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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street(2007)
Unjustly sent to prison, a man 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, he becomes Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who "shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again." Sweeney's amorous accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, creates diabolical meat pies.
For more about Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and the Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Blu-ray release, see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 16, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower
Director: Tim Burton
» See full cast & crew
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Blu-ray Review
"It's Todd now, Sweeney Todd, and he will have his revenge."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 16, 2009
After Planet of the Apes I was worried that I might never like Tim Burton again. Then came Big Fish, his tall-tale ode to storytelling, and I was hooked once more, happy with his bright, mythic, but still undeniably Burton-esque new direction. His last two films, Corpse Bride and now Sweeney Todd are a return his pre-Planet of the Apes form, and while detractors may view the two as more of the same, Sweeney Todd in particular shows the director working some new motifs and methods into his familiar dark and comic themes. Based on the 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, Sweeney Todd is a dark revenge story in the tradition of France's Le Grande Guignol, a theater of the horrifically absurd that reveled in the blood and guts of human longing and dispair.
Revenge—as Frenchmen and Klingons have both claimed—is a dish best served cold, and Sweeney Todd's plot revolves around chilly, calculated retribution. The titular character, played by Burton-standby Johnny Depp, has just returned to Victorian London after a long, unjust banishment in Australia's penal colony. Before his forced exile, Sweeney Todd, then known as Benjamin Barker, was a successful barber with a beautiful wife and newborn baby. In a story as old as King David's, Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) lusts after Benjamin's wife, has him thrown out of the country, and then takes the woman—and the little girl—as his own. Benjamin's wife drinks poison to escape the situation, leaving baby Johanna (Jayne Wisener) to grow up under the watchful eye of the leering and lecherous Judge. When Benjamin returns to London, newly christened as Sweeney Todd, he sets up shop in his old flat above Mrs. Lovett's (Helana Bonham Carter) humble pie emporium, and awaits the day that he can exact razor-edged revenge on Judge Turpin. After killing a rival barber (Sasha Baron Cohen) who knows his secret past, Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett come up with an ingenious way of disposing the body—as the new secret ingredient of her soggy meat pies. This leads to a strait-blade killing spree that serves as practice for Sweeny and better business for Mrs. Lovett, who also harbors feelings for the demonic barber. In the end, as always, revenge is bittersweet.
Retribution plots rely on the audience's empathy for the wronged, and, failing that, must make up for the lack of compassion with spectacle—the least important dramatic principle, according to Aristotle's Poetics anyway. Since the revenge tale is a Hollywood staple, this reliance on style over substance is apparent in a number of films. Where would Kill Bill be, for example, without its wire-fu acrobatics or arterial bloodletting? Sweeney Todd follows a similar compromise, in that its relatively thin plot and the unlikable nature of its morally dubious protagonist are supported by ever-present musical numbers and a healthy dose of gore. And, for the most part, it works. The movie is entertaining and self-assured, but after the spectacle is over, there's really not much left to digest.
I was impressed, however, by the confidence in Tim Burton's directing. Shots are framed with architectural precision, and he reigns in the rampant melodrama with a significant amount of his characteristically black and visual humor. The performances too—vocally and otherwise—are bold and memorable. Depp's Sweeney is like a razor-wielding Mozart on meth—and his untrained Bowie-esque voice brings an individuality to the songs that would get lost in the American Idol blandness of a more professional singer's take. Helena Bonham Carter is somehow witchy and tender, like a gothic Eliza Doolittle, and Sasha Baron Cohen's brief role as Señor Pirelli —who, my wife pointed out, looks like a bizarro version of Strawberry Shortcake's Purple Pie Man—is hilariously over-the-top.
I'd also be remiss not to mention the fantastic costume work, make-up, and Academy Award- winning Best Art Direction that fills out Sweeney Todd's well-realized universe. I was living in Japan when Sweeney Todd came out, and it was interesting for me to see how Mrs. Lovett's wardrobe and make-up seemed inspired by Japan's EGL (elegant gothic Lolita) subculture, which itself has been largely influenced by the creepy/cute dichotomy seen in Burton's earlier works.
Overall, if you like musicals, you'll probably find a lot to love in Sweeney Todd, and even the less theatrically-inclined among you may become at least momentarily entranced by the demon barber of Fleet Street.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Blu-ray, Video Quality
Tim Burton's Fleet Street is a gloomy, horror-show take on Victorian London, and this 1080p VC- 1 1.85:1 transfer is blacker than the plague itself, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. While Sweeney Todd is, by no means, a reference disc for accurate color representation, it is reference-level quality for everything that Tim Burton sets out to do here. This is a deep, dark, inky film, and what would be called a lack of shadow delineation in other movies is used in Sweeney Todd for delicious dramatic effect. Just check out the sleepy hollows (har har) that are Johnny Depp's cheeks, and marvel at the way the light curves and disappears into their sunken recesses. The film is cast with a suitably blue and corpse-like pallor, which gives the colorful flashback scenes—not to mention Mrs. Lovett's beautifully toned seaside fantasy—a vivid and contrasting appearance. Texture and clarity are razor-sharp throughout, and I found that I could easily make out individual fibers on many of the characters' costumes. The only quibbles I have with Sweeney Todd's visual presentation are minor and in no way transfer-related. In some scenes it's apparent that Johnny Depp's pores have been digitally smoothed over, a choice that, to me anyway, doesn't seem to fit with the character's otherwise stylish yet haphazard look. Additionally, some of the CGI and compositing takes on the slightly fake quality of HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, a love it or hate it approach that often looks stunning but undeniably unreal. These are petty complaints, really. The big no-noes—over- sharpening, digital artifacts, poor DNR—are wholly absent from the film, and the picture quality of Sweeney Todd is sure to impress.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Blu-ray, Audio Quality
A booming church organ opens Sweeney Todd's 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track, and from then on the music rarely relents. Thankfully, this mix of Stephen Sondheim's memorable tunes is full, dynamic and sonically palatable. The orchestra swells and pierces with multi-channel prowess. Listen to the deep, untroubled lows, the strong, crystalline highs, and a clear middle that keeps the track grounded in clarity. The sense of immersion is strong, especially as London's crowds swarm and gather around Señor Pirelli's elixir cart. A tad boost in vocal volume would be appreciated, as some of the voices—women's in particular—get occasionally overshadowed in the mix, but otherwise, Sweeney Todd's audio package is strong, consistent, and fully engaging.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Burton + Depp + Carter = Sweeney Todd (1080i, 26:08)
Much of this feature is spent talking about how the various actors are not professional singers and had to spend a lot of time working on their voices. Depp seems particularly anxious about his singing ability, but I don't know if I buy it. He is fun to listen to, though, and bedecked in a floppy hat, tortoiseshell glasses, and a battered leather coat, it's hard not to love his shabby bohemianism. Lovebirds Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton also discuss the musicality of the film, and are joined by producers Walter F. Parkes and Richard Zanuck, music producer Mike Higham, and Depp's singing instructor, Bruce Witkin.
Sweeney Todd Press Conference, November 2007 (SD, 19:42)
Tim Burton scrambles hilariously to turn off his ringing cell phone in the first few seconds of this press conference, and that sets the tone for the whole thing. The participants—including Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Richard Zanuck —are all in high spirits, and plenty of humor gets tossed about. It's pretty entertaining for a press conference, and definitely worth a watch.
Musical Mayhem: Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (1080i, 12:05)
Stephen Sondheim, the composer/lyricist for Sweeney Todd, discusses the story's origins, from a mid-19th century penny dreadful, to C.G. Bond's theatrical adaptation and beyond. He notes the cuts and trimmings that have been made to this current incarnation, but encourages fans of the stage version to leave their memories at the door and experience something new.
The Making of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (SD, 24:03)
This run-of-the-mill EPK featurette will spoil the film for those who haven't seen it, and bore those who already have. Out of all the supplementary materials, this is the only one I'd advise skipping.
Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition (1080i, 19:16)
This mini-documentary discusses Sweeney Todd's adherence to the traditions of Grand Guignol, a branch of extreme naturalism that broke taboos in its graphic depictions of gory horror.
Designs for a Demon Barber (1080i, 10:56)
Costume designer Colleen Atwood, and production designers Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Shiavo talk about Burton's intent to keep Sweeney Todd in a fabled, Victorian, horror movie version of London.
A Bloody Business (1080i, 8:53)
Neal Scanlan, who was in charge of prosthetics/special effects for Sweeney Todd, discusses the gory throat slashes, elucidates on the experimentation the special effects team went through before arriving at a look that they liked, and then gives an entertaining first-hand demonstration of their blood-letting techniques.
Moviefone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (SD, 11:36)
This promo piece features Burton and Depp fielding a series of audience questions, mostly regarding their history and working relationship. The questions and answers are, by and large, unrevealing, but the two cinematic partners have a casual affection for one another that is warm and genuine, and that's always good to see.
The Razor's Refrain (1080i, 8:40)
A series of production stills set to music from the film.
Photo Gallery (1080p)
Yes, a bit redundant.
Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:33)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Musicals aren't for everyone, and when DreamWorks neglected to mention in promoting Sweeney Todd that most of the dialogue was sung, not spoken, there were more than a few disgruntled theatergoers on opening night. For those that can suspend their disbelief and let the songs tell the story, however, Sweeney Todd is a fun, well-made, if somewhat forgettable watch. Blu-ray aficionados will also find much to love with this disc, as it boasts some incredible visuals, a boisterous and involving score, and plenty of supplements to boot. Recommended.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Other Editions
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• Dreamworks Announces Sweeney Todd - June 30, 2008
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