Tim Burton and…a musical? Sure he’s done musicals in the past with Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, but nothing quite like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street promised to be. Based off of the stage play of the same name, the film would star Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in the lead roles, belting their way through over a dozen songs, rarely leaving the film without some sort of musical melody. As strange a pairing of a musical with Tim Burton is, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street turned out to be a remarkably entertaining film in the true Burton vein.
With a full, rich life ahead of them, Benjamin Baker (Johnny Depp) and his wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) had their married life ripped apart when the jealous Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) began to try swoon Lucy into his arms. When she refused, Baker was arrested and taken away. Lucy is said to take her own life and their daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener) is left in the care of Turpin. With over a decade passing, Baker returns to London after his exile to find his wife dead, his daughter locked away and Turpin still alive. Taking on the new persona of Sweeney Todd, Baker becomes the deadliest barber in all of London, murdering men left and right with his blades and feeding them to the community in the form of meat pies via Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shop.
Both a critical and box office success, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street certainly had a lot going for it when it opened on Christmas Day but its box office intake was less than stellar. While it made almost triple its budget back, over half of that was from overseas intake. Not to say the American audience didn’t appreciate its work—it not only received several Oscar nods but also won for art direction. Sure it was perhaps the darkest musical ever put on film, but it’s undeniable that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street isn’t a visual and aural delight to witness.
Those who aren’t a fan of musicals will want to shy away from this film as much as possible. Not only is it positively loaded with the superb works of Stephen Sondheim, but it’s mixed with Burton’s flair for visuals. The overly gloomy atmosphere throughout the film is usual Burton flair, but when we see the rare sunny glimpses, they’re of such wonderful quality that it’ll remind viewers of Big Fish, one of Burton’s few non-gloomy tales. Still, the two have merged together a beautiful piece of film history in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
I actually was rather surprised by the level of darkness that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street presented at first. Sure it was your usual gloomy Burton, but it really wasn’t as dark as I was expecting. The real mayhem didn’t start until midway into the film, when Todd began his bloody rampage. At the point of the epiphany that they could use ground up humans as meat pie filling, I began to see why the film had earned an R rating. As used to gore and other gross body dismemberment as I am, the meat grinder had me cringing at times I must admit. Still, that’s the fun of Burton movies—they’re weird and often cringe worthy, but they’re always worth watching to see what comes out of his head.
Despite enjoying the film so thoroughly, I find myself at a loss for things to talk about. It’s a rather straightforward film in terms of story and it’s the performances by the actors in their singing roles that really make it all stand out. Depp’s singing debut made for a real good time, although I found his general performance as Todd oddly resembling Jack Sparrow…in accent at least. His displeasure over the taste of the meat pies and ale at Mrs. Lovett’s were at first a bit comedic, but the character quickly lost any humor about him once Turpin came into play.
As mentioned previously the musical performances here really stand out and they should being it’s a musical. Never once did it feel like a Disney film does with the random bursts of music, everything felt very natural, as one would expect a film based off of a play and it was a really strong performance from everyone involved. Quite a few standout songs are here and I was especially surprised by Cohen’s performance as Signor Adolfo Pirelli. Having only seen him from his HBO works (and, of course, Borat), I didn’t really know what to expect but his shifting of accents and voice were really quite impressive. Everyone sounded wonderful in the film, even newcomers Jayne Wisener as Johanna, who bears a striking resemblance to an actress I can’t think of
Overall Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a superb film that is well worth watching if you’re a fan of Burton, Sonnheim or Depp. They all come together for a knock-out film and with the supporting cast of Carter, Rickman, Cohen and Spall, there’s plenty to find enjoyment in. It’s a very bloody film, however, so if you’re squeamish or get a bit grossed out by the thought of seeing fountains of blood spurt from necks as razors are slid across them, then you may want to hold off on this one for awhile, as there’s a whole sequence of nothing but blood spilling that’ll likely turn weak stomached individuals a bit green. Highly Recommended.
With Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street we get a solid Blu-ray release that satisfies on more than one level. After a satisfying two-disc DVD release with its fancy slipcover and packaging, the Blu-ray seems to be a step down, with no slipcover accompanying the release and Paramount saw fit to splash some matte gray disc art on the disc again. Doesn’t Blu-ray deserve a bit more? You put this and the DVD edition side by side and the discs can be hardly discerned from one another. As a bonus for those of you that did buy the two-disc edition previously, there is a $10 rebate included with this set, so just do a couple quick snip snips and you can get $10 back by mail—not too shabby.
For video and audio we have plenty of beautiful segments to partake. With a musical the audio is always the most important and Paramount has not squandered the available disc space on Blu-ray. The Dolby True HD 5.1 track is incredible, tossing between channels and bringing to life the music and score of the film. I’d watched the DVD version quite loud before, but there are little nuances that you pick up on this TrueHD track that you didn’t get before; minor surround effects usually, but they’re still there none the less.
The VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer is exceptional, although with the film being deathly dark, it’s no surprise that it’s a bit hard to make out at times. Still, there is a nice level of grain that remains intact and plenty of detail to boot. After a rather depressing first fifteen or so chapters into the film, videophiles will delight at the sequence that takes us through Mrs. Lovett’s song about where she and Todd will be in the future, complete with beach shots and other, brighter areas. I thought it looked nice on DVD, but the lack of compression and upped level of detail really make this particular sequence stand out. Overall the video and audio transfer for this film cannot be beat; it’s not exactly reference quality, but it’s still quite nice and more than enough for a film so dark.
Moving onto the extras we find “Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd” (26:07), a behind-the scenes look at the making of the film, including recording sessions, rehearsals and on-set footage. While similar to the other making-of’s we find on this release, this extra focuses more on the musical aspect with the actors commenting on their singing roles individually. Sadly there is no commentary at all on this release; I would have expected something, as Burton’s no stranger to commentaries and there is one included on the R2 release.
Moving on we find quite a large collection of extras. First up is “Sweeney Todd Press Conference, November 2007” (19:40, SD), a panel interview with cast and crew from the film and we get plenty of fun information given here about the production of the film. Next is “Real History” (20:06) which delves into the history behind the film. I honestly thought it was something that Sonnheim had written for the stage, but apparently it’s based off of actual legends in London. Stories vary about what actually happened and what didn’t, but the version we see presented is definitely the most sinister of all.
“Musical Mayhem” (12:02) is next and takes us on a look into the music for the film. “Sweeney’s London” (16:14) shows us the sets and stages used for the film, as well as some pre-production artwork. “The Making of Sweeny Todd” (24:01) is a generic making-of piece, but we get to see plenty of on-set footage which is great to see. The film really feels like it takes place in old times and to see so much technology on the sets is rather jarring. “Grand Guignol – A Theatrical Tradition” (19:13) shifts gears and focus away from the film and instead on the history of theatre horror.
We have a small collection of short extras to wrap up the disc, including “Designs for a Demon Barber” (8:54) which obviously goes over the designs in the film, “A Bloody Business” (8:51) details the techniques used for the blood spray in the film (and the gallons used during production) and a “Moviefone Unscripted” bit with Depp and Burton (11:35, SD). This is the only other non-HD extra on the disc , but is the most fun in terms of candidness. We get a bit of information on Depp and Burton’s longstanding relationship with one another as well as information on Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. One final featurette, “The Razor’s Refrain” (8:38) has images from the film playing underneath segments of music from the film. A photo gallery and theatrical trailer (2:30) wrap up the extras.
Overall Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a remarkably entertaining film. In a year when most of the Oscar nominated films were huge let downs, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street managed to remain unique and entertaining from beginning to end. Not only is the film worth the price of the Blu-ray, but the extras we get here are all entertaining as well. The lack of Burton commentary hurts (especially since the R2 release has one), but we get to hear from him and the rest of the cast and crew enough throughout the extras to make up for it. The $10 rebate also softens the blow for those upgrading to this disc (if you loved the film, you will want to upgrade to this disc, unless you happen to own the HD-DVD version already). Highly Recommended.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street arrives on Blu-ray on October 21st.