Monday, November 5, 2007

‘Sweeney would blink, and rats would scuttle’

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2007 at 8:30 PM

Could this be an Oscar campaign for Sweeney Todd? I’ve got my fingers crossed that Tim Burton’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Grand Guignol musical will be good. The hype is definitely getting started. Literally in the past week I’ve seen a New York Times article about it, an Entertainment Weekly cover story on it (as part of its holiday movie preview package), Harry Knowles' review in Ain't It Cool News, and the L.A. Times' Tom O'Neill prediction that it will win Best Picture and could sweep all four major categories (despite his not having seen the film). Apparently he made a similar prediction about Dreamgirls last year and has a not-quite-justifiable bias toward musicals as Oscar winners. All for a movie that's opening nationwide around Christmas Day.

Sondheim has given the film a public endorsement (which may only mean that it’s not bad enough for him to disavow it) but said it’s significantly different from the musical show. Apparently “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” a recurring number from the show and one of the best, has been cut. (This clip is from the beginning of the 1982 version with Angela Lansbury.) The leads (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, etc.) all look perfect for the dramatic aspects of their part, but most have little or no musical theater experience. Reportedly, Depp avoided formal voice training and sought to find Sweeney's singing voice essentially “on his own,” in a way that was more "punk rock" (I'm taking his quote a little out of context), which probably either will turn out to be brilliant or foolhardy.

What might bode ill is that the trailer seems to be trying to downplay that it’s a musical. That makes me nervous.

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