Sweeney to open wide on December 21

Variety reports that DreamWorks and Paramount have re-thought their distribution strategy for SWEENEY TODD, the film version of the hit musical. The original plan was to roll the film out slowly starting with a platform release on December 21 in order to qualify for the Academy Awards, the widen the release on January 11. The new plan is simply to open the film wide on the the December date.

Johnny Depp and Helana Bonham Carter

The reason given is that the studio execs were originally worried that the film’s storyline, which has Johnny Depp as a murderous barber who slices up his customers for meat to be backed in pies, would not instantly appeal to a wide audience, requiring the platform release as a way to build buzz.
Producer Richard Zanuck and director Tim Burton had been pressing for a wide release from the start, and the studio changed its mind when it saw some clips from the film. Still, the studio will likely limit the initial run of theatres to 1,500 for the film, which is expected to receive an R-rating.
The Variety article makes no mention of pressure to cut the film down to a more marketable PG-13 rating – a rumor that was the subject of this post from yesterday.
UPDATE: Anne Thompson confirms that “the issue of cutting back the violence is ‘wild rumors.'”

Slicing up Sweeney

Where would we be without all the gore-hound websites shrieking louder than Marion Crane taking a shower at the Bates Motel every time they think a few less drops of precious blood may be shed in order to secure a PG-13 rating? Well, we would be without confused editorializing like this:

Apparently, Tim Burton went blood-simple on the set of SWEENEY TODD, because Warner Bros. is now telling him his gory musical is way too harsh – and must be cut down for a PG-13.
What did Warner Bros. expect they were getting into with this very un-PG-13 material with Tim Burton at the helm? HAIRSPRAY? When allowed to, Burton loves chopping people up. (see SLEEPY HOLLOW– which was rated R and seems like SWEENEY TODD’s closest relative.) They may be thinking that this film is a hard enough sell without an R rating to exascerbate things – but I have a feeling they’re going to have a hit on their hands here – so release the thing in all its gooey glory!

You gotta love anybody who stands up against censorship – well, actually, no you don’t, at least not when they don’t know what they’re talking about.
First thing’s first: SWEENEY TODD is a very old story that has been told many times – in books, on stage, and on the screen – without R-rated violence, so it’s not as if the integrity of the story would be breached by avoiding graphic bloodshed.
Second thing: This particularly version of SWEENEY TODD is based on a well-loved popular musical; the film version is clearly intended to appeal to a wide audience, not to gore hounds pissed off that their favorite torture porn movies aren’t making money anymore.
Third – and absolutely most important – what prompted the above-quoted tirade was this article in the Daily Mail – which is an English news publication, writing from an English perspective about what might – or might not – happen to the film when it is released in England. In other words, the thinly sourced, highly speculative article has nothing to say about whether the film will be trimmed to get a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Academy of America because the MPAA does not rate movies for British release.
Here is the relevant passage:

In its present form the film would merit an 18 rating, but Warner Brothers would prefer it to have a 15.

Now pay close attention: these are British classifications, and the Brits have radically different standards from ours regarding what is and is not objectionable on screen?
So to summarize:

  • SWEENEY TODD has not been submitted to the MPAA
  • SWEENEY TODD has not received an R-rating from the MPAA
  • Ergo, SWEENEY TODD has not been cut in order to change the rating from R to PG-13.

Yes, the Brits may be quaking in their boots over how much blood can fly before a black comedy turns into a deep red massacre, but that’s no reason for us to get a case of the vapors on this side of the Atlantic. Before we launch an anti-editing protest, let’s at least wait until there’s something to protest.
UPDATE: One day later, Christopher Campbell recycles most of my points in this post at Cinematical.