Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I found myself quite pleased with this excellent transfer.
You won’t want to use it to show off your set’s color performance, though. The vast majority of Todd went with essentially monochromatic material. Red was the dominant hue, and even that stayed fairly low-key. Some of Pirelli’s clothes showed greater vivacity, and flashbacks demonstrated a warm golden tint. The most extended segment with real colors came from Mrs. Lovett’s fantasy “By the Sea”, but it remained an exception to the rule. When the hues appeared, they looked terrific, even if they stunned us due to their infrequency. During those scenes, I felt like I’d walked from a dark room into bright sunlight; they really stood out as unusual in an otherwise relentlessly dark film.
Given the amount of gloomy, monochromatic elements, blacks became especially important. The transfer pulled off that side of things very well, as the dark aspects of the image looked deep and firm. Shadows were concise and clear at all times. I thought low-light sequences showed excellent delineation and never appeared too think or opaque.
Sharpness was another standout area. From start to finish, the film appeared distinctive and well-defined. I noticed a smidgen of jagginess in some moving backgrounds, but that was such a minor distraction that it became virtually irrelevant. Edge enhancement remained absent, and source flaws also failed to appear. I thought the flick looked absolutely terrific.
If you think the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Sweeney Todd will focus mostly on music, then you win a prize. Songs and score heavily dominated the film’s soundfield. Those elements offered strong stereo delineation in the front channels and used the rears effectively to bolster the music. Effects were more limited but perfectly acceptable. These tended toward general environmental bits, so don’t expect anything showy, but the effects added a little life to a mix that concentrated on music – as it should.
This meant the quality of the score and songs became particularly important. I’m happy to say the audio reproduction more than satisfied. The music was robust and dynamic throughout the movie, and that side of things showed excellent reproduction. Speech was also warm and natural, and the effects demonstrated nice clarity and definition. I didn’t think the track packed enough oomph to enter “A” territory, but it worked quite well for this flick.
Although this 2-Disc Special Edition of Sweeney Todd lacks a commentary, it compensates with many other components. Only one shows up on the first DVD. Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd runs 26 minutes, seven seconds as it mixes movie clips, shots from the production, and comments from composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, director Tim Burton, producers Walter F. Parkes and Richard D. Zanuck, Johnny Depp’s vocal producer Bruce Witkin, music producer Mike Higham, and actors Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Ed Sanders, Alan Rickman and Jamie Campbell Bower. “Todd” looks at Burton’s interest in the musical and its adaptation for the screen, cast and performances, character makeup and design, and the film’s musical elements.
The latter aspect of Todd dominates the program. We hear about the concerns that Depp wouldn’t be able to sing and the complications the actors experienced as they dealt with the musical numbers. Those aspects of the piece are quite informative, especially when we get remarks from the witty and honest Carter. The show offers a nice recap of these topics.
Over on DVD Two, we find a slew of video pieces. First comes a November 2007 Sweeney Todd Press Conference that fills 19 minutes and 41 seconds. The panel includes Burton, Depp, Carter, Rickman, Zanuck, and actor Timothy Spall. Like most press conferences, this one stays pretty light and focuses on general questions. It’s still entertaining, though, especially since it’s nice to see all the film’s principals together.
With that we head to the disc’s eight featurettes. A look at the fact behind the fiction comes from the 20-minute and seven-second Sweeney Is Alive! The Real History of The Demon Barber. It includes remarks from Burton, The Real Story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street author Peter Haining, Open University (UK) Research Fellow in Literature Dr. Rosalind Crone, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography editor Dr. Lawrence Goldman, LSU Professor of English Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, “Penny Dreadful” expert Helen Smith, and crime historian Donald Rumbelow.
“Alive” seeks to investigate how much potential truth exists behind the Todd tale. It traces potential inspirations as well as the development of macabre literature in 19th century England and the iterations of the Todd story over the years. “Alive” gives us a good little take on the background behind the musical.
We get a look at the origins of the production via Musical Mayhem: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. This 12-minute and three-second show features Sondheim, Higham, Parkes, MacDonald, and screenwriter/producer John Logan. “Mayhem” tells us about the development of the stage show as well as its adaptation for the screen. The best parts of “Mayhem” deal with the original Todd, and I wish we got more about it, especially in terms of how it differs from the movie. The rest of the piece is okay but it tends to become a bit fluffy after we shift to the film areas.
If you want to learn more about the story’s locations, go to Sweeney’s London. It fills 16 minutes and 15 seconds with notes from Rumbelow, Haining, Goldman, and Crone. The program discusses the realities of London in the 18th and 19th centuries. It offers good background for more of the reality behind the Todd tale and entertains as it informs.
A better glimpse of the film production comes from the 24-minute and two-second The Making of Sweeney Todd. It gives us remarks from Burton, Sondheim, Depp, Spall, Carter, Zanuck, Bower, Rickman, MacDonald, Parkes, Logan, Witkin, Higham,
Makeup and hair designer Peter Owen, associate producer Derek Frey, costume designer Colleen Atwood, production designer Dante Ferretti, director of photography Dariusz Wolski, food stylist Katherine Tidy, special effects supervisor Joss Williams, property master David Balfour, and actors Jayne Wisener and Edward Sanders.
The show covers story and characters, cast and performances, translating the stage piece to the screen and Burton’s take on the material, various visual elements, aspects of the music, and general thoughts. A few good notes emerge, especially when we look at costume, production and prop design. However, the main emphasis here is on promotion, so expect a lot of remarks about how wonderful everything is. This is a puffy program.
Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition lasts 19 minutes and 14 seconds. In it we hear from Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries Professors Richard J. Hand and Michael Wilson, The Grand Guignol: Theatre of Fear and Terror author Mel Gordon, “Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol” director Charles Nonon’s great-grandson Eric Horton, “Thrillpeddlers Hypnodrome” producer Russell Blackwood, and “Thrillpeddlers” co-founder/playwright Daniel Zilber. We get an examination of the history of Grand Guignol theater and aspects of the genre. “Tradition” digs into the subject well and proves quite informative.
Some visual elements come up during the eight-minute and 55-second Designs for a Demon Barber. It provides notes from Atwood, Ferretti, Burton, and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo. This one checks out set design, costumes, and some other visual elements. It throws out good details about that side of the production, especially when Atwood gives us a tour of the costumes.
Next comes the eight-minute and 52-second A Bloody Business with its statements from prosthetics creator Neal Scanlan. He goes the processes used to execute the throat-slitting scenes as well as a few other violent bits. Scanlan offers a nice tour and lets us learn the ins and outs of these gory sequences.
For more from the film’s two principals, we get Moviefone Unscripted With Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. During this 11-minute and 36-second piece, they take questions sent in by viewers. Not a lot of meat emerges, but some interesting bits do crop up, such as when Depp tells us which of his characters he’d most want to meet in real-life. It’s entertaining.
Our final featurette lasts eight minutes and 40 seconds. The Razor’s Refrain actually offers a collection of stills accompanied by music from the film. Most of the images depict scenes from the flick, though a few behind the scenes shots appear as well. It’s essentially a “Cliffs Notes” version of the story, as it follows events through images and songs. I’m not sure what point it serves, though if you only have a few minutes to watch Todd, this’ll do the trick.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we discover a Photo Gallery with 51 shots. Most of these cover the same territory viewed in “Refrain”, though we also get some promotional images and a few design sketches. It offers a nice little collection.
An unusually bloody and gloomy musical, Sweeney Todd doesn’t offer a cheerful night at the movies. That restricts its potential audience but also makes it more accessible to some folks who don’t care for the usual pap. The film adaptation of the production creates a dark and involving piece. As for the DVD, it boasts superb picture quality, very good audio and a mostly useful and interesting compilation of supplements. Both the DVD and the movie satisfy and deserve my recommendation.
Note that in addition to this two-DVD special edition, you can buy a single-disc version of Todd. It replicates this set’s first platter and simply omits the second DVD with the majority of the extras. It sells for $29.99 instead of this package’s $39.99 retail price.