Though the Screen Actors Guild showed no love for Tim Burton's film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, critics sure feel differently about the musical horror flick. The film, which opens today nationwide, is said to be a masterpiece. And also really, really gory. (More than one reviewer made sure to mention that the Saw moves look like kiddie fare in comparison.) But really, would you expect anything less from a tale about a wrongly-accused man who returns after serving the sentence he did not deserve to seek revenge on all those who wronged him? As the New York Times said: This is not Hairspray. The rave reviews, after the jump.
Mr. Burton's film adaptation of Mr. Sondheim's musical, is as dark and terrifying as any motion picture in recent memory, not excluding the bloody installments in the "Saw" franchise...It is cruel in its effects and radical in its misanthropy, expressing a breathtakingly, rigorously pessimistic view of human nature. It is also something close to a masterpiece...What you see is as dark as the grave. What you hear — some of the finest stage music of the past 40 years — is equally infernal, except that you might just as well call it heavenly.
— A.O. Scott, New York Times
As effectively overwrought and generally excellent as it is, Tim Burton's R-rated Sweeney Todd seems unlikely to be this year's Chicago or Dreamgirls....[T]he numbers are so inventively staged that two of [Helena] Bonham Carter's key songs—the cannibal waltz "A Little Priest" and the grotesquely wistful "By the Sea"—brought down the house...Possibly not since Vincente Minnelli has anyone directed a musical with such absolute mise-en-scéne.
— J. Hoberman, Village Voice
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" was a bloody brilliant musical, featuring some of the most glorious melodies in American stage history and some of the most ferocious business. Homicide. Sadomasochism. Incest (sort of). Cannibalism. The kind of show where you go home humming the murders....What Tim Burton has done to Stephen Sondheim's 1979 show is tighten it, Gothify it, and heighten all the bloodletting that stagecraft can only imply...[Think] "Saw" with a ravaged, keening heart. This makes it harder to watch - and may turn it into that rarity, a commercial film whose target audiences cancel each other out - but it's a conceptual masterstroke. "Sweeney" always wanted to be a revenger's tragedy to make us recoil in fright. Now it is. Merry Christmas.
— Ty Burr, Boston Globe
Admirers of Stephen Sondheim who have long wondered whether a film of distinction would ever be made from one of his stage musicals can put aside their skepticism: Tim Burton has accomplished it in his ravishing "Sweeney Todd"...Burton invites us into a more intimate communion with horrible yet hummable aspects of human nature....That integration has been carried out with remarkable suppleness so that the numbers seem, to a degree rarely experienced, an extension of character and plot. The success of Burton's technique even accrues beneficially to the performance of the extremely reedy-voiced Helena Bonham Carter, who makes of her Mrs. Lovett — Sweeney's cannibalistic comrade-in-harms — a woman less comical but virtually as poignant as the character Angela Lansbury created on Broadway 28 years ago.
— Peter Marks, Washington Post
Tim Burton's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece "Sweeney Todd" is a funny, moody musical blood bath. It's also notably cuter than its famous theatrical predecessors — which I guess is what happens when you cast Johnny Depp as the serial throat-slitter and Helena Bonham Carter as his cannibal pie-making accomplice....It's not entirely surprising that Burton's "Sweeney Todd" feels heavier on style than on substance — so much that the style almost subverts the story. Still, it's a gorgeous artifact and pretty enjoyable in all.
— Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times
It's not the volume of the blood that distinguishes "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" from every other film this year. The shocker is the context. Movie audiences aren't used to seeing throats slit while the leading character sings a song—Stephen Sondheim's stealthy, quietly obsessive counter-melody to "Johanna"—and then, in methodical succession, dumps the corpses down a makeshift slide into a cellar where the bodies collected are ground, slowly, into meat pie filling....The other shocker: The film's really good.
— Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune