When considering a director for "Sweeney Todd", I have to imagine the list of potential directors largely begins and ends with Tim Burton...so it's a good thing that Tim Burton was brought on to helm this adaptation of the famed Sondheim musical. Joining Burton for the graphic (the film is definitely an R and not PG-13'd, as one would think it might be in this day and age) ride is frequent collaborator Johnny Depp.
The film takes place in 19th century London, where Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) is arriving after spending 15 years away after being arrested on a phony charge by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who's fallen for Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) - Todd's wife. Todd returns, only to find that his wife has committed suicide, while his daughter Johanna has been brought up (well, if you call being locked away "brought up") by his enemy, the Judge.
Todd meets up with Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who owns a pub and remains infamous for her meat pies. He decides to open up a barbershop above her pub, and goes about crafting a plan to take revenge on those who wronged him years before. When he starts offing some of his customers, Mrs. Lovett decides to use their "ingredients" in her meat pies, which suddenly become the town's favorite treat as they remain unaware of the "secret ingredient".
The performances are mostly terrific, and the stars manage to do a respectable (some better than others, but average/above average overall) job with the stretches where they have to sing. Particularly good are Depp as the mad barber and Carter, as well as Timothy Spall as Beadly Bamford. While the performances work, what really stuns is the film's visual style, which is exceptional and quite haunting. Of particular note is the marvelous production design by Dante Ferretti and cinematography by Dariusz Wolski. The film's portrayal of 19th century London is stunning in its detail and dark, shadowy atmosphere. At just under 2 hours, the picture wraps before it wears out its welcome.
Overall, this is an excellent adaptation by Burton of the dark (dark) Sondheim play, with a strong visual style and excellent performances.
VIDEO: "Sweeney Todd" is presented by Dreamworks in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is certainly a good one, doing justice to what must be difficult material to translate well to DVD. Sharpness and detail are quite good, as one is able to appreciate all of the small details that went into the sets. While some wide shots are a little softer, many shots show a surprising amount of definition.
As for faults...there really weren't many, aside from a few slight traces of edge enhancement. No artifacting, print flaws or other such faults were spotted. The film's color palette is certainly quite subdued, but what colors were spotted looked spot-on, with no smearing or other faults. Overall, this was a top-notch effort from the studio.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio was on par with the very good video presentation. The songs are given a full, rich spread across the front speakers, with some mild reinforcement from the rears. The surrounds also kick in to provide some enjoyable sound effects and ambience. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp dialogue and some instances of pleasing low bass.
EXTRAS: "Burton + Carter + Depp = Todd" is a 26-minute "making of" documentary that's the sole extra on the first DVD. This is a pretty standard overview of the production, discussing the initial development of the project, adapting the musical for the screen Burton-style and other tidbits, such as the fact that, when the production started, no one was actually entirely sure whether or not Depp could sing.
The second disc offers up "Press Conference: November 2007". This nearly 20-minute piece offers up a videotaped press junket with Rickman, Burton, Depp, Spall, producer Richard Zanuck and Carter fielding questions from journalists. This is actually a very funny program at times, as this looks as if the participants have done quite a few of these at this point and are trying to keep things light. While there are some good insights here, there's also a lot of sly jokes (Burton cracks that the next picture he's working on with Depp is an adaptation of "Cats") and chuckles.
"Sweeney Is Alive! The Real History of The Demon Barber" is an approximately 20-minute look at the history of the story. "Sweeney's London" takes an informative and interesting look at the struggles that those in London in the 19th century faced - including some very harsh living conditions. "The Making of Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is a 24-minute promotional featurette that feels like a fairly ordinary EPK piece. We get a few good tidbits about the production, adaptation and development of the film, but these aspects are covered in better depth in other featurettes in the set.
"Designs for a Demon Barber" is a shorter piece, but one of the more interesting, as it's devoted to the film's visuals and features some insightful discussion of the production design and other elements. "Moviefone Unscripted" is a promotional piece that has Burton and Depp interviewing each other from questions submitted. The interview isn't terribly informative, but the two seem amused at the prospect of participating in such a piece and do offer some amusing stories.
Finally, we get the historical overview, "Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition", "A Bloody Business" featurette, "The Razor's Refrain" moving photo gallery, trailer and additional stills gallery.
Final Thoughts: Overall, this is an excellent adaptation by Burton of the dark (dark) Sondheim play, with a strong visual style and excellent performances. The film is available on DVD in both single disc and a 2-DVD Special Edition. The DVD offers stellar image quality, fine audio quality and a nice helping of features. Fans will seek out the Special Edition, but more casual viewers will probably be fine with the 1-DVD edition.
The Film B+