Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Blu-ray Review
By Frankie Dees Oct 20, 2008, 12:24 GMT
Johnny Depp and Tim Burton join forces again in a big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim\'s award-winning musical thriller "Sweeney Todd." Depp stars in the title role as a man unjustly sent to prison who vows revenge, not only for that cruel punishment, but for the devastating consequences of what happened to his wife and daughter. When he returns to reopen his barber shop, Sweeney Todd becomes the Demon Barber of ...more
Tim Burton's best film in years with bloody good thesp and tech efforts from everybody involved, 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' comes to Blu-Ray as a verifiable feast for the eyes and ears.
Forming a lucrative, formidable cinematic team, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp celebrate their sixth collaboration with possibly their most accomplished pic yet and with 'Alice in Wonderland' soon to be their seventh, they obviously have a gloriously wicked affinity for the fringe of society, outsiders.
Let's consider the films: 'Edward Scissorhands', 'Ed Wood', 'Sleepy Hollow', 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and now 'Sweeney Todd'. In all of them, Depp is either hidden by ghoulish make-up or crazy get-ups - all characters either self-exiled or forced into exile from the humdrum of the 'normal'.
With Tim Burton's all black get-ups, unremitting black shades and crazy hair, he no doubt relates to his protagonists in a number of ways and uses Depp as his more handsome on-screen doppelganger.
Burton is the perfect fit for the material using his long-time Hammer horror sensibilities that come into play magnificently here when tackling the Charles Dickens-era old-time London of Stephen Sondheim's landmark 1979 theatrical musical. The closed-in cobbled streets, dark shadows of the alleyways, and smoke and fog billowing from every chimney, oven and enclave provide the perfect backdrop for the focused, personal story of a barber seeking revenge.
Broadway purists may whine about Burton and screenwriter John Logan omitting and reshaping certain songs but there's little doubt that these changes were made to make the film more cinematic and to lessen the effect of essentially watching a Broadway show on the big screen. Fans of the musical should appreciate the proficient differences the film makes enjoying a slightly dissimilar experience if no less emotionally wringing.
Sweeney Todd sails up the Thames with a young man, Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) after escaping from a prison down under. The opening number 'No Place Like London' and some great CGI-cityscape work lets us know what London we'll be dealing with - a dark, dingy place of blacks, grays and blues. Soon, a little red will add a splash of bold color to Dante Ferretti's fully-realized production design.
Returning to his old stomping grounds with only one intention in mind - to kill the villainous Judge Turpin (a fantastic Alan Rickman) who sent Todd to jail on false charges to steal his beautiful wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) and young daughter Johanna - Todd sets up shop above the worst pie shop in London.
Run by his old landlady, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who breaks the news that his wife killed herself out of miserable necessity and the judge is now keeping his teenage daughter (Jayne Wisener) under literal lock and key until she returns his one-sided love, or maybe sick lust.
The daughter coincidentally catches the eye of Todd's former shipmate Anthony whose relationship provides a small glimmer of hope in a tale otherwise consumed by inevitable death.
Mrs. Lovett, harboring a crush for Mr. Todd all these years reveals that she kept his old barber razors where Mr. Todd soon takes up his old profession, the first opportunity of testing his considerable skills pop up when engaging in a shaving "duel" with a flashy con artist barber Adolfo Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), a 'duel' that sets into motion a more nastier plan for Todd and Mrs. Lovett.
Rigging his barber chair to turn into a sliding chute which will pour his carefully chosen throat-cut victims straight into the basement of the pie shop where Mrs. Lovett grinds the meat and bakes the pies, a plan is devised that will take care of two problems: what to do with the victim's bodies and the short supply of meat for the meat pies. These tasty new meat pies bring Mrs. Lovett's business booming back to life which in turn provides a few customers for Todd and the reputations of the two businesses bloom.
Meanwhile, Judge Turpin and his slimy right-hand man Beadle Bamford (a deliciously wicked Timothy Spall) wreak havoc on the head-over-heels in love Anthony and become wise to his plan of rescuing Johanna so they throw her in an asylum, a move that has Anthony ask Mrs. Lovett and Todd for help in harboring her - unaware that Sweeney is Johanna' father - once he breaks her free from the asylum.
This brings all the players within the bloody swipe of Todd where revenge may at long last be his. The heightened emotion of the play is still firmly intact but the more personal nature of the numbers, usually no more than two people involved at any given time, result in a more Shakespearean morality play rather than the grandiose, epic feel that people might otherwise expect of a Broadway adaptation.
Burton proves a natural in capturing the musical sequences with a variety of tight shots and his signature style while admirably restraining himself from all the sweeping and swooping camera work that could be tempting with such great set-built production design.
Most curious for people will be how Johnny Depp handles the vocals (all actors did their own singing) and unsurprisingly, the answer is that he seemed like a natural. While not a pleasant voice in any traditional sense, Depp brings apt passion to the lyrics and gives Sweeney Todd a nice, throaty peril that fits the character well.
Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman also bring the same talent to their voices, and while probably not right for the stage, give the characters an emotional credence and professionalism that would be hard to match by trained vocalists although Jamie Campbell Bower and Jayne Wisener, trained vocalists it seems, certainly don't skimp in the thesping department.
The film is presented with a 1.85:1 1080p AVC encode and the results are thankfully impressive. The whole film with the exception of a few minutes is almost completely dark shades with grays, blues and blacks filling every inch of the frame. This makes the subtle differentiation of these shades all the more important.
A lot of these colors would bleed into each other in standard-def but high-def gives a contrast to these dark shades that add a depth to this grimy London world. The excellence of the production design, costumes and make-up get it's much needed recognition with this great high-def transfer.
The lossless English 5.1 Dolby Digital TrueHD is expectedly great and befitting of a film told through music. The bounty of special features, almost all of which are presented in HD, start off with 'Burton+Depp+Carter=Todd', a 25-minute behind-the-scenes with focuses on the peeps in the title while providing rehearsal footage, interviews and recording sessions. 'Sweeney Todd Press Conference' has all the players talking with the press. 'Sweeney Todd is Alive: The Real History of The Demon Barber' is a short documentarish look at the origins of the story and if 'Sweeney Todd' was based on a real person.
'Musical Mayhem: Sondheim's Sweeney Todd' examines the musical and talks with Sondheim about his work, his dealings with Burton and his thoughts on the final film. 'Sweeney's London' takes a doc look at the real-life London of the film's era. 'Making of', 'Grand Guignol' is an interesting look at the theater and genre it started, 'Designs for a Demon Barber' looks at the designs and designers, 'A Bloody Business' discusses the bloody special effects of all the throat-slashing, 'Moviefone Unscripted' has Tim Burton and Johnny Depp face each-other and answer mail-in questions from fans and a Photo Gallery and Trailer finish off the impressive package.
The Award-winning play gets possibly the best adaptation it could hope for with the perfect amalgam of talent behind it. A rousing, emotional and bloody affair that can prove a treat for both cineastes and horror fans alike, the impressive high-def transfer and audio only adds to the recommendation.
'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' is a perfect Halloween treat and a great pic to play right after 'The Nightmare before Christmas' and 'Corpse Bride' when the kids get put to bed.