Sweeney Todd bait-and-switch?

In response to the SWEENEY TODD trailer, Lewis Lazar of the Chicago Sun-Times works himself up into a state of righteous indignation over the alleged “bait-and-switch” strategy of the marketing campaign:

From what we know about the movie from its marketing strategy to date and from a small body of critics and VIPs who have seen the film (we have not), this “Sweeney Todd” also might be remembered for being the subject of one of the biggest bait-and-switch marketing schemes in movie history — a bait-and-switch that became an imperative to ensure the film generates an opening weekend box office figure substantial enough to suggest “blockbuster” to the movie-going public.

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Sondheim’s original Broadway score in almost its entirety is said to be included in the Burton movie. In fact, reports indicate that about 90 percent of the movie is comprised of sung scenes. But curiously, you’d never know that to be the case from watching the official 150-second trailer, which makes the movie seem like a fast-paced bloody period thriller/horror flick about a crazed murderer and his sidekick Mrs. Lovett, played by the lovely Bonham Carter.

Only a few fleeting seconds of the trailer show Depp singing at all, but even that quick bit of vocalizing includes none of the intricate lyrics for which Sondheim is famous and for which Sondheim’s fans love him. But that music, we suspect, could prove quite offputting for those in the general moviegoing audience expecting a fairly straightforward, bloody slasher pic with Depp at its center.

Frankly, I’m not quite sure what has Lazar all lathered up. Yes, the trailer de-emphasizes the musical nature of the film, but the so-called “fleeting seconds” of Depp singing are actually a memorable 20-second clip of a major song; watching it, you will have no doubt that SWEENEY TODD is indeed a movie in which characters belt out Broadway-style show tunes.

As for the contention that trailer makes the film look like a “fast-paced bloody period/thriller/horror flick,” I have one obvious observation to make: That’s exactly what the film is. The fact that there is singing doesn’t change the nature of the story or the visual style one bit.

I am mightily amused that Lazar thinks the marketing people are trying to turn the film into a blockbuster by selling it as a bloody horror film. When I attended an advanced screening in October, the marketing people were scared to death of the horror label, thinking it would scare away audiences who might enjoy the music.

One more thing: Lazar’s “bait-and-switch” metaphor seems a bit strained to me. Used properly, the term refers to using “bait” to lure in a customer, then selling a completely different item (i.e., the car you saw advertised in the newspaper is “already sold” when you reach the lot, but since you’re here, why not check out these other great models?). In the case of SWEENEY TODD, the trailer and the marketing campaign are clearly selling the movie that the audiences will pay to see; Lazar merely seems miffed that Sondheim’s songs are not particularly big selling points to movie-going audiences.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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