Sometimes, stage adaptations just go haywire. On that note, May I present “The 103 Thoughts I Had While Watching Sweeney Todd in 2017,” by Kiki Penoyer.
I’m having trouble deciding on a subtitle for this one. What do y’all think sounds best:
- 10 Years Ago: Sweeney Todd – On a Scale From ‘Russell Crowe as Javert’ to ‘Richard Gere as Billy Flynn’, We’re All About a 4.
- 10 Years Ago: Sweeney Todd – Now With 75% Fewer Jokes!
- 10 Years Ago: Sweeney Todd – Just Watch the 2001 Concert Version with Patti LuPone Instead, It’s Way Better!
- 10 Years Ago: Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Skeet Skeet.
Sound off in the comments.
Before we get into the movie itself (and we are gonna GET INTO IT), let’s you and me take a quick sidebar to discuss some preeeeetty crucial differences between Seeing This Movie in 2007 and Seeing This Movie in 2017.
To get it out of the way immediately: in 2007, I, one of exactly four people who liked Secret Window, lined up to see this movie at the midnight release.
As of 2017, news has come to light that the star of Secret Window, who is also the star of Sweeney Todd, is an abusive dirtbag unworthy of our time and attention.
He shall therefore not be mentioned by name in this review, nor his image used.
More importantly: International Treasure Alan Rickman is in this garbage fire of a film, and in spite of not being a capital-s Singer, he embraced the Grand Ol’ Operetta feel of the source material and treated every second of this shit screenplay like it was Shakespeare.
In 2017, the world is a darker and shittier place as a result of the untimely loss of this exemplar of devotion to the artistry of creative work.
RIP Colonel Brandon.
To help us combat our Alan Rickman feels, my watching buddy (my beautiful beautiful maid of honor, Rachel Addington, who is a celestial empress with the voice of an angel and whose website is here and everyone should cast her in everything always because she is PERFECTION) and I followed it up with lighthearted holiday romcom A Christmas Prince.
Unusual pairing, you say? NOT SO. The two films actually have a lot in common:
- A Christmas Prince is Netflix’s take on the Hallmark Christmas Movie empire and the grocery-store pulp romance novels from which it spawned, which are typically mass-produced, under-complicated stories traditionally marketed towards young women. The original Sweeney Todd play was based on A String of Pearls, a serialized penny dreadful, which were typically pulpy, mass-produced, under-complicated stories traditionally marketed towards young men.
- Both films relied heavily on viral marketing campaigns but released very little footage of their respective films with the trailer/press packages in the runup to their release, leading to confused and sometimes angry reactions of people who watched either film thinking it was something else entirely.
- Both films are really really bad.
The main difference between them, however, is that I hated A Christmas Prince ever so slightly less. Because yes, it’s a BAD fucking movie—but as a film that had studied its genre very meticulously and sought to present a well-researched addition to a very particular collection, it was, in its way, highly successful.
The same can’t be said for Sweeney Todd, whose source material I’m not entirely sure everyone involved even read once all the way through.
I could literally write you a dissertation on what was wrong with this adaptation. But nobody has time for that shit these days, so instead, I’ve written you a Buzzfeed-style Listicle:
The 103 Thoughts I Had While Watching Sweeney Todd in 2017
- Why are these opening graphics so cartoonish…? Is this a semi-animated Sweeney Todd? This looks like video game graphics.
- Tbh I’d play a Sweeney Todd video game tho.
- SWIIING YOUR RAZOR WIIIIIDE, SWEEEEENEY. UNLOCK TURBO MOOOOOOOODE.
- Oh wait except we cut the fucking ballad for some reason even though that’s like, the theatrical device that makes this whole show work.
- This blood-on-the-gears motif is so on-the-nose it’s absurd. And it also never gets followed up on at any point in this damn movie. So why is this here.
- Tonight the part of Sweeney Todd will be played by the Vengeful Ghost of Robert Kardashian.
- Lmfao @ the digitally removed wrinkles on his face tho like we don’t all know how fucking old he is.
- Not contact lenses, though. Those can stay in the shot. Vār Victorian.
- Antony listen. Listen. Get better friends.
- Oh look digital rats, how droll.
- Pause while I close all the curtains and turn off every light in the house and turn the brightness up on my screen by 3000% so I can see what the fuck is going on in any of these dark-ass shots.
- Oh look, Mrs. Lovett with Hot Topic Mesh Gloves.
- “WAIT, what’s your rush, what’s your hurry?!” she shouts. As a man stands awkwardly stock-still in her doorway and appears to have zero intention of moving anywhere.
- Why are you wearing mesh fingerless gloves while you roll out dough?
- Mary Berry would not approve of this AT. ALL.
- Also why is she whispering every line now???
- Like Mrs. Lovett is many things but idk that I’d call her much of a whisperer.
- Is the camera aware she is singing? Bc 2/3rds of these shots have been of Spooky Bob Kardashian’s awkward-clown reactions to things and not on the person actually singing rn.
- Okay so this flashback sequence was supposedly 15 years ago, but with the exception of the bad Bride of Frankenstein wig, no time seems to have passed because of how aggressively we’re digitally removing the wrinkles on his face. I don’t understand this choice.
- Lmao yeah man, sure, if my husband got smacked in the head and dragged away while we were picking out chard at the fucking farmer’s market, I sure would just stand there helplessly staring at him and not do or say anything about it.
- These really inconsistent cockney accents have GOT to be stopped.
- Lmao did anyone tell Alan Rickman he was supposed to be playing a full-time scumbag and to leave the Colonel Brandon face at home?
- …and now he’s Dracula, apparently, swooping in on random Helpless Women at parties? This is a weird choice.
- Listen. Helena Bonham Carter is a phenomenally talented actress. She’s clearly struggling with the score. Why are you putting her through this?
- THE SCENE TRANSITIONS DON’T WORK WITHOUT THE BALLAD, SORRY, THIS IS JUST AWKWARD AND WEIRD IT’S LIKE WHY ARE YOU CUTTING AWAY AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME I DON’T UNDERSTAND
- Also why are you putting this girl through having to sing a major soprano number SITTING DOWN AND WEARING A CORSET.
- Breath Support is a thing!! IT MATTERS!
- Good to see Timmy found a use for Christina Ricci’s costume, wig, and makeup after Sleepy Hollow, though.
- That Spooky Porcelain Doll aesthetic sure is the right choice every time.
- “Green Finch and Linnet Bird, Nightingale, Blackbird, how is it you sing?” she asks, of exactly one bird in the room, and not the entire market of birds in which this number is actually set.
- “…nothing there sings, not even my lark—” Okay but that’s literally what it was doing a second ago and that’s why you started singing?
- “Larks never will, you know, when they’re captive; teach ME to be more adaptive.” She. SINGS. INSIDE. THE HOUSE. And not IN THE BIRD MARKET WHERE THIS NUMBER IS SET BECAUSE JOHANNA DOESN’T FEEL SAFE SINGING AT HOME WHICH IS WHAT THIS SONG IS ABOUT.
- See also now that we’ve taken this scene out of the bird market, we no longer get the Meet Cute where Anthony and Johanna bond over a caged bird and actually make contact with one another.
- No, you know what’s totally way better? If he somehow overheard her whisper-singing to herself, stared at her in a window, and then immediately bursts into a song that goes, “I’LL STEAL YOU, JOHANNA.”
- Anthony and Johanna are the Comedy Couple. Have you ever seen a musical in your life, my dude?
- This is stalkery and creepy and I’m physically uncomfortable.
- …Sir, do you understand the role of the Beggar Woman from a theatrical standpoint.
- Inquiring minds want to know.
- Oh so Alan Rickman can also hear whispers from across the street, good 2 know.
- Pretty sure Timothy Spall just lives in Alan Rickman’s basement IRL.
- TBQH if you just pretend this is a Harry Potter AU, it’s better than if you imagine this as an actual Sweeney adaptation.
- Oh lord this poor little boy is going to cause such damage to his vocal cords yelling like that.
- Tim, why are you letting all this unhealthy singing happen.
- At least he’s literally the first person in this movie to speak above a mutter.
- He can HEAR mutters, though, no matter how far away in the crowd they are.
- Maybe that’s why everyone in Victorian London whispers all the time: Everyone has supersonic hearing so you gotta be stupid quiet or you’ll injure the delicate auditory nerves.
- AND NOW FOR THE BEST PART OF THIS MOVIE:
- Sacha Baron Cohen as Italian Princess Leia.
- Aka the only person who has seen Sweeney Todd before, I think.
- Versus Serial Killer Bob Kardashian, who def hasn’t.
- …okay but like. Here, again, we have this weird issue of insisting on really cringey verisimilitude for the shock value—i.e. showing a child’s knuckles bleeding because Italian Princess Leia is actually REPEATEDLY HITTING THEM WITH A RAZOR—but then this weird comical hyperspeedy shaving thing Sweeney Todd can allegedly do?
- Like my dude are you trying to do a slasher film or are you trying to do a musical comedy because there IS a way to blend them but right now this is not blending THE LAYERS ARE ALL SEPARATING AND THIS IS GONNA BE A NASTY-ASS SMOOTHIE MY DUDE.
- Like part of this dude’s face isn’t even shaved afterward, so now how is the competition over. What are the rules for this world, Tim.
- HEY Johanna, my girl, this is how girls get murdered. Don’t throw your house key at strangers.
- Especially ones muttering about “Stealing you” because you smiled at them literally one time and never spoke to them.
- HEY P.S. WHERE IS ‘KISS ME.’
- YOU KNOW, THE SUPER HILARIOUS LOVE SONG WHERE THESE CHEERFUL IDIOTS MAKE A PLAN TO RUN AWAY TOGETHER AND JOHANNA VERBALLY AND ENTHUSIASTICALLY CONSENTS TO THIS ARRANGEMENT AND THEIR ADVENTURES TOGETHER.
- Eh, nah, you’re right, that’s not important; what if instead we just had Creeper McStalker walk by the house and the Porcelain Doll threw him her house key while Peeping Snape watches from behind the portrait like a weirdo.
- Not to be the IN THE BOOK THEY guy here, but IN THE BOOK THEY have this whole number where the Judge is, like, desperately begging God for guidance on how to address his new, inappropriate attraction to his legal ward, to the point of violent self-flagellation in attempts to punish himself for even daring to think of her that way when he is meant to protect her.
- Like YEAH IT’S FUCKING GROSS AND HE’S A VILLAIN but his vain attempt to find a way to hold onto the last of his humanity is a way more compelling story than a remorseless pervert cutting holes in walls to jack off to teenagers.
- Like seriously, has no one told Tim Burton that Playing Your Ending makes for really boring storytelling?
- Okay but fucking seriously who goes to see an operetta with a 60-some-piece orchestra and thinks to themselves, “But what if I cut almost all the music and they just WHISPERED the whole thing?”
- Also in those flashbacks, this room was just an apartment…? We saw this window with the Helpless Wife sitting in the very spot that Italian Princess Leia claims to have sat watching Sweeney do his work, but in those flashbacks, the barber’s chair is totally not where it is now and therefore this anecdote is directly contradicted by what we were shown…?
- ….Ugh right and now we’re really super fucking graphic with our violence for no reason.
- I feel like Tim Burton is just falling into literally the exact same trap as one amateur/school theatre company falls into EVERY SINGLE YEAR where they go, “Nonono we gotta make the throat-slitting SUPER REALISTIC,” and then some poor actor ends up dead or injured, because nobody goes, “Okay but this is a stylized piece and we don’t actually AT ALL have to make this look realistic??? In fact it’s better if it’s not because then you get the horror of the situation without being shut out of it by the NOPE response to the graphic visuals of carnage???”
- Oh, good, and now we’ve added this bit where we play off the idea of giving a child gin as a joke, and it’s supposed to be hilarious, but then he basically SAYS that they used to give gin to the kids in the workhouse so it was easier to molest them at night so like PRETTY SURE SEXUAL VIOLENCE ISN’T FUNNY but ok ok w/e.
- Solid wig-snatch, tho.
- Peeping Snape up in here like “Oh hm weird I don’t recognize you or this building at all, I totally didn’t used to come here every single day trying to pick up your wife, and I totally didn’t stalk you for ages and learn your face, which looks exactly the same thanks to the wonders of photoshop so NOPE NO REASON TO BE SUSS HERE.”
- We’re not all in the same fucking movie, I don’t think.
- O hei time for Possibly The Funniest Fucking Song Written For Musical Theatre, do you think this will be funny?
- Spoilers: this is joyless and flat and whispery instead of a madcap pun-off where Mrs. Lovett routinely gets the upper hand and they triumphantly belt together about the joys of literally baking people into pies.
- This. Should. Be. Hilarious. Why. Is. This. So. Painfully. Awkward.
- Also can we talk about how literally every song has been played the exact same way and with the exact same tone and zero nuance or variation so at this point what should be a glorious act-one finale is just the latest tired wheeze in a wearying march of monotony?
- WHERE. ARE. THE. JOKES.
- Oh hey remember that time we did the “Johanna (Quartet)” and we CUT JOHANNA OUT OF IT???? So it’s just ALL THESE MEN TALKING ABOUT HER AND NOT LETTING HER VOICE HER OWN WANTS OR NEEDS OR THOUGHTS OR OPINIONS AT ALL???
- Like I don’t even want Anthony to find her bc he’s just another man trying to take her someplace without asking her permission or hearing her thoughts on it.
- See and now we get to “By the Sea,” the one truly funny song in this movie, but it feels super out of place coming so late in the game.
- And like, girl. Even in your wildest fantasies, you both look like corpses and he would rather do Jack Sparrow Mouth Twitches than kiss you at your own wedding?
- Dump him tbh.
- Oh hey PS WHERE’S THE WIGMAKER SEQUENCE. You can’t just be like “we’ll set you up as a wigmaker’s apprentice—leave now tho, we’re cutting the hilarious number where I teach you about wigmaking and show that I actually am a super legit barber so I can just open my eyes real wide and smile maliciously at nothingness.”
- “That’s how you look Generic Crazy, right?”
- Ugh god every time we introduce a new location I’m just more annoyed by the intense desaturation. It’s making me feel dehydrated just looking at it.
- Sidebar—since Toby isn’t an actual child in the show, why the decision to USE an actual child…? It just makes everything feel creepier without really explaining itself? Like is this just for shock value??? Because I hate it.
- Remember how women are either helpless waifs or screaming psychopaths HERE’S A WHOLE WARD FULL OF HELPLESS WAIFS WHO TURN INTO SCREAMING PSYCHOPATHS WHEN GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY.
- They can’t talk tho, that’d be bad for some reason.
- Oh look, it’s the “Not! Ballad” again.
- Y’all, when you take out all the lyrics and just use the instrumental, you’re making it super boring and repetitive and annoying instead of using it to show the story progression.
- Oh good exploding heads yes that’s excellent I sure did need that level of realistic gore depicted full-on in my musical comedy THANKS SO HELPFUL.
- I feel like “Not While I’m Around” is the first time Helena’s weird whisper-lullaby choice actually works, but it’s been used on every other song so far and so it’s lost its impact.
- NEWSFLASH: Anthony’s a creep and a bad listener and Johanna needs a fucking therapist and why WHY did you do this when in the show he’s just a sweet dope and she’s young and naive and they’re in love because birds.
- Alan Rickman tryna be cute again, trying to force dimension into the paper doll character he’s been handed.
- ALAN RICKMAN DOING A ‘PRINCE OF THIEVES’ AND REFUSING TO JUST DIE AND STAY DEAD WITHOUT A WHOLE DRAMATIC THING GOD BLESS RIP.
- Weird how your lament for the wife you just accidentally murdered and the decision to then murder your new girlfriend sounds identical to every other song in the show and also we cut almost all her lines and songs and turned her into an almost nonentity so there’s no real payoff to this arc 🙂 🙂 🙂
- Weird how having Toby as an actual child means that his decision to kill Sweeney Todd—and Sweeney’s decision to be complicit in his own death—is just fucking horrifying and tragic and doesn’t feel at all like a moment of poetic justice so much as an act of child abuse to use a kid to end your suffering 🙂 🙂 🙂
- Weird how the removal of the ballad also means there’s no ending number for the show and there’s just an awkwardly anticlimactic drizzling away of what is typically considered one of the greatest musical scores of all time 🙂 🙂 🙂
- Weird how a show where the main themes are literally Flesh and Blood doesn’t really work when you decide to make everyone look like the damned Corpse Bride with unsettling sprays of corn syrup and no actual emotional ties between ANYONE and your lead actor proudly announces his decision to play his character as already dead 🙂 🙂 🙂
- Weird how the decision to reduce all the not-your-wife women in the show to obedient victims with less than five lines takes away all the nuance and your story is just about a dirtbag egomaniac who is already at Full Crazy and stays there for two hours and then just dies and no one experiences even the smallest of arcs and that ISN’T ACTUALLY INTERESTING STORYTELLING. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
THAT IS HOW YOU “A LITTLE PRIEST,” GODDAMMIT.