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Johnny Depp sings! And 'Sweeney Todd' rocks!

November 14, 2007 | 10:47 pm

After months of breathless anticipation — Can Johnny Depp sing? Has director Tim Burton used Sweeney Todd's vile razor to cut out the heart and soul of a classic by gutting one hour of the original Broadway musical? — Burton finally unveiled a huge slice (17 minutes) of his film adaptation of a Broadway masterpiece to a screaming crowd at Lincoln Center Wednesday night.

The verdict based upon the crowd's riotous ovation at the end: "Sweeney Todd" is a serious contender to win the Oscar for best picture, just as I've been telling you for months.

Sweeney

Oh, yes, and Johnny handles the singing just fine. He'll never croon arias at the Metropolitan Opera, but he manages to carry the tunes and thus sustain the dramatic thrust of a story that would be as emptied of blood as Sweeney's victims if he didn't. Clearly, he muddles through here and there and no doubt much digital trickery was used in the sound edit bay after filming to fix weak spots, but he's no Lucy Ball butchering "Mame," hallelujah. Even at those peak moments when he can't dodge aiming for the high notes of "Joanna" — while "Sweeney" Broadway nuts like me wince in the audience, knowing they're coming, and fearing the worst — he nails it. Not magnificently, not like when Tony winner Len Cariou or Emmy winner George Hearn performed the score with roof-rattling bravado, but capably.

In a very large way, Burton re-invented the Broadway Sweeney. Sweeney's no longer a bedraggled, haggard, frumpy old man who'd be little noticed on the streets of old London, but rather a dashing young Johnny Depp with a shock of white hair that sprung from his brain after suffering the horror of being imprisoned for 18 years on a bogus charge. (That's the reason Depp gives for his skunk hair look — it's really not meant to be a rip-off of "Bride of Frankenstein," he claims.)

And much of Mrs. Lovett's role has been slashed out, deliberately, even though she was largely the heart and soul of the original musical and even though the part is now played on screen by Burton's fiancé, Helena Bonham Carter. Curiously, Mrs. Lovett is reinvented dramatically, too — she isn't noticeably wacko on film like she was portrayed on stage by Angela Lansbury with goofy expressions, crossed eyes and squealing voice. Carter's Mrs. Lovett seems to be a centered, lonely woman with confidence and carriage, who is still hopelessly smitten with a fiend who barely realizes she's near. If you've never seen the stage musical, I recommend highly that you purchase a DVD of the L.A. production that was filmed by Showtime in 1982 starring Lansbury and Hearn (who took over Sweeney's role, which Cariou pioneered on Broadway) — CLICK HERE to see it at Amazon.com — so you can experience both, vastly different versions of a masterwork.

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Burton has re-imagined this Sweeney as a classic Hollywood horror movie in the old melodramatic tradition of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney and it works, creepily so. Listen to his explanation in the podcast chat we had backstage before the screening (CLICK HERE).

But that is what makes this film, as brilliant as it seems to be, an Oscar cliffhanger. Academy voters don't choose horror movies for best picture — they even spurned the few classics that managed to get nominated like "The Exorcist," but they have picked violent movies like last year's "The Departed" and others that celebrated a murderous fiend like Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs." Maybe this time they can now, finally, accept a genre film of the classic horror variety since "Sweeney Todd" proved itself as high art on Broadway first.

Which brings us to the most horrible part of this horror film: the generous spouts and fountains and floods and gushes of blood we see over and over as Sweeney applies his razor to the throats of witless men who innocently step into his upstairs barber shop for a shave.

Yes, the scenes are disgustingly graphic. Burton's camera gets up close so the blood spits right out at the audience as the eyes of Sweeney's victims bug out in terror. But the scenes are so outrageous that they seem unreal, repeated one after another as Sweeney sings of his longing love for his daughter held captive by evil Judge Turpin who sent Sweeney to prison so he could steal his wife. Believe it or not, those throat-slashing scenes aren't the most shocking parts. Worse — what makes the audience shriek and jump from their seats — is watching the bodies drop to the basement through a trap door, landing on their heads, going splat, then we hear the slashed necks crack. Again and again. You can't believe the audacity of this filmmaker as you watch. And you can't help but love Burton for making you cheer on every next flick of Sweeney's revenge-wreaking razor.

If those notoriously squeamish academy members can swallow all the blood and endure the cracking necks in "Sweeney," it will not be another "Dreamgirls," not another Broadway adaptation that flops at the Oscars. This one is a real guys' musical. The mistake I made last year believing so strongly in "Dreamgirls" was forgetting who does the Oscar voting: old white guys who can't, or refuse to, empathize with hip, young black chicks. Those guys have worked long years in a cutthroat biz in Hollywood — Sweeney's their man.

And let us not forget the last musical to win best picture — "Chicago" — a film that asked its audience to cheer on people to get away with murder.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Comments

great movie, great, plot, great music(i didnt know johnny depp could sing, he's good!

i loved this movie, the ending was a little surprizing but it was a reasonable one. and of course, "johnny depp" is the best. johnny depp is one of those actors that's lovable in almost any role he plays,cute even as a seerial killer. i hope that doesnt sound too creepy. i also liked the plot of the movie. A GOOD MOVIE TO SEE OVER AND OVER AGAIN!

the way Sweeney Todd was written was exstemley unique!! Butt.....! It was not the feel good movie of the year. Well, usuallly thrillers, and horror films do not have happy endings. It was still nice to see a change in my routine of which movies I see, and which movies I don't see! Johnny Depp, and Carter are some of my favorite actors, and actresses. they show how the world can be different, and unique. Also the actors, and actresses in Sweeney Todd not only show darkness, and revenge in a more unique way, they also show some of the realness in the world, and how cruel it can be!!

All this hogwash about them cutting Mrs. Lovett's character is total fabricated heresay. I've seen the whole movie in a test screening. Almost all of Lovett's material is in the movie, including the very expendible song "Wait." (I was shocked they kept it) I don't know who started this rumor. Whether Carter's performance makes the character less pronounced is a different matter but she, as a charcater, is in no way "cut." As for Oscars, I think it should be a sure-fire nominee....it deserves to be, especially for Depp and Burton. Maybe it's just too bloody...(and too bloody brillant!)

HAVE A LITTLE PRIEST! AND A FEW OSCARS TOO!
GOOD LUCK TO THE MARINE, FOP, AND THE VICOR!

WOULD LOVE TO SEE JOHNNY WALK OFF WITH AN OSCAR ...HE'S DUE!

Without the comic relief of Mrs Lovett, I think the movie will be too dark and brooding.

Wow, still have that urge to mention Dreamgirls in your article eh Tom? Wow, the Dreamgirls debacle still being resurrected. I hope this will be this year's Dreamgirls... or Charlie Wilson's War.. or both!

Stephen Holt (Steve Holt!!) ... just wanted to clear a few things up. Cut an hour of music? Are you kidding? The stage show is just over two hours, and the film is just under two hours. Tim only cut a few songs. Sure the ballads are gone, but technically they aren't because the orchestration alone is played instead. (And the orchestration for the film all around is magnificent. Instead of 20-some musicians, it's 76.) And everyone who has seen it says they hardly notice the cuts. I even forgot about Johanna's section in "Johanna", lol. Anyway, Tim left a lot in that could have been easily cut and we all should be thanking him. Especially since the director previously considered was going to have it be about 20% musical - if that.

I know a lot of Sondheim fans who have gone to the screenings and not one has complained. They believe it to be the adaptation we've all been waiting for. I mean, what do you want? The stage musical on film? That'd be quite pointless. The film is it's own thing and everyone needs to accept that.

And one last thing...look like Helena's going lead. Her part in the movie was not trimmed according to others; Especially since all of Lovett's songs are in.

Just stay optimistic. :)

it's official: tom o'neill is the perez hilton of awards blogs

17 minutes and you're judging this.
This is what tabloid culture has done.
Why do you even want to see this movie
all you seem to want are trailers, awards,
and to be correct about how you predict
awards.

I have never seen "Sweeney Todd" the play but have become interested in the movie because of your strong support. I too like Johnny Depp and think his acting, if not his singing, will carry the film. I usually don't like films with "buckets of blood" (I don't go to slasher movies) but I will make an exception for this film.

I think most people marveled at the Dreamgirls aesthetic when it first premiered (costumes, staging) but no one was head over heels for it (just for J.Hud).

Tom, I hope you're right because this is an awful lot of posts to try and justify if it doesn't win (or even make the top 5 nominees).

I was at this event last night and was one of the many standing and yelling 'bravo' after the 17 minutes of awesome cinema. This is going to be AMAZING and Tim Burton is the master. Hopefully, Johnny Depp will finally get the Oscar he deserves. Bring on Sweeney!

I'm glad the audience, and you, reacted so ecstatically to the excerpted scenes at Lincoln Center last night. But 17 minutes of exciting scenes does not a movie make. And they've all but cut Mrs. Lovett, Helena Bonham Carter, out of the movie??? THAT sounds like a mistake...But I hope the film is as exciting as you make it out to be...Sondheim's music & lyrics have never worked on film...But he cut AN HOUR of music out??? Sounds like a radical re-editing of "Classical" Bway material.But I still think it's a hard sell,to the Academy and to audiences...However, if Johnny Depp does pull this off, with the singing and all, the Academy will just HAND him the Oscar. They're ready and waiting and he's long overdue, and everybody who works with him, loves him...

And Helena Bonham Carter, in what was once an award-winning role? Sounds like she's in Supporting Actress, if she's anywhere...

Me, I was at "Young Frankenstein" last night on Bway. Had the press tickets for months, and couldn't change them to see "Sweeney." It was MUCH more fun than the critics made it out to be and what's really wrong with it is Roger Bart as Dr. Frankenstein. Once HIS part of the show is out of the way(1st half of the first act) and the rest of the talented cast takes over it gets increasingly more fun. Christopher Fitszgerald, especially as the hunchback and Andrea Martin really work to get over Bart's non-singing, nerve-wracking screeching, and then when the Monster and Megan Mullally take over at the end it's divine. Their love song?
"Deep Love, Firm Love. Long Love" = Divine! Hysterical!

But I digress! Good luck to "Sweeney"! I hope the rest of the film is as good as these excerpted scenes seem to be...

Has anybody else noticed that the trailer tries to hide the fact it's a musical. There's about two lines of singing in it.

I think Sweeny Todd will do well come nominations time, it has Depp who is truly respected and I think it'll be a much deserved boost for Burton. On the Dreamgirls side I predicted that would not make a best picture or or a best director showing because of partly what Tom said which you could award nominations for Hudson and Murphy, but the film was not one of the five best pictures of the year and I am glad it did not get the nomination.

Didn't everyone say the same thing about Dreamgirls after the 17 minute clip premiered at Cannes?

So are you convinced now Tom, that Johnny Depp doesn't just "sing talk"? I'm assuming you were in NY to see this? If you're this excited after seeing only 17 minutes, imagine what it will be like when you see it from start to finish.Having attended a screening a few weeks ago, you get used to the blood after awhile---it's a character in itself! Thanks for your continued support of the film.


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