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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Sweeney Todd

A standout movie released this summer was Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which tells the tale of Benjamin Barker and his lust for vengeance.

Years after Judge Turpin wrongly deports Barker to Australia and steals his wife and daughter, Barker returns to the streets of London to seek revenge. Reopening his barber shop, he guarantees the closest shave patrons will ever know.

This tale of vengeance and slaughter could not have fallen into better hands, but it’s worth remembering the story has been around long before Burton could sink his blade into it. Sweeney’s tragic and frightening tale first emerged from a story written around 1847, and has popped up all over the place since. It had been adapted into a ballet, a 1936 film, a children’s story, and a play, all before Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler wrote the 1979 Broadway musical upon which Burton then based his film.

Sondheim’s fantastic score helps along a few shaky actors who perhaps were not built for the musical stage. The art department is clearly worthy of the Oscar they picked up. But Burton, along with his usual cronies Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, is probably the only director in Hollywood who could have pulled this film off.

The combination of musical and horror isn’t one that’s done too often, but Burton makes this gothic tale brimming with insanity work. By the end, it is much more than a story of vengeance: the plot delves into the psychology of a man torn between lust for revenge and lust for death, until the final scene in the basement plays out the old adage: “Be careful what you wish for.”

All in all it’s great to see Burton back in his element. I mean, I loved Big Fish, but with this film it seems that the master of the macabre is finally back.


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