Blu-ray Review: Tim Burton’s ‘Sweeney Todd’

Inside you’ll find David Harley’s Blu-ray review of Paramount HOme Entertainment’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which streets at retailers tomorrow. Stephen Sondheim musical thriller revolves around Benjamin Barker alias Sweeney Todd, (Johnny Depp) who returns to London after being deported to find out what happened to his wife and child at the hands of Judge Turpin. When he learns of their terrible fate he joins fortunes with Mrs. Nellie Lovett, the baker downstairs from his barbershop, and sets out to seek revenge.When I saw SWEENEY TODD for the first time back in December 2007 (review), the audience’s reaction seemed to be one of utter confusion. Either everyone in the theatre had no clue it was based on a musical or they just figured it wouldn’t be adapted as one. I had a gut feeling that their feeling of surprise would spawn negative word of mouth and to a certain extent, it did. It’s a shame that people weren’t prepared to hear Johnny Depp belt out tunes on-screen or see Tim Burton’s best directorial effort in almost a decade but luckily, it did make back its production budget and garnered a few Golden Globes and an Academy Award.

Paramount originally released a single and two-disc version of SWEENEY TODD in April but ended up scrapping their planned HD-DVD release, since the format died mid-February. SWEENEY TODD is a stunning looking film that begs to be seen in high definition so I knew it would be only a matter of time before Paramount got their act together and released it on Blu-Ray. One of the problems with the DVD release was that the format didn’t properly reproduce the color scheme of the film, made up of mostly browns, blacks and grays, leaving many sets and wardrobes looking drab and muted. The 1080p transfer, however, solves that problem, giving the picture a crisp and clean look that differentiates the different shades, while making the reds really vibrant in comparison. Aside from the opening scene, which features a lot of grain compared to the rest of the film, SWEENEY TODD is one of the more impressive titles I’ve seen Paramount put out this year. The lossless Dolby True HD 5.1 track is both a gift and a curse at the same time. The music and vocals sounds rich, giving even more depth the film’s already incredible soundtrack. Unfortunately, since the soundtrack was studio recorded and dubbed in, the dialogue is represented in a somewhat lower quality. Even so, it still manages to be an improvement over the standard definition releases. And, as usual, Paramount has included almost all of their special features in HD (the press conference and “The Making Of” not included), leaving me with no choice but to happily recommend the Blu-Ray release of SWEENEY TODD to fans of the film and format aficionados.

Special Features

Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd (26:09) – A documentary produced in lieu of a commentary track, Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd features on-set interviews with, you guessed it, Burton, Depp and Carter, along with a few other key creative talents involved with the film. Acting as a basic behind-the-scenes supplemental, it gives an overview of the costuming, recording sessions, casting and set design, most of which is looked at more in depth in other featurettes.

Sweeney Todd Press Conference (19:42) – A press conference for the film, with Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Richard D. Zanuck in attendance. Not surprisingly, most of the questions are directed towards Burton and Depp. I realize they’re both held in high esteem but where’s the love for Hans Gruber? Rickman answers maybe three questions the whole panel. Pay attention for an especially hilarious moment when Burton seems to get bored and starts sketching while Depp answers a question.

Sweeney Todd is Alive: The Real History of the Demon Barber (20:08) – Historians and literary scholars discuss the history of the character and whether its possible he was a real person or not. Comparisons are made to Jack the Ripper and a few fairy tale characters along the way.

Musical Mayhem: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (12:06) – Focusing more on the music of the film, not the vocals, Stephen Sondheim talks about his views on adapting stage productions and liberties taken with his. The lack of a substantial amount of footage from the stage production is very disappointing.

Sweeney’s London (16:17) – Sweeney’s London acts as a companion piece to Sweeney Todd is Alive, with scholars discussing the lifestyle of a 19th century Fleet Street resident. Everything from diseases to the economy is discussed.

The Making of Sweeney Todd (24:03) – This feature, while not being a word for word rendition of Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd, seems to cover the same basic ground, with different interview segments. There is some overlap though and both seem to be culled from the HBO “First Look” special, which they might have been better off putting on the disc.

Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition (19:15) – The history of the famous French theatre and its horror and “camp” roots are discussed, eventually culminating in how Sweeney Todd is obviously influence by both. Many stills and posters from the original theatre are shown, alongside footage from revival Grand Guignol theatres, and the differences between the French and American productions are also touched upon.

Designs for a Demon Barber (8:56) – The costuming and set design of the film is dissected by the Oscar-winning artists behind the film.

A Bloody Business (8:53) – A short but sweet featurette on the practical effects of the film. The process of throat slitting and molding fake body parts is shown step-by-step, making it a must-see, especially for those who are really into effects work.

Moviefone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (11:36) – Tim Burton and Johnny Depp sit around in a studio while they ask each other questions which were written by Moviefone viewers. The two discuss all of their collaborative projects and the randomness of the questions prompt some very bizarre stories to be recanted.

The Razor’s Refrain (8:40) – Select songs from the film’s soundtrack play in the background as a slide show of production stills scroll by.

Film Score: 9/10
Blu-Ray score: 9/10