Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Year: 2008
Studio: Dreamworks SKG
Director: Tim Burton
Producer: John Logan
Writer: John Logan/Stephen Sondheim
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
There's something disconcerting about seeing Johnny Depp sing. Not wrong exactly - he is a performer, after all - but it's like you'd imagine it would be to see Jack Nicholson nude. The talent and the task just don't seem to fit.

Not that Depp isn't an able warbler. But it also looks strange watching him inhabit one of his tailor made, Tim Burtonesque roles to such perfection and then be breaking into song all the time.

Of course there was no other way to do it. Sweeney Todd is based on the Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name, so singing is what it's all about. It's both a bizarre and yet a perfectly natural choice for cinema's favourite goth-inspired director.

The dark, seamy streets of industrial-era London with its corruption and filth are to Burton like a toyshop is to a kid, and his visual style is perfectly at home. The musical is much less his style, and we might have expected him to just make the movie and dispense with the music. Maybe he tried but contracts forbade it, Sondheim having resisted adaptation of his zealously guarded work for years.

If you don't know the story, Barker returns to London after being transported to the colonies on trumped up charges by a corrupt judge (Rickman). The judge, with the help of slimy offsider Bamford (Spall), spied a young Barker and his beautiful wife in the street years before and simply wanted Barker out of the picture to woo the lady himself.

Returning years later a broken and embittered man, Barker transforms himself into Todd, renting a room upstairs from Mrs Lovett (Bonham Carter), self-confessed purveyor of the worst meat pies in London. The two form an unholy alliance; Todd sets himself up as a barber, slitting the throats of everyone he thinks should be taken off the streets, and Mrs Lovett cooks them into her soon-to-be famous pies.

It's part of Todd's plan to exact revenge on the man who ruined his life, but there's a moral that comes to light in the last few frames, a cruel turn of fate that reminds us crime doesn't pay.

It's surprisingly gory, with plenty of full frontal throat slittings and liberal claret splashing, and Burton makes it all his own. If anything, it's a bit too much his own, and you start to wonder if he can do any other style or use any other actors besides Depp and main squeeze Bonham Carter. Even Depp himself looks a little too much like Ichabod Crane (The Headless Horseman), Edward Scissorhands and the other iconic characters from his collaborations with Burton.

And keep this in mind; it's a musical. If you groaned and rolled your eyes all to often in Chicago and Hairspray, look forward to the DVD instead, where you can fast forward through the many numbers. If you do like musicals, the cinema screen is seldom the place to see them, oddly flat and not nearly the immersive experience a stage musical is.

On the other hand, if you never thought you'd see the likes of Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman singing, you don't hate musicals and you like Tim Burton, it's worth the price.

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