One former Benjamin Barker is kicked out of London by a crooked Judge, who then rapes the dude's wife and steals her child. Barker returns to London as Sweeney Todd in revenge mode. He takes up residence in his old flat above a pie shop. Close shaves, baking, cannibalism, and general mayhem ensues. Two bits, please!
The dynamic duo of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have returned! Okay, so it hasn't been that long since THE CORPSE BRIDE that we've had Depp under Burton's reins, but really, this is where the two belong when it comes to films. I might not be big on most musicals, but SWEENEY won me over.
Where does one start? Ah heck, let's start with the title character himself. Depp always fascinates me with his roles. He has the uncanny ability to disappear into his characters, leaving you saying that it's Edward Scissorhands/Jack Sparrow/Willy Wonka on the screen, and not Depp. Here it's no different. Benjamin Barker/Sweeney Todd is a man focused on revenge, consumed by the notion of exacting his style of punishment on those who've destroyed his life, and Depp plays it wonderfully. Not by going postal and seemingly bursting at the seams with fury all the time, but by being methodical and calculating, saving his anger for the appropriate time. Of course, when that time arrives, it's sort of a bummer once North American fans know that the ending for the their version of the film was edited by a couple seconds to get that R rating, and instead focuses on Depp/Todd rather than the amount of plasma gushing. Damn MPAA ruining my fun. Thankfully we still get mucho slashings, blood and a body count in the double digits.
On the flipside of the coin is Helena Bonham Carter's Mrs. Lovett, the counterbalance to Todd, who ultimately stands out thanks to Ms. Carter (the cleavage didn't hurt, either). Mrs. Lovett basically steers Todd's rage, but at the same time isn't afraid to get down and dirty with those pies of hers. The underlying romantic tensions between the two characters doesn't result in both getting it on, but it does make for enjoyable viewing. Mrs. Lovett also steals the show with some of the more memorable songs such as 'The Worst Pies In London', which left a better taste than some of the more recent musicals I've seen.
From a directorial and artistic POV, this is one of the darkest films of Burtons I've seen yet. Apart from Todd as being so unredeemable a character as you can get, the whole of London is almost devoid of colour. There's some colour in spots, but everything is desaturated and gloomy, really hitting home a Gothic, Industrial Revolution-era look of London that Burton is no stranger to. It's makes one particular sequence that much more jarring with the sudden use of colour. Well, more of it. The fact that the actors do such a great job in this sequence makes it that much more memorable (gotta love that bathing suit Depp is sporting in that scene).
If there's one negative thing about the film that I have to say, it's that it's not for everyone, namely those who can't stand singing with their visuals. Yes, I'm one of those individuals, but like I said, I'm willing to make exceptions. No one in the film is likely to be mistaken for their broadway counterparts in terms of vocal quality, either, but they give a great effort on their part, and adds realism to the film on top of that (is there anything Depp can't do?).
When it's all said and done, SWEENEY TODD may well be Tim Burton's best film of the decade. It might not appeal to everyone, but hey, you can't have 'manslaughter' without 'laughter', which is exactly what SWEENEY TODD is.
Video: Forget the fact that the HD-DVD version is DOA, this is a pretty sweet transfer for standard definition. The 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced video is, as previously mentioned, dark and dreary, but in a good way. Rich black levels and little or no artifacting mixed with varying shades of gray with an overall blue tinge suits Industrial Revolution-era London perfectly. Unfortunately, with a film like this, blacks do have a small amount of noise to them, and there is some ringing of brighter objects against the darker backgrounds. Some of the more colourful sequences also suffer a bit when it comes to noise and detail, but it's all the more reason why the eventual Blu-Ray version will be that much more improved.
Audio: Contrasting the picture's tone, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is full of life. The music flowing throughout the film tends to be relegated to the left and right channels, with the vocals emanating from the centre speaker. The only real directional sound comes from points where there needs to be an exclamation made during the songs, so cockroach squishing is kept quiet until then. Burton staple Danny Elfman wasn't the main man behind the orchestra this time around, as Stephen Sondheim brings his musical to the big screen, and does so admirably.
Obviously, with the single disc and two-disc versions of the film, guess which one you'll be wanting?
On the first disc, we have a single featurette entitled 'Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd', which is also the sole extra on the single disc version. It's a 25-minute behind the scenes documentary, consisting of interviews, behind the scenes footage, and photos. Obviously, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter take centre stage with this one, but we also hear from Stephen Sondheim, Alan Rickman et al in spots. The on-set footage is particularly interesting, showing you just how hard it is to act while singing. The documentary also has shots of the cast recording their vocals in the studio.
For those who went the extra mile and bought the 2-disc version, the whole process of the goings on behind the scenes is elaborated upon in the second disc, along with the history of Sweeney Todd. First up is the Sweeney Todd Press Conference, which is a very funny and engaging twenty minutes. Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Richard Zanuck are all on hand for this one, answering questions and being good sports about it.
For those wanting to know the story behind the man, there's Sweeney Todd is Alive - The Real History of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It's an average documentary on the origins of Sweeney Todd, and whether the man did indeed exist or not. The doc also takes a look at some crimes committed by people who likely inspired the legend.
On the musical side, there's Musical Mayhem - Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, which is more or less an interview with Stephen Sondheim about his musical's origin. Sondheim also discusses the changes he made to the score when it came to the transition to the big screen, and how he enjoyed working with Burton.
Sweeney's London focuses on the visuals in the film, taking a peek at London during the Industrial Revolution through experts and period drawings.
The Making of Sweeney Todd is probably the weaker of the extras, as it comes off as your typical EPK fluff, with material that's repeated from other areas on the disc.
Grand Guignol - A Theatrical Tradition centres on the real theatre in France that was active from 1897 to 1962, which was known for it's naturalistic horror shows. The theatre and its plays basically inspired much of today's horror writers and directors, and was certainly an influence on Burton.
Designs For A Demon Barber covers the wardrobe aspect of the film, namely Sweeney Todd himself. Longtime Burton collaborators Colleen Atwood and Dante Ferretti provide much of the meat for the feature, along with Burton and some design drawings that are simply gorgeous.
For special effects nut such as myself, there's A Bloody Business, which talks about the prosthetics used in the film, with footage almost entirely from the effects workshop.
Depp and Burton get together again with Moviefone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. This 11-minute clip has the two answering questions submitted by Moviefone customers, and while some aren't much in terms of generating much thought from the duo, there are a couple that make Depp and Burton work for answers.
Finally, we get two photo galleries, one of which is entitled The Razor's Refrain and is set to music from the film, and the theatrical trailer for the film.
For those itching for something really extra, be on the lookout for the FYE Exclusive, which is the 2-disc edition packed in a Steelbook case. The rest of us will have to settle for the slipcase adorned with razors.
After the so-so responses to his previous couple of films, Burton has come back with a sweet little gem that should please fans of the musical, and horror fanatics looking for something a little different. Again, folks who aren't big on music mixed with their mayhem aren't likely to be won over with this offering, but what's here should please those who do. Top it off with a great selection of extras, and you have a DVD set worth shelling out for.