Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
By: J.R. McNamara on March 28, 2011  | 
Warner Home Video | Region B | 1.78:1, 1080p | English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 | minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
Screenplay: John Logan
Country: UA
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There are many characters in English literature whose legends are so famous that it is difficult to ascertain whether they were real people, based on an amalgamation of several people, or just plain fiction. Over the years the legends of King Arthur, Robin Hood, Sherlock Homes and Doctor Who (OK, maybe not the last one) have entertained readers and filmgoers when adaptations were made, but there is always an air of mystery as to whether these people actually existed.

Sweeney Todd fits in amongst this bunch, with the so-called Demon Barber of Fleet Street's history unclear. His legend is so linked to London's past that it is even difficult for hyper-brained professors from the best universities in the UK to agree on whether or not his existence is fact. There have been many versions of the Demon Barber tale given the stage and/or cinematic treatment (and an amusing kids comic in the UK known as Sweeney Toddler), from the Tod Slaughter stage and screen appearances early last century, to the many TV and cinematic versions with performances by Ray Winstone, George Hearn and Ben Kingly, just to name a few. Musical Master Stephen Sondheim even wrote a musical telling the story, and it is here we must start as Tim Burton has taken Sondheim's musical and given it the cinematic treatment, with an interesting cast, including token 'Burton Players' (ie Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter). And what a bloody treatment it is!

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a musical - yes, a musical - telling the horrible tale of the crimes committed by ex-convict and dark soul, Sweeney Todd.

Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) is a young man whose pretty wife has caught the eye of deceitful judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who, with the help of his henchman Beadle (Timothy Spall) falsely accuses Barker of a crime and has him sent away to the colonies for punishment, hopefully never to be seen again.

When Barker does return, he is a different man. The years of hard labour have toughened him up, changing him so much he no longer even goes by the name of Barker.

He is now Sweeney Todd.

Todd visits Mrs Lovatt (Helena Bonham Carter), whose claim to fame is that she makes the worst pies in London, due to a lack of meat (cue awful song). Todd sets up a business quarters upstairs where he plots his revenge against Turpin, and to use his beautiful cut throat razors on the necks of those who cross him.

His plan starts with the murder of an Italian barber named Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), after which Todd and Lovatt conspire and come to an arrangement: Todd kills customers for meat, and Lovatt gets rid of the evidence within the pies she sells! Lies, deceits, and unfortunate coincidences soon cause strife and threaten Todd's plans to kill Turpin... and then they all sing another stupid fucking song.

Straight away when one sits down to watch this film it is obviously a Tim Burton film. The story is darkly comic and the entire cast look as though they were designed by the makers of Living Dead Dolls and Robert Smith's interior decorator.

The CGI sets are slightly off, with Victorian surrounds sometimes looking a little too much like a video game. The acting performance of the entire cast was brilliant, but I certainly did not like any of the music, which is extraordinarily difficult to comprehend. A seasoned theater goer may find it appealing, but to this 80s pop, AOR, heavy metal fan it was a chore. The songs are full of chromatic scale based melodies, and mixed with the Victorian London accents they are laborious. I also find the vocal performance of most of the cast to be quite uneven, which added to the unease of the ear - the exception being Sacha Baron Cohen, whose performance is incredible, inspired and flamboyantly hilarious. I will say, however that the dark humour of the lyrics shine through with every performance.

One plus to Sweeney Todd is the bloodshed. The blood sprays from arterial slicing is comparable to that of any Asian chop socky flick you can find, and when Todd slits a throat, he doesn't just slice, he digs right in!!

All in all I really wanted to like this film. I love Burton's work, and perhaps if this wasn't a musical I would have given it a higher estimation, but I just find the music absolutely horrible. I simply can't believe that the guy who wrote the songs for West Side Story is responsible for this eardrum offending manure.
The picture on this disc is outstanding. It is presented in high definition 1.85:1 and is incredibly detailed. The colors are deliberately muted to reflect the tone of the setting and the film, and when any vibrant color appears, such as blood spray, it is spectacular.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and is a triumph of audio engineering. Whilst the songs aren't appealing they certainly sound amazing, and utilise the 5.1 sound stage perfectly.
Extra Features
An excellent array of extras can be found on this Bluray disc.

Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd is a behind the scenes documentary and discussion on how it really took the personalities of those named in the title of this featurette to create the world of the demon barber. It looks at the difficulties of creating the stage musical for screen and features additional comments from the producers Richard D. Zanuck and Walter F. Parkes and the writer of the stage production, Stephen Sondheim.

Sweeney Todd is Alive: The Real History of the Demon Barber is a discussion with various academia about the origins of the legend of Sweeney Todd and whether or not it is likely that he ever existed. It is not just a remarkable look at the legend, but also a quite fascinating look at Victorian times and the crimes that took place within them.

Musical Mayhem: Sondheim's 'Sweeney Todd' is a look at Sondheim's career and the transformation of Sweeney Todd from stage to screen, and the origins of his initial stage musical.

Sweeney's London is a documentary about what London was like in the times of Sweeney Todd, roughly the mid 1800s. It is informative and I reckon I may have even learnt something. Who says fillums can't be edjumakashunal?

Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition is a highlight on this disc for me. It explores the origins of the shocking theatrics of the Grand Guignol, who featured productions definitely not for the faint of heart.

Designs for a Demon Barber features the design work of Colleen Atwood, Francesca Lo Schiavo and Dante Ferretti, respectively the Costumer, interior and exterior set designers.

A Bloody Business is a tour of the special effects used to create the Asian cinema styled, arterial spraying, bloody throat slashes that were Todd's way of dispatching his unfortunate customers. It also looks at the dummies created for the body disposal scenes. SPFX nuts will go gaga for this part of the extras.

The Making of Sweeney Todd – HBO First Look is the typical look at me featurette made to get the general public excited about a film; coming soon. It is not the worst of it's type, but after watching the preceding docos it seems a bit lacklustre.

London Press Conference is a Q and A session with the principal players and creative types who produced this film from their creative loins.

Razor's Refrain is a slide show set to a part of the films soundtrack, and like most stills galleries, it's superfluousness made me want to cut MY OWN throat!!

Photo Gallery is the superfluous gallery to the superfluous slideshow. I am afraid it may be superfluous to say that this is superfluous. Rubbish. It is a kinetic video medium: if I wanded to look at pictures, I'd read a FUCKING book!
The Verdict
I have a real problem with this film. I love the story, the look and the feel, but every time the cast break out into one of Sondheim's songs I want to jam a screaming cat into each ear just to drown out the painful blast of sound exploding from my surround system. The extras make this disc the real winner though.
Movie Score
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