Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
Paramount Home Entertainment
Release date: October 21, 2008
Deny it all you want, but deep down inside everyone loves musical theater. Everyone has at least one show where they’ve memorized all the songs, they find themselves humming the songs in the shower, they keep hidden in some deep pocket of their iPod. Me, I like lots of shows, but I had never heard any of the songs on this one until I saw this film in the theater. Now I’ve had the chance to revisit it, and I find myself humming about the worst pies in London, and can’t help but smile. At times hilarious, at times frightening, Sweeney Todd has a lot going for it, not the least of which is Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, and of course the skillful direction of Tim Burton.
Judging from films such as the Nightmare Before Christmas (mental note: add that to my Christmas watching list) and Corpse Bride, it seems that Tim Burton has a very deep love for musicals, and it shines through in this production. The design and look of the film is what you would expect from a Tim Burton film, full of dark and moody tones, but still with a sense of playfulness. It’s basically what we’ve come to see from his films, but he is able to bring his vision of London to life, and makes the film feel like a movie with song, rather than just someone filming the stage version, if you catch my drift.
However, what I did not expect myself to enjoy as much as I did was the actual music and story. I knew nothing of the original musical by Stephen Sondheim before, but was quickly captured by the lovely music. The story itself is a fairly simple tale of love and revenge. Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) is a man who once had a family until it was taken away from him by a crooked Judge (Alan Rickman). After coming back to London after a stay in prison, Todd seeks his revenge, and is helped by an unsuccessful pie-maker named Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter), when the two embark on a scam of disposing of bodies by turning them into meat pies.
Of course, as all tales of revenge go, everything ends badly, but as this is a musical, it’s all done with flair! All the actors do a spectacular job with their performances, not just the acting, but more importantly the singing. Depp and Bonham-Carter are forced to do most of the heavy lifting, and fortunately are able to carry it off, otherwise the whole movie wouldn’t have worked, but you also get some nice turns from Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen. All in all, every piece of the film comes together to make something that everyone can enjoy.
Lots of good special features on this disc, especially if you’re interested in the myth of Sweeney Todd. There are a couple of History Channel style documentaries both on the origin of Sweeney Todd, and the London that gave birth to the myth, as well as some documentaries on the stage version of the story, and how it became the original musical the film is based on. All this plus a look at how the actors prepared to sing for the first time, some interviews with the creators, a look at the creation of the visual effects, and a few other extras. All in all, it’s a solid collection of extra, and Burton’s design work on the film deserves to be seen in HD, so the Blu-ray version is definitely worth picking up if you have the capability.
So, whether you’re a fan of the show or not, the performances and directing of this film make it worth checking out. Depp and Bonham-Carter give great performances, and Burton creates a great look for the film. And of course you get the classic songs that have made the show a long-lasting success. Sure, if you’re a guy, you might get a bit embarrassed picking this up but just remember, everyone you know loves show-tunes as much as you do. Great music is great music, regardless of where it comes from.