I first encountered Sweeney Todd on HBO back in the early 80's when
they broadcast the Stephen Sondheim Broadway play featuring Angela Lansbury
and George Hearn. It was a wonderful production, dark gruesome yet
funny and light all at the same time. Winning a trunk full of Tony
awards and running for 557 performances, it was only natural that Hollywood
would come knocking. Sondheim doesn't sell the rights to his plays
easily however and it wasn't until director Tom Burton talked to him that
the movie got off the ground (after being talked about for 25 years!)
Burton's film version, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,
successfully brings the play to the big screen, adapting the story wonderfully.
This Blu-ray version is a joy to watch with wonderful sound and an amazing
image, it's a great disc all around.
Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) is back in London after a fifteen-year absence.
He had been a successful barber with a beautiful wife and year old daughter.
But then his life fell apart. A crooked barrister, Judge Turpin, was
infatuated with Barker's young wife, and had the barber imprisoned on some
trumped up charges so that he could have the fair woman as his own.
Barker was given a life sentence and sent to Botany Bay. But he managed
to escape, and as the play begins, he has made his way back to England where
he takes the name Sweeney Todd. He rents out his old second floor
barbershop from Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the widow who runs the
bakery downstairs. She needs the money as her shop has the distinction
of serving the worst meat pies in all of London.
When Sweeney learns that his wife is dead and child is a ward of Judge Turpin's,
he loses his grip on sanity. He vows vengeance on the judge and the
man who helped send him away. Sweeney has other things to contend with
first though. A man that recognizes him from years ago tries to blackmail
him, but Sweeney quickly slits his throat. Much to Sweeney's horror,
Mrs. Lovett discovers what he has done. Instead of being aghast, she
points out to Sweeney that meat is very expensive. ("And them pussycats
is quick.") It would be a shame to let so much good protein go
to waste, and what are they to do with the body in any case? So the
two hatch a plot to grind up the victim and put him into Mrs. Lovett's meat
Soon her pies are the toast of the town. With business booming, the
first victim doesn't last long. So Sweeney starts killing, not for
vengeance, but to fill Mrs. Lovett's larder. The barber hasn't forgotten
about the Judge and the others who ruined his life, and as much as Mrs. Lovett
would like him to forget about revenge and settle down with her, Sweeney
can't. He will have his revenge at any cost.
There have been some subtle changes from the stage musical that may disappoint
some viewers familiar with the original piece. Transplanting the script
from stage to screen director Tim Burton gets rid of the chorus and their
wonderful song "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd". It's a painful but necessary
omission since the film as having a chorus pop up would be too theatrical
and change the tone of the film.
One thing that was a little surprising is that the dark humor of the play
has been downplayed a good deal. Burton is a master at black comedy,
and I was expecting him to accent the grisly humor that inhabits the original
production, but instead he doesn't. Don't get me wrong, it's still
a funny film in parts, but the laughs aren't accented as much. One
of the comic bits that makes it through in tack is when Todd and Mrs. Lovette
are discussing discuss the advantages of using human flesh in her meat pies.
Sondheim's lyrics are both grim and humorous at the same time:
-Have a little priest.
-Is it really good?
-Sir, it's too good, at least.
Then again they don't commit sins of the flesh,
So it's pretty fresh.
Freeing the production from the stage, Burton was able to recreate London
at the beginning of the Industrial Age with all its dirt and grime and corruption.
He does a wonderful job meshing CGI images of the skyline with sets of the
buildings themselves, making the town really come to life. Burton was
also able to add sets, most notably for the wonderful "By the Sea" where
Mrs. Lovette imagines that she and Sweeney run off to the shore, live in
a quaint cottage and eventually marry. While she sings and dances around,
Todd stares off into space planning his revenge. It's a very amusing
scene and works very well in the film.
The cast was excellent all around. Johnny Depp is a wonderful actor,
and I was sure he could bring the character of Todd to life. This is
a very difficult role, having to appear sympathetic and evil at the same
time. You alternately feel sorry for the unjustly imprisoned man and
winch at the cruelty that he can inflict on others. I wasn't sure how
Depp do with the singing, but I needn't have worried. While I wish
his voice was a little deeper, he was able to pull of the songs seemingly
effortlessly. He was able to brood and sing at the same time and he
deserves all of the critical accolades that he's received.
I thought Helena Bonham Carter was perfect in the role as Mrs. Lovette.
She pulled off the lower class accent without any trouble and was able to
make her character really shine. Mrs. Lovette is a little frightened
of Todd, but attracted to him at the same time and Carter was able to play
this without it seeming contradictory.
Even the lesser roles were superbly cast. Sacha Baron Cohen is nearly
unrecognizable as Signor Adolfo Pirelli and plays the part with just the
right amount of bravado and panache. Jayne Wisener is enchanting as
Todd's daughter Joanna. Though the part is small, her voice is amazing
and she really looks the part. I'm fairly surprised that this role
hasn't led to bigger and better roles. Alan Rickman, who is one of
my favorite actors, is also splendid as Judge Turpin. He's evil and
petty and yet Rickman makes him seem human when he talks about his ward,
Joanna. He's also able to hold his own in scenes with Depp, something
that not every actor can do.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The film comes with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track that sounds very good.
The music is especially impressive with the low end being full but not boomy
and the highs being precise and clear. Jayne Wisener's solo really
shines through with the high end of her voice (which is very high) not being
clipped. The only complaint I have is with the sound design rather
than the reproduction. The levels for the dialog is a little lower
than that of the singing, and sometimes that, with the lower class accents
that everyone used, made it difficult to understand what was being said.
It wasn't a significant problem, only a few lines here and there that were
mumbled, but it did exist. I think this comes from the musical tradition
of boosting the vocals to draw attention to the musical numbers and not anything
that was done while mastering the Blu-ray. This track also makes it
evident that the songs were recorded in a studio and then looped over the
images. Aside from the lips not being exactly in synch for an instant
(when Todd is challenging Pirelli for example) there's also a subtle aural
difference between the sound of the dialog stage and the recording studio.
None of these should cause anyone to avoid this disc since the audio is really
excellent. The full soundstage is used to good effect, and the music
will really send a chill up your spine.
Simply put the 1080p AVC encoded 1.85:1 image looks splendid. (That's
simply?) I was very impressed with the way the film looked. The
whole movie, with the exception of two sequences, is dark, grimy, and dull.
The image is filled with blacks, grays, and dark browns but this Blu-ray
disc differentiates between these subtle shades very well without posterization.
Grain wasn't a problem, which is a pleasant surprise with all of the dark
scenes, and digital noise was non-existent. The contrast with the two
colorful scenes is drastic, reminding one of when Dorothy first arrives in
Oz. There the bright yellows, reds, and greens are strong and deep.
The level of detail is excellent too. You can see the texture of the
floor on Mrs. Lovette's counter top as she's rolling out pastry shells for
her meat pies, and you can see the edge on Sweeney's 'friends' not only glint
in the light, but you can see where the metal starts to tapper.
On the digital side of things, the disc looks equally impressive. There
is no blocking in the smoke coming out of the chimneys and no aliasing as
the camera pans over the skyline of London. Overall this is a very
impressive looking disc.
This disc sports a full line of extras, all presented in HD with the exception
of the press conferance:
-Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd: A 25-minute behind-the-scenes look at the
collaboration of Tim Burton with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
There's footage from rehearsals, the recording sessions, and interviews with
the main cast as well as the supporting players.
- Sweeney Todd Press Conference: Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham
Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Richard Zanuck talk with the press.
They're all very upbeat and often funny and this is a lot of fun to watch.
- Sweeney Todd is Alive: The Real History of The Demon Barber: This
docu looks at the origins of the legend and asks if there was a real "Demon
Barber". This is an interesting companion to the film.
- Musical Mayhem: Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: Sondheim talks about the
origins of the musical, working with Burton, and the final product.
He liked the film and endorses it nicely.
- Sweeney's London: Another documentary, this time looking at what
London was really like at the beginning of the industrial age.
- The Making of Sweeney Todd: A generic fluff piece.
- Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition: a docu that looks at both
the Guignol genre and the theater that gave the style its name.
- Designs for a Demon Barber: The designers for the film talk about
how the achieved the unique look of the film.
- A Bloody Business: A look at the special effects used in the film
to simulate the slashing of throats. This was pretty interesting.
- Moviefone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp: The two answer
more questions from reporters.
- The Razor's Refrain: a photo gallery of production stills set to
music from the film.
- Photo Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
While it is distinctly different from the Broadway play, Tim Burton has successfully
brought Sondheim's award-winning play to the silver screen. There isn't
as much humor, and more blood, but this film captures the spirit of the play
and reproduces it delightfully. The Blu-ray disc is wonderful with
an amazing audio track, a great picture and a wide variety of extras.
That makes it easy to give this disc a Highly Recommended rating.