- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © DreamWorks Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
weeney Todd and Tim Burton: you don’t find spirits more kindred than that. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” in the hands of another director. Would anyone else have seen how much humor is embedded in Steven Sondheim’s song book? Would anyone else have been willing to portray the lead character in such an unflattering light? Lastly, would anyone have the nerve to make a musical with almost no color? In the end, the answers to those questions are meaningless. The only question worth asking is: what on earth took Burton so long to give us this delightfully bloody movie?
Johnny Depp stars as the title character (real name: Benjamin Barker), a barber who was wrongly imprisoned by the pious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) because Turpin fancied Todd’s wife. When Todd returns from prison 15 years later and hears of what has become of his wife and daughter, he swears revenge on Turpin. Todd receives unlikely assistance in the form of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the baker who took over his barber shop. Her meat pies are the worst in London due to her low-quality meat (ahem, cat), and so the two strike a deal: he satisfies his bloodlust by killing the occasional customer, and she will turn the corpses into meat pies. Her shop becomes a smash hit, but with success, and of course murder, comes trouble.
To go with the dark subject matter, Burton has created a turn-of-the-century London so dark and grimy that one feels compelled to shower just for looking at it. The sun shines during one, count it, one scene in the entire movie, and it is used to hilariously ironic effect. As Burton movies go, this is as none-more-black as it gets, and it suits the material perfectly.
Burton might be a homer for casting Depp and Carter as the leads, but he’s no fool: they’re two of the finest actors of their generation, and surprise! They can sing, too. Carter positively runs away with the role of Mrs. Lovett – her timing during the song “A Little Priest” is impeccable – while Depp’s Sweeney Todd is an unapologetic beast yet strangely likable, something that takes a special kind of charisma to pull off. Sacha Baron Cohen has a nice turn as the huckster barber Aldofo Pirelli, but Rickman does not get the chance to sink his teeth into Judge Turpin the way “Die Hard” or “Harry Potter” fans would hope.
You better bring your ‘A’ game if you’re going to make a musical about a homicidal barber and his corpse-grinding accomplice, and in “Sweeney Todd,” Burton has not just brought his ‘A’ game but made one of the best movies of his career. With the exception of “Big Fish,” Burton had actually been in quite an artistic funk lately (take “Planet of the Apes,” please). The funk ends here, in magnificent fashion.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
No audio commentaries or deleted scenes to be found, but the Blu-ray release of “Sweeney Todd” is stuffed to the gills with featurettes. The two best are “Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd,” where the producer and director admit that they had spent millions making the movie before they knew whether Depp could sing, and “Sweeney Todd Is Alive: The Real History of the Demon Barber,” which explores the origins of the character. Other featurettes cover the conversion of Steven Sondheim’s music from stage to screen ("Musical Mayhem"), the set design ("Designs for a Demon Barber"), and the special effects that went into the death scenes ("Bloody Buisness"). Some of the featurettes use the same quotes and footage, but if you’re a fan of the movie, you will certainly get your money’s worth.