J.D. Lafrance
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Special Edition DVD Review

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Special Edition

April 14, 2008

Director: Tim Burton,
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

An R rated musical about a vengeful barber who kills his victims only to serve them up as meat pies must’ve made the studio a little nervous to bankroll a big budget adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). Although, they must’ve been reassured that Tim Burton would be helming the project with his long-time collaborator Johnny Depp stepping in to play Todd. Burton, with his affinity for all things dark and gothic (see A Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride), seems like an obvious choice to take on such dark subject matter and Sondheim agreed, giving the filmmaker his blessing.

Benjamin Barker (Depp) returns to London after the jealous Judge Turpin (Rickman) abuses his power to rob the barber of a regular life by taking away his wife Lucy and his daughter. Barker reinvents himself as Sweeney Todd and rents a room from Mrs. Lovett (Carter) above her bakery. Todd is consumed by thoughts of revenge and Lovett helps him ply his trade once again – only this time with much more lethal results. Her motivations for helping Todd stem from feelings she has for the mad barber.

Burton drains the colour from all scenes that take place in the present, symbolizing Todd’s dark state-of-mind, and saturates flashbacks showing his life during happier times with vibrant colour. Of course, Todd’s grisly murders provide vibrant splashes of red as Burton does not hold back on the amount of blood that flows from the barber’s victims. The director stages some truly excellent set pieces like when Todd bests a rival barber – Italian Adolfo Pirelli (Cohen) – at offering the fastest, cleanest shave. Pirelli is all flash and pomposity but he’s no match for Todd’s skill with a razor blade.

Johnny Depp attacks the role with his customary gusto. With his disheveled hair, pale complexion, and coal-black eyes, he certainly looks the part. He also does a pretty good job with the singing portions. Before he decided to become an actor, Depp fancied himself a musician and did a musical early on his career with John Waters’ Cry-Baby (1990). Helena Bonham Carter has even less experience and predictably fares not as well in the singing department. She warbles along as best she can and fortunately compensates with excellent chemistry with Depp and brings a pixish charm to the role of Mrs. Lovett.

Sweeney Todd is a marvel of production design and art direction as a stylized vision of Victorian era London is faithfully recreated in all of its smoky, sooty industrial glory. Burton has created a bloody adaptation of Sondheim’s musical and kudos to the studio for having the guts to back such a potentially uncommercial project.

Special Features:

The first disc has a featurette entitled, “Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd.” Tim Burton had always been a fan of Stephen Sondheim’s musical and had contemplated a film version for years. Helena Bonham Carter was also a fan and had always wanted to play Mrs. Lovett. Burton liked the idea of her and Depp as this “weird” couple. The director and his leading man talk about their long-standing relationship in this excellent featurette.

The second disc starts off with the “Sweeney Todd Press Conference, November 2007” which features Burton, producer Richard Zanuck and his main cast answering questions from the press. Not surprisingly, Burton and Depp tend to dominate the bulk of the questions. Both men are very charming and joke good naturedly with each other.

“Musical Mayhem: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd” features Sondheim talking about the origins of his take on Sweeney Todd and what drew him to the story. He also talks about how he adapted it into a musical and speaks eloquently about the story and the predominant theme of revenge.

“Sweeney’s London” provides historical background to 18th and 19th century London including the social and economical conditions with historians talking about how harsh life was back then. This is fascinating stuff and excellent insight the world that acts as a backdrop to the story.

“The Making of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” takes a look at how the film came together. This is a pretty standard promotional featurette that mixes cast and crew soundbites with clips from the film. It covers a lot of ground already depicted in other featurettes.

“Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition” examines the tradition of Grand Guignol or horror theatre that came out of France. Academic types trace its origins, define its characteristics, and illustrate how Sweeney Todd fits into this tradition.

“Designs for a Demon Barber” takes a look at the costumes and set design. Burton wanted the film to look like Frankenstein (1931) and resemble a kind of fable look. He explains that this is why he used sets on soundstages as opposed to actual locations.

“A Bloody Business” examines how they did the film’s bloody deaths. We see Burton and his crew running tests on how to get the right bloody sprays and experiment with how to pull of the throat slashings.

“Moviefone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp” features the two men asking each other questions submitted by fans. They talk about how they met, how Depp prepared for the role, and so on.

“The Razor’s Refrain” is a montage of stills and behind-the-scenes photographs from the film with excerpts of songs from the soundtrack.

Also included is a gallery of production sketches, promotional stills, and behind-the-scenes photos.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 87%



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