An Open Letter to Warner Bros. RE: Sweeney Todd

Dear Warner Brothers,
There is a rumor circulating that you’re planning to trim your eagerly anticipated fall release, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, so that it may recieve a PG-13 rating. As you plan to release this lavish, gothic musical around Thanksgiving and want to reach the widest audience possible, it is understandable that you plan to edit down some of the gorier moments of this Tim Burton-directed film.

Yet, it must be said that one of the reasons I and so many like myself can’t wait to see this film is because it is an R-rated, darkly funny and grisly adaptation of the beloved musical. Truly, there won’t be anything else out there like it this holiday season and something like this will not only stand out but find it’s distinct audience. Unlike, say, “Beowolf”, which will likely prove to be too scary for children and not an obvious draw for adults, “Sweeney Todd” already HAS an audience ready to embrace it! The same teens who made the violent “300” a $200 million dollar hit, the same adults who have followed Burton’s career since ’85, the same audience members who flocked to “Hairspray” and “Dreamgirls”, and Johnny Depp’s considerable fan base (not to mention attendees attracted by the curiosity factor alone) will all be there opening night and will likely return throughout the holiday season.

I don’t have to remind you that Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow”, which was a gory, R-rated, dark, gothic horror romp starring Depp, made over $100 million during it’s 1999 Thanksgiving run (and this was before Depp was big…think how much that could’ve made now!!). “Sweeney Todd” is likely to put the final gross of “Sleepy Hollow” to shame.

Of course, none of this will be a factor if “Sweeney Todd” is a dud…but considering that is in the hands of Burton, I have the utmost faith in him to make a masterpiece. On the other hand, I do have my doubts about you, oh Brothers Warner, about your ability to get the best possible film out to your public. The way you overhauled “Dominion”- Prequel to the Exorcist” and neutered “The Invasion” gives me reason to believe that, indeed, you plan to snip away at “Sweeney Todd” the way Edward Scissorhands slices away at a head of hair. I ask that you leave the filmmaking and editing decisions to
Mr. Burton, a filmmaker, and stick to your own strong points: greenlighting, advertising and distributing films to the widest possible audience.

Trust me when I say, No One Wants to See a PG-13 “Sweeney Todd”. On the other hand, a one-of-a-kind, black-as-crimson, ultra-violent, holiday movie-alternative, comic-musical starring Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen is something EVERYONE wants to see (and by everyone, I mean 17-years old and up- let the ankle biters go to “Fred Claus” for the 4th time!).

I look forward to seeing “Sweeney Todd” in three months and hope you will decide to maintain the vision you entrusted Burton with when you bankrolled this film back in January.

Barry Wurst

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Barry Wurst

Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He writes film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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