sleepy Hollow, director Burton demonstrated a special ability to deliver dark humour and elegant visuals. Burton is a director who can bring flawed and unusual characters to life. He is the master of darkness and has adapted a penchant for tossing a little blood around his sets in an exaggerated, albeit entertaining manner. Since the beginning of his career, stunning gothic visuals and extravagant production design has been his forte. Sweeney Todd is a film regarding a central character who is a sorrowful, vengeful and formerly caring individual. This character finds redemption for crimes against him and his family by slashing the throats of the innocents of London while hoping to one day slash the throat of the man who stole his wife and daughter from him. What better plot and central character could possibly be better suited for Tim Burton to bring to life?
2007 was a year that beared the release of several great films, but the year also saw its fair share of bad films (in my opinion, there were more bad films than good films throughout the year). Tim Burton's cinematic vision of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a masterpiece of epic proportions, and ultimately ended up being the best film of 2007 without question or debate. After mentioning so much about Burton's brilliant work, I must admit I was a little worried because Burton's last movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was disappointing to say the least. With this film, however, Burton patches up the scars. Like I previously mentioned, I didn't know much about the source material before walking into the cinema and had no idea that this film was going to be so good. Within the first few seconds of the titles commencing, I was completely enthralled in Burton's universe.
The film is so poetic, stylish, beautiful and so incredibly emotional at times as well. Every shot has been conceived beautifully, and every line delivered remarkably. This is a musical of course, so naturally the songs being interesting is a vitality. All the songs are utterly stunning and are crafted beautifully. Combine the witty lyrics of Steven Sondheim with the musical stylings of a successful Hollywood composer...suddenly things are looking interesting. The songs are both memorable and remarkable. I purchased the soundtrack CD immediately and now it's my default channel.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the story of a man named Benjamin Barker (Depp) who once had everything; a wife, a child and a successful career as a barber. For Barker, life could not be better. But a false conviction of a crime he did not commit destroys his happiness and his life, causing him to suffer through a massive, heart-breaking emotional trauma. Upon Barker's London homecoming by boat 15 years later to right the wrongs against him, he comes home to nothing. His family has been ripped apart. He forms an unlikely partnership with Mrs. Lovett (Carter), a creepy old woman who owns a pie shop. Benjamin Barker, who now goes by the name of Sweeney Todd, wants revenge on crooked Judge Turpin (Rickman) who convicted him out of sheer jealously. Sweeney re-opens a barber shop on Fleet Street, with the intention of getting sweet revenge on Turpin if he comes in for a shave. Sweeney uses his sharp silver blades to slash the throats of the innocent London public that come in for a shave, before destroying the evidence of his crimes by allowing the troubled Mrs. Lovett to cook the human corpses into her pies.
From start to finish, I was completely hooked. I literally couldn't tear my eyes away from the screen. Its combination of a superb cast, excellent music, exquisite production design and gorgeous cinematography creates a flawless movie. I remember goose-bumps literally covering my body as soon as the music commenced at the start of the opening credits...the outstanding organ music that successfully creates the desired atmosphere and tone for what is about to come.
Burton's unique colour scheme depicts the grimy streets of London with extremely drained colour that predominantly makes use of grey a black among other dark colours. The sky is always dark, with never a ray of bright sunshine poking through. This is the depressing, gothic mood that the director aimed to achieve. During the flashbacks that depict the events of the past, the colour scheme has been changed to show an array of bright colours as the sun lights the cheery streets. This symbolises Barker's emotions, so to speak. When Barker is happy with his life the colours are bright and joyous. Then when he returns to London and the life he once lived has been destroyed...his depression is reflected in the gloomy visuals.
Johnny Depp, playing the demon barber, is absolutely remarkable. Before this film Depp had never displayed his singing abilities on film. Before he was an actor he played guitar in a band with never an attempt to handle any vocals. If it weren't for his close friend Tim Burton asking him to consider a singing role, he would have gone through his whole career without singing a note. Thankfully, Depp's former career in the music industry allowed him to sing a brilliant tune. Before the film's release, Depp singing was a big question mark. As the film was not marketed as a musical from the previews, we were therefore never given the opportunity to witness the actor handling a song. When I first viewed the film in the cinema (on opening day) I sat in complete awe at the beauty of Johnny Depp's breathtaking singing. The actor was recognised with a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (I still believe he wholly deserved to win). Helena Bonham Carter was the only member of the cast I was reluctant about, but my fears were soon alleviated by her stunning acting skills. She is able to carry on a brilliant duet with co-star Depp. Her singing is amazing. Alan Rickman is brilliant here, as are the rest of the supporting cast. This includes Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen (whose singing is quite incredible), Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener and Ed Sanders. Every member of the cast can sing to perfection.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a brilliant mix of dark humour, horror, romance, drama and tragedy. The ending is very sad, but very poetic at the same time. As the credits start to roll (with every screening I watch) I am a complete mess. Usually tears are escaping my eyes...I'm left speechless and stunned. The film is very violent, and when the exaggerated bloodshed begins it is very relentless and there is no stopping it. With Burton's direction the violence is very stylish and extraordinarily beautiful. Of course Burton's direction is the icing on the cake here. The man is a visionary and a wizard of filmmaking. His films are simply close to unbeatable. I am not a fan of the musical genre (interestingly enough, neither is Burton); however a musical of this superiority is a rare event. With each new screening I am always captivated.
Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a modern masterpiece. It's an acquired taste and will not be liked by all of course, so you're welcome to disagree. Every aspect of the filmmaking is absolutely stunning. Without argument or question, this is the best movie of 2007. Since first watching this film, I cannot prevent myself from indulging in repeated screenings. To date, this is Burton's finest hour. Winner of 2 Golden Globes including Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) and Best Actor (for Johnny Depp).