Torch Online reviews: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

It is no secret to anyone: Tim Burton knows dark. Tim Burton is dark. The director has made quite a name for himself though the dark stories he tells, from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to his latest, “Sweeney Todd.” Burton has plenty of adaptations under his belt but has never tackled anything like this, as “Sweeney Todd” was originally a Broadway show. But unlike the travesty known as “Planet of the Apes,” this adaptation works out incredibly well with the involvement of Stephen Sondheim and an incredible cast.

In the mid-19th century, Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) is leading a normal life as a barber with his beautiful wife Lucy and their daughter. But the insidious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) has his eye on Lucy and has Barker thrown out of the country on false charges. He returns 15 years later as Sweeney Todd, on the hunt for revenge.

Aiding him on his way is Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a widowed pie maker known for having the worst pies in London. Lovett has ideas of a romance with him but Todd is blinded and bent on revenge. As he slashes throats to achieve that revenge, Mrs. Lovett boosts her business by mixing in the human remains into her pies.

On the other side of things, a sailor named Anthony (Jamie Bower), who helped Todd get into town, falls in love with a girl named Johanna. However, she is being imprisoned by Turpin and his henchman Beadle Bumford.

Seeing Todd as a friend, he begs for his help and when Todd finds out who’s holding her, he goes along with it.

Of the many things the film does well, the singing is where it shines brighter than most. Sondheim is not one to let anybody adapt his work on a whim. Although he was the title character, Depp was hired on before they heard his voice but gained full approval after the fact. Depp and Carter sound amazing together. They belt out Sondheim’s lyrics beautifully and capture the emotion just right- and the humor too. Rickman has his turns and does well, as do Bower and a few others, but Depp and Carter are really the ones to shine. And of all the great numbers throughout the film, there may be nothing greater than Depp singing so powerfully to his blades.

Given Burton’s background, it doesn’t seem it was too hard for him to capture the mood of a darkened London. But what would a Sweeney Todd be without massive amounts of blood and death? Instead of copping out and not showing much, Burton really pushed the R rating and delivered satisfying death sequences, though he may not have necessarily needed to show every body crumple to Mrs. Lovett’s baking oven. Still, they are done well and intensely without being gaudy or unbelievable. And Depp, having plenty of work with blades in Burton’s classic Edward Scissorhands, does an amazing job handling his lovely blades.

Those familiar with the musical won’t be disappointed but will notice significant changes in some aspects. The biggest changes come from the songs, or more likely the lack of certain songs. While a few lines were cut from a couple, a couple of the ballads were completely axed, such as “Lift Your Razor High, Sweeney.” However, fans of the axed songs can at least find solace in the instrumental versions. A couple of the characters were altered as well. Interaction between Turpin and Johanna was notably cut down, as was the homeless woman in the story (without going into any spoilers, just know there is a reason for her to be there).

Finally, the foghorn after each death isn’t included. That may be for the best though, as there is a semi-montage of Todd killing numerous strangers within a few minutes.

Even though it is the holiday season and a time for joy and whatnot, “Sweeney Todd” is one hell of an alternative to all of that.

Burton fans will enjoy this new work of his thoroughly and fans of the show will not be disappointed. Those who have never seen the show will be in for great treat. With a terrific cast and great teamwork between Burton and Sondheim, “Sweeney Todd” is a definite must-see.

3.5/4 stars