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At last… my arm is complete again!

The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration on SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET ($40) serves to create a cinematic masterwork that finds both men at the height of their powers. Based upon the brilliant stage musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, this SWEENEY TODD is a cinematic re-imagining of the material, which discards any traces of staginess, streamlines the story and gets to the blood and meat of the tale. Burton brings his visionary style to these horrific and blackly comic proceedings, creating a world that combines elements of the Grand Guignol with the bleakest portions of Dickens, German expressionism, plus Hammer and Universal horror movies. Colors are used sparingly throughout the film, with hues generally desaturated down to a nearly black and white level. However, all bloodlettings are allowed to explode in a vibrant, sickly orange red hue that is a shocking contrast to the nearly monochromatic world of the film. The effect is unforgettable.

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET retains the central story of Sondheim stage musical, in which an innocent barber is falsely imprisoned on Botany Bay, escapes fifteen years later, and returns to London to seek revenge on the loathsome, lecherous judge that coveted the barber’s wife. Johnny Depp is not a classically trained singer and Sondheim’s song can be taxing on even those with such training. However, Depp’s interpretation of the role of Sweeney Todd is dead on the money, attacking the material in a way that only an actor can. Depp’s vocals bring the harder edged style of a rock singer, which proves somewhat more sardonic and highly effective for the movie. Depp is amazing to watch as this tragic figure; bringing to life a man so consumed with vengeance that there is virtually nothing else left inside him.

Helena Bonham Carter makes for intriguing Mrs. Lovett, although Burton’s direction has her tone down the broad comedic aspects of the character; instead eliciting more emotional resonance from the material. Personally, I think slightly broader strokes would have enhanced the musical numbers The Worst Pies In London, A Little Priest and By The Sea, without sacrificing the character’s emotional quality, or any of the horror associated with her baking Todd’s victims into meat pies. Alan Rickman is a rather obvious choice Judge Turpin, which pays off quite well for the film- Rickman provides an appropriately malevolent presence. Timothy Spall is perfect as the judge’s weasely henchman Beadle Bamford, as is Sacha Baron Cohen as competing barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli. Cohen has a surprisingly effective singing voice and his brief performance provides the film with its brightest bits of comedy. The excellent cast of SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET also features Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener and Ed Sanders.

Dreamworks Home Entertainment has made SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. The 1080p presentation is a true marvel that outclasses the great looking SD incarnation by leaps and bounds. Dariusz Wolski’s near monochromatic cinematography is superbly rendered in high definition. Image sharpness, clarity depth and fine detail are truly wonderful. Every bit of texturing in the production design and costuming comes shining through, as does every bit of stubble on the chins to those about to be shaved by Sweeney. Sequences with intentional color can be quite nicely saturated, plus the explosive bloodlettings seem all the more gory in this incarnation. Blacks are deep, whites are crisp, plus the contrast is excellent, as is the level of shadow detail. There are no blemishes to be seen. Mild grain is present, but helps maintain the organic quality of the presentation.

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. The lossless encoding provides the music an effortless quality that enraptures the listener. Orchestrations are lovely, while singing voices resonate beautifully. Additionally, there is an excellent spread of the music throughout the soundstage. Sound effects are also well placed and sweep around to match the action. The bottom end of the track has a surprising potency, especially where the music is concerned. Dialogue is crystal clear and easy to understand. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a selection of special features that have been ported from the DVD edition, but presented in HD this time around. Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd is a twenty-six minute program that offers a mixture of interviews and a look behind-the-scenes. Sweeney Todd Press Conference, November 2007 is a nearly twenty minute Q&A session. Sweeney Todd Is Alive: The Real History Of The Demon Barber runs almost twenty minutes a looks at the historic origins of the story. Musical Mayhem: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd clocks in at eleven minutes and features the composer talking about how he came to write such a dark musical and its transition form stage to screen. Sweeney’s London spends fifteen minutes discussing the era of the penny dreadful and the story’s place in all of that.

The Making Of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street run twenty three minutes and offer a slightly more fluffy expansion on the program featured on disc one. Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition is an eighteen-minute mini history on the French theater of the macabre and how it is being kept alive today. Designs For The Demon Barber is a nine-minute examination of sets and costumes. A Bloody Business is an eight-minute look at how the sanguinary special effects were created. Moviefone Unscripted offers another eight-minute Q&A session. The Razor’s Refrain is truncated song medley played to stills from the film. A Photo Gallery and Theatrical Trailer close out the supplements.

As I stated above, SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET is a cinematic masterwork that finds both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp at the height of their powers. Dreamworks’ Blu-ray release is a superb high def experience. Absolutely, positively recommended.



Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street [Blu-ray] (2007)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2008 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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