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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - DVD Review



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</script></div>{/googleAds}With half a dozen or so collaborations under their belt as of this writing, it's no secret that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp know what they're doing at this point. Nearly all of their unions thus far have proven more and more satisfying with each outing. From Edward Scissorhands, to Sleepy Hollow, to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they consistently bring out the best in each other; attempting newer and more daring experimentations with each film.

With Sweeney Todd, my friends, they have absolutely outdone themselves.

The delightfully wicked tale of Sweeney Todd has enjoyed many incarnations since its inception, beginning life in the 1800's as a melodrama and moving through the modern era as a 1936 film, a TV adaptation and most successfully a 1979 Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical with Len Cariou (and later George Hearn) and Angela Lansbury. Sondheim's version enjoyed many years of great success and acclaim and some have even argued (and rightfully so) that the "Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is his most accomplished work.

Now, Tim Burton, screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator), and Burton's talented cast (more on them in a minute) have adapted Sondheim's masterpiece into a unique and astounding new vision, which is at once faithful and pure enough for old fans to enjoy but also fresh and original enough to usher in hordes of new fans and music lovers. Burton has never adapted a musical before and, at least professionally-speaking, was untested in taking on one that is nearly 80% sung. I'm quite happy to report that, in doing so, he has succeeded where so many others (including Best Picture-winner Chicago) have failed. He has taken a Broadway classic and remained faithful to his source material while at the same time, crafting it into a wholly cinematic vision.

The story resolves around a young barber named Benjamin Barker and his family, whose perfect lives are viciously torn apart when the cruel Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) takes a fancy to Barker's wife. The barber is wrongfully imprisoned on a false charge for 15 years, while the Turpin tries unsuccessfully (and tragically) to woo Barker's wife and then later his young daughter whom he has taken as his ward. Barker returns to London and, after discovering what has transpired, seeks to exact bloody revenge on the judge and his conspirators. It's this obsession with revenge that eventually spurs Barker, now Sweeney Todd, into a spiral of bloody murders in his loft barbershop above Mrs. Lovett's bakery; a bakery that begins to prove very useful in disposing of bodies.

Sweeney Todd benefits greatly from Burton's daring choices, which, on paper, might have sounded risky to say the least. Burton and his creative team started by skewing the characters younger, shaving off at least 10 years from previous characterizations of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. And in a show of true bravado, he cast actors who were not professional singers in the lead roles.

Some may argue that Johnny Depp's casting was a foregone conclusion when considering that Burton was at the helm, but the gamble could have been a disaster or at the very least disappointing (see Gerard Butler in Schumacher's Phantom of the Opera) were it not for Depp's complete immersion into the character and voice of Sweeney Todd. Depp and Burton wisely don't try and out-sing the likes of Hearn and Cariou; instead the songs are performed with more restraint and intimacy, which bring a new power and poignancy to the lyrics under Depp's skillful and surprisingly subdued performance. An Oscar nomination is assured, and this might even be the performance that earns him the coveted prize. The performance is that good, that surprising, and that accomplished.

Nearly matching Depp note-for-note is Helena Bonham-Carter and Alan Rickman, as Mrs. Lovett and Judge Turpin. Bonham-Carter brings a playful whimsy, and surprisingly pointed tinge to Mrs. Lovett. Instead of coming off as matronly or uneducated, she takes the character into shrewd new directions, illustrating through song the character's desires, wants, and ultimate resolve. Like Depp, Bonham-Carter also emerges as quite the singer. Alan Rickman has long been the bad guy you love to hate, but here he manages to inject the otherwise vile Judge Turpin with a sense of humanity that has been missing in previous incarnations of the character. Either that or it's the power of the cinema that allows to see, up close, the emotions and nuances of this particular villain. Perhaps it's both, as all three leads benefit greatly from Burton's choices to play things â"quiet" when necessary and his tendency to dwell on the tortured faces of these haunted people.

The supporting players, including Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, Borat) provide stellar work as adversaries that also play into Todd's bloody tale of revenge. Sacha Baron Cohen, in particular, gives the film's most showy performance, one that is refreshingly comic and sharp (as a razor?) when it needs to be.

As the young lovers, Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Johanna (Jayne Wisener) hammer home the hopefulness and naivety of the story. And boy can both of them belt out a tune! They amount to the beating heart of this otherwise bloody and tragic story.

And speaking of bloody... be prepared. Throats are slit, bodies are crunched, and the plasma runs like a crimson tide throughout the entire film. Burton has, as expected, fully embraced the Grand Guignol nature of the tale and has not shied away from giving us (from the very first frame) a violent and visually graphic take on the story. Though the weak-of-heart may take some comfort in knowing that the violence is very theatrical and stylized, much in line with the nature of the story itself. Dante Feretti's lush production design makes the carnage and the squalor of Victorian London into something to truly behold.

In surrounding himself with an army of actors and collaborators who are at the peak of their creative powers, Tim Burton has created a musical masterpiece that both compliments and challenges his previously honed artistic style. It's easily his best film, and with Ed Wood, Batman, and Beetlejuice under his belt, that's saying a lot. All involved should be extremely proud of what they've created; a stylish and astounding musical that embraces established barriers and also breaks through them with bloody and brilliant precision.


DVD

DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.78:1

Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Language and Sound: English: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; trailer; cast and crew interviews; photo gallery; Featurettes; trailer; photo gallery.

* Commentary
o Feature-length commentary track with co-directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck and producer Chris Jenkins
* Featurettes
o Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd
o Sweeney Todd Press Conference
o Sweeney Todd is Alive - The Real History of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
o Musical Mayhem - Sondheim's Sweeney Todd
o Sweeney's London
o The Making of Sweeney Todd
o Grand Guignol - A Theatrical Tradition
o Designs For A Demon Barber
o A Bloody Business
o Moviefone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp
o The Razor's Refrain
* Photo Galleries
* Previews

Number of Discs: 2 with Keepcase Packaging

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