As everyone's been saying for months now, there are going to be two basic camps of people seeing (and talking about) Tim Burton's screen adaptation of Sweeney Todd: those who've seen and love the musical on stage (and/or those who generally go into orgasms of ecstasy for Stephen Sondheim in general), and those who've never seen the stage version, but who generally go into orgasms of ecstasy for all things Burton. There are, no doubt, those who loathe Burton, but if you loathe Burton, why would you go out of your way to see one of his films anyhow?
At any rate, I fall into the second camp -- love Burton, never seen Sweeney Todd on stage. I went into the film knowing only the basic storyline, and that it was gory, and that it was directed by Burton and stars Johnny Depp. That was enough for me to want to see the film, and I wanted to see it not knowing more than that, so I've been avoiding as much as possible all the buzzing about the film on other sites. I even set aside the cool hardcover Sweeney Todd production book that arrived in the mail last week to savor after the screening, so I'd go into the film with as fresh an eye as possible.
The film opens with rivers of bright red blood flowing through the cobblestone cracks of a London nearly as dismal as the Paris we met in the opening of Tom Tykwer's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (one of my favorite films of last year). Much as Sweeney Todd is going to be compared to Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Edward Scissorhands, for me, right from the opening credits, it evoked Perfume more. After zooming us through a cramped, filthy, dismal London, Burton takes us onto a ship arriving in London, where we meet the beautiful and aptly named young sailer Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower, who's almost -- but not quite -- prettier than Depp), singing "No Place Like London," in which he's joined by his friend Benjamin Barker (Depp), freshly escaped from an Australian prison and returning home to a London he views with a far darker and cynical eye than the fresh-faced sailor. From the first words Barker sings -- and more, from the way Depp acts the part -- we get a sense of just how dark his story is going to be.