Sweeney Todd

January 7th, 2008 § 2 comments


Last Friday night Karen and I went to the movies and saw and heard Sweeney Todd.

It was fantastic.

It was horrible.

When we got home I tried to write about the show while the memory was still fresh for me, but I couldn’t put my finger on the essence of the experience until I spoke with Karen, who totally nailed it. I can’t do any better, so I’ll paraphrase:

You’re captured by the music – and then the music holds you there squirming while it forces you to go along for the ride.

It forces you to look at something you would ordinarily look away from.

It’s like being water-boarded or something. A near drowning experience. Exquisite torture.

Not exactly a high recommendation. But I agree.

The music was GREAT, and there is a lot of music and song in this film. Stephen Sondheim‘s score and Jonathan Tunick‘s orchestrations are superb. The actors did a fine job with the material. Here we have the gold standard for the craft of musical drama at this point in the progression of Western Civilization.


As I write I listen to the Soundtrack CD I received for Christmas from my daughter. It is really very very good. If you buy the soundtrack album, get the delux version, which includes a very nice little booklet with all the lyrics and some still images from the movie. It’s worth the extra money to have Sondheim’s lyrics in print.

I feel the need to repeat myself here. The music I heard in the movie theater tonight is incredibly beautiful, and I expect to listen – at times to studiously listen – to these songs and orchestrations in a state of blissed out awe, always dazzled, always amazed at the brilliance and the restraint – by the sheer mastery of the craft of writing musical drama.

In fact, I hope and expect to write more at theWheel about Sondheim and Sweeney Todd and Jonathan Tunick and orchestration and so forth.

I should mention that the movie sounded great too. It was really well recorded.

But what about…?

(I will, however, have to speak to the movie theater management, as from time to time there were audible pops and distortions in the audio and streaks that appeared to be scratches, if such things are even possible in this digital world, in the picture.)

How were the actors, and could they sing?

Johnny Depp was brilliant, and I mean BRILLIANT as Sweeney Todd. Everybody else, including some singing actors who have received less than stellar reviews from other quarters, IMHO did a really fine job. I know they did good , as I found myself much involved with the characters at the end of the film. The story structure worked, and was well realized by the director and cast.


Problem is, it’s a really unpleasant story. If it weren’t for my composerly interest in the score and orchestrations, I would have surely stayed home.

I will not see it again. (Well maybe – my daughter really wants to see it. She says she’ll just close her eyes if it gets too rough. She’s a Johnny Depp fan…)

Maybe you shouldn’t go to this one. No review would be complete without mentioning that the last half of the film is preoccupied with graphic images of the main character, with whom we have been lead to sympathize, bloodily – oh, so bloodily – murdering men by slitting their throats with a razor.

It makes a real mess.

Oh, right. Then they dump them down a chute to the basement where they are presumably butchered (we don’t get to watch this, though we do eventually get to see some pretty gruesome human remains) and served up to the Public in pies.

This is all pretty unpleasant.

I spent the last 30 to 40 minutes of the movie cringing and acutely uncomfortable. I don’t like to cringe. I don’t like acute discomfort.

Why did Sondheim do this to us?

Stephen Sondheim Interview.

A couple more cool video links (scroll down – they are still there – I checked 1.9.11):

Opening Credits

Behind The Scenes Featurette: The Look

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§ 2 Responses to Sweeney Todd"

  • […] watch and listen to Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter on the same tune in the recent movie musical. It’s really Sweeney’s moment here, and Depp gets what Sondheim was going […]

  • Hi, Dan. Thank you for considering this film… I, too, actually went to the movies and saw this…

    meanwhile the film currently getting plenty of directorial accolades is entitled “There Will Be Blood.” I wonder how that one ends…

    More film and music comments… Sweeney Todd from 30 years ago…
    Posted by Peter D on 12/27/2007, 2:11 pm

    30 years ago? This story is older than that. There’s no place like London…

    Somewhere along the line, the story made a quantum leap to LIFE… the characters became alive from their relatable drives and passions. It’s probably the songs, but maybe something more from the … poetics?

    Imagine a new movie delivering this level of musical intensity. (I probably wouldn’t recognize it until 30 years later.) ..anyway…

    The CONTEXT in which a standard song like Pretty Women is delivered adds to it another dimension, both hilarious and intense.

    Following the what, the coitis interruptus at the barber chair between the barber and his customer, there’s the rage, then the waltz, then the
    great montage, one of my favorite musical moments, which begins with a reprise of the song, Johanna, as an intro to a new song and a series of
    throat slicings, followed by the re-opening of the pie shop…

    I’ll bet Ms. Bonham Carter has a nasal Broadway vocal somewhere in her. Anyway, she’s so cute and scary… the whole cast is that …

    The film is a great addition to the basic great score which includes a miraculous book. I am a fan of REAL TIME… Many shattering events
    follow from the song, “No One’s Going to Harm You” to the ending credits, and they basically happen in REAL TIME…

    Allan Rickman is remarkable, a great vulnerable foil for Johnny Depp, who appears as someone already familiar to many of us.

    Sasha Borat Cohen still needs to play Saddam Hossain…

    The film magnificently delivers the orchestral strains of the score.

    The voices work well. Good sound blend!

    This film successfully layers a new level of creativity upon the other layers.

    It’s a good new film from Warner Brothers! Congratulations Mr. Burton and Mr. Sondheim!!

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