Friday, January 4, 2008

SWEENEY TODD - Another View

In the interest of objectivity, another opinion from an old friend back in Lancaster, PA.

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From John Malone, Sat., 22 December 2007

I went to Sweeney Todd yesterday afternoon. I hadn't seen a movie on the first day since Forrest Gump.

I thought it was thrilling and magnificent, quite possibly a great movie - which for me means that a film has to seem just as remarkable with multiple viewings. I'd see this one again today.

The singing is not Broadway style, but I had no problems with it at all. Both of Sweeney's most important songs, "My Friends" and "Epiphany" gave me chills. The conclusion to "My Friends" is also a stunning cinematic moment that almost brought tears to me eyes it was so perfect and, in its way, transcendent, one of those rare shots that seem to sum up an entire film.

The acting is brilliant, as are the set and costume design, and the cinematography. However, given your feelings about gore, it might be a trial for you. It is very bloody, and the disposal of the bodies two stories down the chute is bone-crunchingly specific. I winced a couple of times, but I think one should, even though on the whole the bloodiness is stylized to a considerable degree. One touch that helps put the gore in context is that Sweeney is shown building the chair and the chute in a way that, as one critic put it, is a succinct visual summation of the industrial revolution.

On the musical front, the full symphony orchestra treatment of the music makes it seem more remarkable than ever - the orchestration and conducting were in the hands of Sondheim's original partners, Tunick and Gemignani. It has now come out that Sondheim was deeply involved all the way through, so the few purists who complained about missing songs or verses need to take it up with Stephen himself. The movie flies by - there is no point where one feels that one is watching a "number."

As you may know, with more than 130 reviews available at Rotten Tomatoes, the score is 87% positive, with many flat-out raves; almost all the naysayers don't like Sondheim to start with. The medium-sized audience I saw it with was mostly late teens and early 20s. They responded to the funny moments (of which there are still quite a number), seemed mesmerized start to finish and applauded at the end. I have a feeling word of mouth is going to help a lot in terms of box-office and that the take will go up next weekend.

So what it comes down to is that if you can steel yourself for the bloodletting, it is an extraordinary film - but you will have to steel yourself for that.

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John Malone has written more than 50 books on subjects ranging from the Civil War and the history of science to show business. His articles on the movies have appeared in several publications, including the New York Times Sunday "Arts and Leisure" section. With Paul Dennis Baldwin (who starred in the first summer theater production of Sweeney Todd in 1982), John co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Acting.

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