Oi t’ink Tim Burton’s up to summat in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of a conversation about movies with this blogger is no doubt aware that I like musicals about as much as I like biopics. That is to say, not very much. I do, however, love Tim Burton, and count Ed Wood among my personal favorite films. So if he could make a biopic I can love, I didn’t think it unrealistic to hope that he might melt my cranky moviewatcher’s heart with a musical. But it’s been a long time since Burton has directed a personal project, instead working on existing franchises and remakes like Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He did add a healthy dose of the trademark Burton flavor to each, not to mention key members of his troupe (Helena Bonham Carter in Apes and Johnny Depp in Charlie), but fans like myself are still waiting for the next burst of pure Burton madness in the spirit of Edward Scissorhands.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Oi t’ink he’s up to summat

The Sweeny Todd tale originated in a prose serial form in 1846, and after several permutations, eventually became a stage musical by Stephen Sondheim in 1979. Burton’s 2007 film adaptation doesn’t quite manage to break free of its stagebound, er, staging. Despite the opportunity a film has to expand a play’s world, the action is limited to just a few locations. The rich art direction doesn’t defeat the impression that the whole thing was shot on a small soundstage. Speaking of art direction, Burton’s vision of late 19th century London is very colorful, provided that that color is blue. That said, it isn’t long before a few generous gallons of red are splashed about the place.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
And now, the chewing of scenery, for your delight & edification

Timothy Spall, once of Mike Leigh’s British kitchen sink dramas, continues to indulge in the new scenery-chewing persona he developed as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films. Helena Bonham Carter looks like she just stepped out of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Sascha Baron Cohen sports no less than two outrageous accents.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street joined Waitress in the most unlikely mini genre of 2007: movies about pie shops. But while Waitress was a largely cutesy concoction, Sweeney Todd adds to the recipe a preoccupation with vengeful cannibalism a la The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover.

And finally, a technical note: the DVD edition suffers from an unusually uneven audio mix. The music is far, far louder than dialogue sequences, so be prepared to drive your remote control volume switch throughout.

If all bad movies could be this bad: Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space

Glorious! A masterpiece! Three cheers for Edward D. Wood, Jr.: writer, director, editor, and genuine auteur! Don’t let the no-stars rating fool you; this was so much more fun than some of our other no-stars, recently including The Wind in the Willows.

If only all bad movies were this bad. Seriously, it’s impossible to consciously make a cult film by expensively camping it up (as Tim Burton tried with Mars Attacks) or playing it straight (read Esquire nail exactly how Snakes on a Plane is misconceived). And I don’t mean to dump on Tim Burton; not coincidentally his eponymous Ed Wood is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I think one of Burton’s best. I do, however, mean to dump on Snakes on a Plane.

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Ever know you’ve seen a movie, but can’t really remember it? So after seeing the Tim Burton remake, I decided to put the original on my Netflix queue because I just couldn’t spark the brain cells that contained my recollections of it.

This is the first of two posts that are bound to upset friends… this one will surely hurt the feelings of H the Mean Teacher. First I come down hard on Nirvana, and now I am ambivalent about one of her favorite movies! For that I’m sorry, but I think I can mitigate the damage by briefly explaining my rating system.

In a word, it’s subjective. I’m not trying to be a film critic (or rather, what a film critic ought to be, in a perfect world), whose job it is to evaluate a film’s quality and achievement in light of a deep knowledge of world cinema and then leaven it with a personal perspective. Rather, my ratings are the inverse: the personal response first, and then a consideration of the movie’s history and general critical consensus. I wouldn’t necessarily give an acknowledged classic a high rating if I personally didn’t care for it.

So, I gave this one 3 stars even though it enjoys a cult following that will no doubt gang up on me on the street and pelt me with Everlasting Gobstoppers while chanting the “Oompa Loompa” theme tune. I did like the bit where Wonka spookily intones “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” I could swear that has been sampled in some electronica track, although can’t for the life of me remember which. Sounds like something The Orb would seize on, but I’m not sure. Anyone? (an aside: The Future Sound of London sampled the movie dialogue “Everybody on line… Lookin’ good,” and for some reason I always mentally associated it with Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest. Until one day, I’m watching Aliens… and there it is, out of the mouth of a colonial marine.)

Sorry to add insult to injury, Mean Teacher, but I also must say here that I unexpectedly loved the Tim Burton remake.