Monday, December 24, 2007

The Singing Killer

I am a huge Tim Burton fan. For those who know me well, that's a bit of an understatement. I believe the man can do no wrong. (We’ll just ignore that little blip called Planet of the Apes.) I’m also a big fan of musicals. I know that it’s unnatural for people to just bust out into song in the middle of the street, but it’s just so damn entertaining, I can't help but love it.

So, when a Tim Burton musical opens, there's no way I'm missing it. And I'm probably going to enjoy it out of sheer principle.

Johnny Depp stars as Sweeney Todd, formally Benjamin Barker, a talented barber who’s returned to London after being imprisoned by the sinister Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Upon his return, Todd discovers his wife poisoned herself and his daughter is now the ward of the judge. With the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), Mr. Todd seeks vengeance on the judge and every one else that’s done wrong in the cutting their throats. To properly dispose of his pile of bodies, Mrs. Lovett cooks them in her soon-to-be-famous meat pies.

There’s tons and tons and tons of candy-apple red blood, enhanced sounds of arteries opening and necks crunching, and of course, there’s plenty of singing.

I never really doubted it, but it was still a very pleasant surprise to hear Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter not only carry a note but sound like real singers. Depp's rock 'n' roll take on the Sweeney Todd character made it more his own. Bonham Carter's dainty voice worked well to counteract Mrs. Lovett's creepy cooking methods.

Then there's Alan Rickman. It could very well just be me, but the man should really, really stick to talking. Who would expect a man with such a lovely speaking voice to have such a grating singing voice? During the "Pretty Women" duet with Depp, I found myself hoping for a throat slashing just to get him to stop.

Acting and singing aside, the star of Sweeney Todd is the set design. As with all Burton films, the look is highly stylized and slightly surreal. All the bright colors are muted and swallowed by the grays, making London into the “whole in the world like a great black pit” of which Sweeney sings. The best, and oddest, sets are those presented during Mrs. Lovett’s song “By the Sea.” As she sings of the life she could lead, the audience is taken on a visual acid trip. Technicolor skies, super white beaches, with brightly colored costumes abound, and there in the middle of it all, are the dark-eyes and pale faces of Todd and Mrs. Lovett. I was sort of giddy with the look of the whole thing. If nothing else, Burton definitely knows how to give your eyes solid entertainment.

Sweeney Todd is not my favorite Tim Burton film. It’s very good, but it's not spectacular. I also think Burton fans who have trouble with people bursting into song may find some fault with this one. No matter how dark and twisted and splattered with blood a movie is, when people sing whilst walking down the street, some moviegoers are simply turned off.

If you're anything like me, and you do love a good musical, see this movie. The grandiose sets and magnificent costumes are worth seeing on the big screen. Besides, the blood spattering just isn't the same without the THX sound.

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