I deliberately didn’t get into Envelope columnist Tom O’Neil‘s ecstatic response to the 17-minute preview of Sweeney Todd that screened the other night at Lincoln Center. O’Neil, passionate fellow that he is, is invested in his love of great musicals and Stephen Sondheim‘s Sweeney Todd B’way show in particular, and he wants to see it all brought full circle. And that’s fine.
Sweeney Todd‘s sound and visuals are still being mixed, so it’s not being shown. But there have been enough preview excerpts of upcoming big-ticket films in the past to feel suspicious about the decision to show only 17 minutes’ worth to a hometown (i.e., Manhattan) audience. I think that screening a short “sizzle reel” at this stage of the game indicates obvious caution and bet-hedging on the part of the film’s marketing strategist Terry Press (who ran last year’s Dreamgirls campaign). You can make almost any movie look fairly momentous if you cut together a short-enough reel. I was boondoggled myself once with a 30-minute reel of a new film.
It’s happened often enough that it’s come down to a very simple equation by way of a very simple mythology: short promo reels = film-flammery. The Sweeney Todd Lincoln Center show would have obviously felt a little more forthright if, say, it had run 25 or 30 minutes — more songs, more scenes, more substance. Johnny Depp‘s singing may be fine, as O’Neil wrote today; ditto Helena Bonham Carter‘s Mrs. Lovett performance when all is said and done. Nobody knows. The film will start to be shown to press later this month
Press admitted to the Hollywood Reporter‘s Steven Zeitchik that Todd “has many niche audiences that need to be dealt with, and they don’t really cross. There are Sweeney Todd freaks, there’s a sophisticated theatergoer crowd, there are the Tim Burton fans, and there are the young girls who love Johnny Depp. It’s like threading many needles.”
Young girls who love Johnny Depp? Jack Sparrow, maybe, but what young girls have a yen for a married 44 year old with a skunk “do” playing a singing throat- slitter? Depp’s under-25 coolness factor began with 21 Jump Street in the late ’80s and peaked with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (’93). Everybody loved him in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, sure, but I never heard that “young girls” were in the vanguard.