Sweeney Todd Movie: a sort of review

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I usually don't review things in a form that's not a script, but to that level I usually don't review movies, so...

Last night I had the pleasure to see the new Sweeney Todd movie at Ziegfeld theater in midtown. If you've never been to the Ziegfeld for an opening weekend of a movie, it's something worth experiencing. Particularly for musicals; there's nothing like having 1100 people actually clap after a great musical number or, in last night's case, when Steven Sondheim's name flashed onscreen during the credits.

I love musicals; I hate movie musicals. I wasn't brought up on any of the classic early-era movie musicals, and I frankly get bored onscreen when somebody bursts out into song/dance. For the most part I just find movie musicals to be stupid. I do admit I liked Chicago, but mostly "despite" the fact that it was a musical. "Mr. Cellophane" and whatever Queen Latifah sings bored me to tears. Disney cartoons can animate themselves out of this mess; live-action can't. Musicals need a total rethinking when moving to screen (hear me, Susan Stroman?), because nobody wants to watch a love song in a movie sung by two people who are standing still on a platform or whatever.

What the new Sweeney movie did was actually deal with this. Every song that is normally just somebody singing onstage was either cut, shortened or--in more cases than not--reconceived. If you don't mind a few being mildly ruined for you:
  • A Little Priest now has Sweeney and Lovett looking out the window of her shop, getting ideas of who to cook based on the britfolk walking by.
  • Epiphany (as you've seen in the previews) has Sweeney walking out into the streets singing with anger at the passersby, and the ending to this is even better than the Broadway show.
  • By The Sea, the song that usually bores me most (at least in the original cast) becomes a hilarious dream montage and is, perhaps, the highlight of the entire musical (and what one friend described as "Johnny Depp's best acting in the entire movie", and he means that in the good way)
And so on. I only felt that "this song is long and I'm getting bored" once, and it was during "Wait". And that feeling lasted for about all of five seconds, so I'm apparently just really impatient.

But what's most important is that the tone is right. At no point does it feel inorganic that these people are breaking out into song. The colors are muted, the music is almost always on, the camera barely stays still and the whole thing brings a tone to the movie that makes your reaction: "wow, this is gothic!... oh yeah right and they're singing". The changes and added scenes and plot reconfigurations are all superb, Anthony and Joanna and Tobias are all now closer to the ages they ought to be, and the whole thing is cast perfectly.

A few final things to note:
  • This thing is fantastically bloody and violent. The Broadway versions cannot compare to the blood and gore here. It's not just Kill Bill Volume 1, it really may get you to wince once or twice.
  • I miss "Kiss Me", and yet am still glad they took it out.
  • I miss the opening "Ballad of Sweeney Todd", but think the removal works perfectly.
  • I cannot forgive them for not running "Ballad" over the ending credits... there's no reason for that.
The point is, go see Sweeney Todd. Preferably with an audience. It was nothing short of phenomenal and is, in my not-always-humble opinion, the finest movie musical ever made, no contest.

P.S. So there's a deluxe soundtrack, and a highlights soundtrack, and they differ by a booklet and four songs?
P.P.S. There's also suddenly quite a lot of novelizations, companion books, and unofficial books about the subject now aren't there?
P.P.P.S. I've heard they've already put out a casting call with the intent of bringing Sweeney back to Broadway ASAP.

3 Comments

What time did you see it last night? I also saw it at the Ziegfeld last night!!
7PM. Heck of a crowd. Was yours that or the 10:30?I loved how each of the actors and directors got applause, and then how Sondheim's name came up and the applause was wild. Then immediately after, same with Jonathan Tunick.And by the time they got to the lighting rig guy or whoever was next, we were all so excited that we clapped for him too.
Oh, no. I saw it at 9:55pm.They only clapped for Sondheim, and I think also for Tunick as well.I was hoping they would also clap for Burton, but they didn't. Weird.But over all, still one of the best movies of the year, and most probably the best movie musical I've ever seen.

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