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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Dreamworks Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/1/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/24/2008

I love movies. I love music. And yet, I'm not a fan of movie musicals. I think that it has something to do with the fact that I find people (often multiple people) suddenly bursting into song somewhat unrealistic. Despite this, I do admire some of the classic musicals, such as West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and Grease, as well as more contemporary entries, such as Rent and Hairspray. The common thread amongst all of these films is that the music is very good and memorable, and I often find myself humming the songs days after seeing the movies. The also exemplifies why I'm not recommending Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. For despite the talent involved with the film, the music left me cold.

Sweeney Todd tells the story of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), a London barber who is happily married and has a young daughter. The evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) desires Barker's wife, so he has his lackey, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall), arrested and sent away. Many years later, Barker returns to London under the name Sweeney Todd. He returns to his old neighborhood, where he meets Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the owner of a rather pitiful pie shop. She tells Todd that his wife is dead and that Turpin holds is daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener), prisoner. Todd concocts a plan to get revenge, not only on Turpin, but on mankind as well. He opens a barber shop above Mrs. Lovett's bakery. But, instead of providing shaves and haircuts, he murders his customers, awaiting the day that Turpin will sit in his chair.

While I was aware of the Sweeney Todd musical, I had never seen it, nor had I, to the best of my knowledge, heard any of the songs. While watching the movie, it immediately reminded me of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. Both are set in the past and in Europe, and both feature a dark anti-hero who is seeking revenge. Both even feature a great deal of low-range organ in the music.

However, the music in Sweeney Todd simply didn't grab me. All of the songs sound very similar, and there's very little to distinguish them. The lyrics feel very forced. In a true musical, it's not unusual for the songs to replace dialogue in the telling of the story. But, here, all of the songs like as if the actors are simply singing dialogue as opposed to true lyrics. None of the songs stuck with me, and I'm not sure that I would recognize them if I heard them again. (Trust me, this is a bad sign. I only begrudgingly liked Rent and Phantom of the Opera, but I found that the songs from those movies got stuck in my head.)

There are also issues with the tone of the film. Sweeney Todd is a very dark film, both in its look and its subject matter, and there is little to no levity in the movie. And yet, there were moments which I think were supposed to be light, but they didn't really come across that way. Sacha Baron Cohen appears in the film as Pirelli, an Italian barber who is Todd's rival. His flamboyant clothes and arrogant demeanor suggest a character who is less severe than everyone else, but there's nothing light about him. Some of the songs, such as "Worst Pies in London", border on camp, but again, they don't lighten the mood of the film. And then we have the grand guignol aspects of the film. Again, the movie has a palette which is so dark that it's nearly monochromatic. Due to this, the red blood really stands out...and sprays out. Each of Todd's throat slashings creates a ridiculous arterial spray. I can just imagine Tim Burton cackling with delight over this on the set. But, for the viewer, it's pointless overkill.

I really wanted to like Sweeney Todd. No one has the visual style of Tim Burton and he's truly in his element in this dark world. The cast is superb, and while Depp's singing isn't necessarily a revelation, he's certainly up to the task. However, the songs ring hollow, which leaves only the familiar and predictable story. And not being familiar with the play, I can't say how fans of that medium will react to the film. For me, the movie looks great, but two hours of repetitive songs had me considering slashing my own throat.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street goes above and beyond for two bits on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is an interesting transfer, for other than the blood and Pirelli's outfit, the movie is nearly in black and white. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only the most minute amount of grain and no defects from the source material. This very dark film is never overly dark and the action is always visible. I noted some jagged lines around characters at times, but otherwise the transfer is solid. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The music is the key here, and it sounds very good. The vocals are clear (although not always intelligible) and the music thunders through the speakers. The deep organ really gives the subwoofer a workout. Surround sound effects are made up mostly of musical cues, but some crowd noise does seep in at times.

The Sweeney Todd 2-disc edition contains a host of extra features. Disc 1 contains only one extra, "Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd" (26 minutes). This could easily be considered a "making of", but most of it is more of a discussion by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter about the movie, with comments by Stephen Sondheim and others. They talk about how the project came about, the characters, Depp's singing, and Cohen's singing. The other actors comments on the challenges of singing in the film. Burton also talks about the graphic violence in the movie.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. This disc contains a number of bonus features which focus on a variety of topics related to the film. "Sweeney Todd Press Conference, November 2007" (20 minutes) features Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Timothy Spall, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Richard Zanuck answering questions about the film and their careers and clearly having a good time. In "Sweeney is Alive: The Real History of the Demon Barber" (20 minutes) several experts on British history and literature describe the Sweeney Todd legend and discuss how the story has grown over several centuries. "Musical Mayhem: Sondheim's Sweeney Todd" (12 minutes) has Sondheim describing the creation of the stage musical. "Sweeney's London" (16 minutes) is a mini-documentary which describes the conditions in 18th century London. "The Making of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (24 minutes) is a lot like the "Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd" segment from Disc 1, as it offers clips, on-set footage, and comments from the cast and filmmakers. "Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition" (19 minutes) offers a look at the history of this violent form of theater. Costume Designer Colleen Atwood, production designer Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo comment on the look of the film "Designs for a Demon Barber" (9 minutes). "A Bloody Business" (9 minutes) gives an overview of how the multiple throat-slashings in the film were done. "Moviefone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp" (12 minutes) has the director and the actor asking one another questions. "The Razor's Refrain" (9 minutes) is simply a series of still set to music...which shouldn't be confused with the PHOTO GALLERY which follows. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film which is 16 x 9.


On September 21, 2008, Paramount Home Entertainment released Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street on Blu-ray Disc.  The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps.  Note that the framing is 1.78:1 and not 1.85:1 as found on the DVD.  I only have one Blu-ray player connected to one TV, so I couldn't double-check this, but when compared to films which are definitely 1.85:1, there's no denying that this is 1.78:1.  The first thing that jumps out about this transfer is just how dark it is.  Yes, this is a dark film, but this is notably dark.  Typically, I've found that movies on Blu-ray Disc often look too bright when compared to DVD, but this is nearly murky.  Everything is in shadow in the interior shots.  The exteriors are an improvement, but this dark look makes the film look flat.  The image is sharp and clear, as it shows no grain or defects from the source material, but this doesn't help with dark look.  Despite this, the occasional colors, such as Cohen's coat, stand out against the dark backgrounds.  The Disc contains a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps.  This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  Of course, with this film we're looking at the music, and it sounds fine.  The music comes through crystal clear and all of the vocals are audible (which doesn't necessarily mean that the lyrics are intelligible).  The music fills the front and center channels, but is somewhat weak in the rear.  The stereo effects are good and we can hear individual instruments in each speaker.  Certain notes activate the subwoofer, but the bass is on the weak side as well.

The special features on the Blu-ray Disc as the same as those found on the 2-disc DVD set.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long