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DVD Review: Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2-Disc Special Collector’s Edition)

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is based on the Tony Award-winning musical with a book by Hugh Wheeler and words and music by Stephen Sondheim. The Broadway show originally opened on March 1, 1979. Len Cariou won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Sweeney Todd. Angela Lansbury took home Best Actress honors for her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett. The show also took the award for Best Musical, among others. After its initial run of 557 performances, Sweeney Todd has been done by countless touring companies and even had an award-winning Broadway revival in 2005.

Given the dark nature of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, it seems only natural that director Tim Burton and (as I like to call him) the quirky actor Johnny Depp be the forces behind the film version. Sweeney Todd tells the story of a barber formerly known as Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) who has been exiled from London for fifteen years by the hateful judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Turpin is obsessed with Barker's wife, Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly). After raping Lucy, the judge steals the Barkers' daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener). Obsessed with revenge, Benjamin returns to London as Sweeney Todd. Unable to locate his wife and daughter, instead he finds Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) running a meat pie shop below where he used to work as a barber. Todd's travel mate discovers that Johanna is alive, but under the very watchful eye of Turpin and his colleague, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall). Without giving away any major plot points, suffice to say that Sweeney Todd uses his skills as a barber to skillfully "cut" his way to revenge.

Thumbnail image for SweeneyTdd_Still_PK_00261.jpgSweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is considered by many to be Stephen Sondheim's most complex musical score. It relies heavily on harmonies and has been performed as an opera on several occasions. It says a lot for Johnny Depp as an actor, a guy who has played guitar in a band but never sang on screen before, that he would take on such a challenge. When I first heard that Depp was going to play Sweeney Todd in a musical version of the film, I thought, "You gotta be kidding me." This is one of the great musical scores of all time. I was pleasantly surprised. While Depp isn't a great singer, and probably won't be doing a musical on Broadway anytime soon, he does an admirable job. He clearly wasn't afraid to put his own unique spin on the work of Sondheim, and didn't feel pressured to copy the singing style of the actors who won awards for the part before him. Depp's strong sense of self and individuality tends to benefit him in all of his performances.

Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman do good work in their roles as well. Carter's unorthodox appearance and demeanor serve her well as she serves up meat pies. However, her vocal abilities were a bit lacking. While Depp was able to find a singing style that worked for his character, Carter's singing voice comes across as far too squeaky and weak for the character of Mrs. Lovett. While it's not fair to compare Carter to theater greats Angela Lansbury and Patti Lupone, when each of them played the role on stage they were able to project their voices in a forceful way. It didn't seem like Bonham Carter had that ability, and in a musical a weak voice hurts your overall performance. However, her chemistry with Depp is undeniable and does help the film move through each song. As he always seems to do, Rickman plays a great bad guy. He handles his songs with relative ease and proves, yet again, that he's a very versatile actor.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is both a strange and entertaining film. Yes, it's a musical but it's also horror, drama, and romance all in one. Tim Burton is the perfect person to direct the film and Johnny Depp is excellent in the title role. It is wonderful to see this Sondheim musical classic finally get the film treatment it so richly deserved.

The DVD is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Everything about this film is dark, so color isn't really an issue, but the picture is clear. The audio is presented in three Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. English, French, and Spanish languages are supported with both 5.1 multi-channel mix and subtitles.

SweeneyTdd_Still_PK_07224.jpgThe first disc has one special feature "Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd" (26:06); this is a rather good "making of" featurette with the actors, director and Stephen Sondheim discussing the film. Disc two contains "Sweeney Todd Press Conference, November 2007" (19:40). Burton, Depp, Carter, Richard Zanuck, Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall all take questions from the audience. For a press conference, there's some pretty fun stuff here. The feature "Sweeney is Alive: The Real History of the Demon Barber" (20:07) looks into the possibility that a serial killer similar to Sweeney Todd existed in early London, and made meat pies out of his victims.

The next feature deals with the music. "Musical Mayhem: Sondheim´s Sweeney Todd" (12:03), looks at how Tim Burton adapted Sondheim's musical score for the screen. "Sweeney´s London" (16:15) takes a look at the city when the film takes place. "The Making of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (23:59) is more about the making of the movie. "Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition" (19:13) tells viewers about a theater located in Paris, France that specializes in horror. "Designs for a Demon Barber" (8:55) looks at the costumes, designs and visuals for the film. "Bloody Business" (8:52) looks at the visual effects used to create all the blood and death in the film. "Movietone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp" (11:35) finds the two interviewing each other on the show. "The Razor´s Refrain" (8:40) shows photographs from the film. A photo gallery and theatrical trailer are also included.

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