Sweeney Todd

The Contenders

Release date: Dec. 21 Distributor: Dreamworks

Tim Burton directing a musical? It’s hard to imagine what he’d do with “Hello, Dolly,” but Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” proves an easy fit. While remaining faithful to the stage production, Burton has put his distinct imprint on the musical thriller, with plenty to lure awards voters, including the tight screenplay, surprising performances and, of course, the technicals.

While Burton’s unique vision has yet to result in any pic or director Oscar nominations, “Sweeney Todd” could change that. The film is unlike anything Hollywood has ever seen — gruesome but smart, melodramatic but witty, quirky but emotional — and kudos voters may well respond.

Sondheim’s 1979 tuner, with a book by Hugh Wheeler, retold a tale that first appeared in mid-1800s, about a barber seeking revenge on a judge who had long ago stolen his wife and daughter. With the aid of Mrs. Lovett, who runs a shop where she serves meat pies, Todd soon includes innocent bystanders in his razor-wielding rampage.

In a season of dark movies, this could be the grimmest — but done with style and energy that offset the subject matter.

John Logan’s screenplay smartly condenses the legit version to under two hours. Several performances, including those of Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall, will merit attention — though anchoring the film is Johnny Depp, who offers another reminder that he can apparently do anything.

The film opens days before the Dec. 26 mailing of Oscar ballots, but amid the year-end glut, this is one of the few films with a high want-to-see factor, which will certainly work in its favor.

See photos, trailer and more on ‘Sweeney Todd’

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