Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall
Have I Seen it Before: Yes, in some weird haze that was 2008, I have a vague recollection of owning it on DVD, but then again I owned lots of stuff back then.
Did I Like It: It’s a difficult topic to approach. Burton’s output since the early 90s has been quite a bit off balance. For every Big Fish (2003) or Big Eyes (2014)* there have been an army of Dark Shadows (2012) and Alice in Wonderland (2010) to deal with. So I will go out on a limb and say that this is Burton’s best film since the turn of the century.
And yet, I don’t think I can say I would like it.
As to why, I think format may be working against Burton. He isn’t alone in making this mistake, but in the transfer from stage musical to musical film, some things get lost. The stage play is one of big booming melodrama, whereas here the proceedings are relegated to a tiny set and tinier frames. The big-budget musicals of yore like The Sound of Music (1965) traded in their bombast (or more appropriately, enhanced it) with a sweeping sense of the cinematic. Even an urban tale like West Side Story (1961) has more of a flourish than the dourness here.
The trappings of a movie hurt the story in more ways. Johnny Depp is (or, at least, was) a movie star, but he is not a singer, and the role of Todd really only has one job. Rickman—here stuck playing the thankless and truncated role of Judge Turpin—would have made a riveting Todd. Even Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Stewart Head** would have been transfixing here. But alas, neither are leading men at the degree needed to deliver a decent opening weekend. So we are stuck with Depp, smack dab in the middle of his “I don’t need to be an actor, I just need a really interesting wig” phase.
I’m relatively sure that phase is still ongoing, but it’s not like we’re all chomping at the bit to see Depp in pictures anymore.
As I type those paragraphs, it’s become clear that I don’t really like the film at all.
*Note to self, between those two examples and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Burton is to always be trusted with a film that has “big” in the title.
**Head in fact gets nothing more than a cameo. A baffling choice made all the more befuddling by the knowledge that a larger role for the actor must reside somewhere on a cutting room/hard drive.