The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration on SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET ($35) serves to create a cinematic masterwork that finds both men at the height of their powers. Based upon the brilliant stage musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, this SWEENEY TODD is a cinematic re-imagining of the material, which discards any traces of staginess, streamlines the story and gets the heart and blood of the tale. Burton brings his visionary style to these horrific and blackly comic proceedings, creating a world that combines elements of the Grand Guignol with the bleakest portions of Dickens, German expressionism, plus Hammer and Universal horror movies. Colors are used sparingly throughout the film, with hues generally desaturated down to a nearly black and white level. However, all bloodlettings are allowed to explode in a vibrant, sickly orange red hue that is a shocking contrast to the nearly monochromatic world of the film. The effect is unforgettable.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET retains the central story of Sondheim stage musical, in which an innocent barber is falsely imprisoned on Botany Bay, escapes fifteen years later and returns to London to seek revenge on the loathsome, lecherous judge that coveted the barber’s wife. Johnny Depp is not a classically trained singer and Sondheim’s song can be taxing on even those with such training. However, Depp’s interpretation of the role of Sweeney Todd is dead on the money, attacking the material in a way that only an actor can. Depp’s vocals bring the harder edged style of a rock singer, which proves somewhat more sardonic and highly effective for the movie. Depp is amazing to watch as this tragic figure; bringing to life a man so consumed with vengeance that there is virtually nothing else left inside him.
Helena Bonham Carter makes for intriguing Mrs. Lovett, although Burton’s direction has her tone down the broad comedic aspects of the character; instead eliciting more emotional resonance from the material. Personally, I think slightly broader strokes would have enhanced the musical numbers The Worst Pies In London, A Little Priest and By The Sea, without sacrificing the character’s emotional quality, or any of the horror associated with her baking Todd’s victims into meat pies. Alan Rickman is a rather obvious choice Judge Turpin, which pays off quite well for the film- Rickman provides an appropriately malevolent presence. Timothy Spall is a perfect as the judge’s weasely henchman Beadle Bamford, as is Sacha Baron Cohen as competing barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli. Cohen has a surprisingly effective singing voice and his brief performance provides the film with its brightest bits of comedy. The excellent cast of SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET also features Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener and Ed Sanders.
Dreamworks Home Entertainment has made SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This a pretty terrific looking standard definition presentation, although SWEENEY TODD remains one of this reviewer’s most eagerly awaited Tim Burton titles, yet to be released on Blu-ray (along with MARS ATTACKS! and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). High definition is where audiences will be able to fully appreciate the distinctive look of SWEENEY TODD. Sharpness and image detail are especially good for the SD level. As I stated above, much of the film goes for a monochromatic look, but when required, the DVD delivers excellent color reproduction. Blacks are pretty deep and the whites are clean. Contrast and shadow detail are also very good. There is some grain, but it is never excessive. This is very difficult material to compress and the DVD generally does a very good job; with there being only a modest amount of artifacting becoming visible.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET comes with a fairly marvelous Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The sound design is all about the music, but sound effects are well placed, and do take good advantage of the outlying channels. Musical fidelity is generally excellent and is rendered with a great deal of depth and sonic spaciousness. The bottom end of the track proves to be quite potent. Of course, the only way this track could be bettered is through the type of lossless sonic encoding that would be available to hi-def disc release. Singing and speaking voices sound very nice, plus dialogue is crystal clear and easy to understand. French and Spanish 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. The sole feature on disc one is Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd, a twenty-six minute program that offers a mixture of interviews and a look behind-the-scenes. Moving on to disc two, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming. Sweeney Todd Press Conference, November 2007 is a nearly twenty minute Q&A session. Sweeney Todd Is Alive: The Real History Of The Demon Barber runs almost twenty minutes a looks at the historic origins of the story. Musical Mayhem: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd clocks in at eleven minutes and features the composer talking about how he came to write such a dark musical and its transition form stage to screen. Sweeney’s London spends fifteen minutes discussing the era of the penny dreadful and the story’s place in all of that. The Making Of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street run twenty three minutes and offer a slightly more fluffy expansion on the program featured on disc one. Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition is an eighteen-minute mini history on the French theater of the macabre and how it is being kept alive today. Designs For The Demon Barber is a nine-minute examination of sets and costumes. A Bloody Business is an eight-minute look at how the sanguinary special effects were created. Moviefone Unscripted offers another eight-minute Q&A session. The Razor’s Refrain is truncated song medley played to stills from the film. A Photo Gallery and Theatrical Trailer close out disc two.
As I stated above SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET is a cinematic masterwork that finds both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp at the height of their powers. Dreamworks’ DVD looks and sounds wonderful. Highly recommended.
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