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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There May Be Blood...but there's no guts

Just back from the screening of Tim Burton's adaptation of Sweeney Todd. My initial reaction: meh.

I wasn't familiar with the stage musical at all, so this is coming from someone with no in-built expectations or point of comparison. It certainly looks great - as you'd expect from Burton - and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter do okay with the vocals (though Depp at times seems to be doing karaoke versions of either Bowie or Rufus Wainwright).

But it's all technical achievement. The two leads are suitably haunted looking, though all this talk that Depp will finally land the Best Actor Oscar are hysterical. His performance is part Edward Scissorhands, part Jack Sparrow, part Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer all minced together and baked in a strikingly average pie.

There's no emotion in it at all. Burton never gets close enough to these characters for us to care - in fact, his direction is quite lazy. The romantic subplot is as limp as they come, and even the revenge theme seems lost in all the action - bizarre, considering that that's Todd's motivation, and the very premise of the whole piece.

It's gory, but ridiculously so. The worst sins though - and you Sondheimites out there prepare to pounce on my philistine ways - are that the songs are just shite. Musically superb no doubt: they're just not catchy, or entertaining whatsoever. In fact, the whole thing comes off as irritatingly, distractingly stagey. Musicals always require a stretch on the audience's behalf, but they should at least be entertaining (like Hairspray for instance). If they don't have that, they will perish. Maybe I'm missing something, but I was left deeply unimpressed.

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