Human Remains

'Sweeney Todd' finds Johnny Depp hellbent on revenge, while 'I Am Legend' gives Will Smith a chance to save humanity

by Tim Plant
Published on December 20, 2007, 12:00am | Comments

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd

It all seems so familiar. The first few notes are reminiscent of a tune you've heard before. Then Edward Scissorhands appears -- he's getting older though because his hair is a little grey. But he's riding Jack Sparrow's boat from Pirates of the Caribbean. How could this be?

Much about Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is true to form: The style is quintessential Tim Burton; Johnny Depp is an amalgamation of several previous roles; and it doesn't take long to hear the familiar patterns in Stephen Sondheim's music. For those who love all of the above, Sweeney Todd is going to be a delight. For people who have the slightest doubts about any of these components, the film is going to be a tough piece of meat pie to swallow.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter

Depp plays the title role of the demon barber, a man who lost his family to the whimsy of a powerful judge and returns as Sweeney Todd to seek his revenge. Todd's former barbershop is now inhabited by the culinary disaster-zone Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), whose idea of fresh pies means that the roaches baked inside are still alive. As Todd slaughters his way towards his target, Mrs. Lovett utilizes the meat source to bake her way into a successful business.

As the object of Todd's obsession, Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) is so uniformly evil that he makes the dynamic killing duo of Todd and Lovett seem like the sympathetic pair. Rickman is perfect. Donning a Donald Sutherland mane of white hair, he snarls and growls his way through a role all the more terrifying for his restraint.


As the leads, Depp and Bonham Carter hit the right musical notes, but fail to put real emotion or energy into their numbers. Depp is technically a fine singer with a pleasant voice, but any passion that might have emanated from a stage is truly only two-dimensional on screen. Bonham Carter is shrill and nasally as Mrs. Lovett, but then again, Angela Lansbury, who originated the role on Broadway, isn't exactly a nightingale. The most compelling character in the film through song is actually young Toby (Ed Sanders) who sings his way into our hearts. His songs reverberate with passion beyond his age.

Together, however, Depp and Bonham Carter play off each other beautifully. Their deadpan delivery of the lines, which makes Sweeney Todd a dark comedy rather than a slasherfest, are wonderfully mastered. In addition, Sasha Baron Cohen in the role of a rival barber is fantastic and gets laughs galore.

SWEENEY
TODD

starstarstarstar

Starring Johnny Depp
Rated R
110 Minutes

Burton has once again created a world in which camp is the norm and dark and dreary is the status quo. He uses arterial spray every chance he gets, going over the top repeatedly to take the sting out of death by relying on the absurd. The film is visually stunning, from the bleak sets to the pale and gaunt actors. There is no doubt that he achieved his vision of Sondheim's musical.

In fact, the weakest part of Sweeney Todd is Sondheim's material. Making use of his songs, which often last too long on film, drag down the film's pace considerably. Perhaps if more excitement were infused into each number it wouldn't matter, but as it stands even the repeated camera shots begin to take on that all too familiar feel.


Will Smith deserves to be the last man on the planet. He can do it all -- sing, act and, as Robert Neville in I Am Legend, fight evil creatures, conduct extensive lab experiments and recite Shrek word for word. While he's more convincing as a fighter than scientist, his talents are unquestionable.

Will Smith: I am Legend

Will Smith: I am Legend

Neville (Smith) is the last man in New York City after a plague, originally designed to cure cancer, has killed most of the world's population. Those unlucky enough to survive have become ''dark seekers,'' creatures devoid of human psyches who die when exposed to UV rays. Only safe to venture out during daylight hours, Neville has one mission left -- try to find a cure to save humanity.

What makes I Am Legend a great science fiction film when so many are mediocre is the combination of psychological exploration and good old fashion suspense. There are plenty of tense, jump-in-your-seat moments, but director Frances Lawrence brilliantly balances them with an examination of the effects that being alone in the world has taken on Neville. Neville's existence is bleak: he sleeps in the bathtub with his dog and a rifle as the dark seekers screech outside; he ''rents'' films from the movie store, going systematically through the alphabet; and taped episodes of the Today Show are his morning entertainment. Talk about hell on Earth.

Smith handles the fragile grip that Neville maintains on reality with true precision. Acting only opposite a dog for most of the film, Smith's solo performance demonstrates more talent than some entire casts are able to muster together. In one scene alone, while watching a children's movie, Smith reveals Neville's most tortured side in perfect detail. It's one of those short scenes that stuns.

I AM LEGEND
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Starring Will Smith
Rated PG-13
101 Minutes
Area Theaters

Lawrence starts the film off strong with eerie shots of a deserted and overgrown Times Square and slowly cranks up the tension, revealing more and more of the mythology that sustains Neville's world. Though a couple of plot holes are distracting, the majority of the complex world is clearly explained and, in the end, the biggest unanswered question is actually the most chilling. In the final scenes, an unexpected and jarring religious theme is forced into the plot, but it's so late in the film that its placement is more odd than destructive.

I Am Legend joins Children of Men as one of the top dystopian science-fiction films in recent history. For all the horror, death and destruction of the film, it's a pure joy.