Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Blu-ray Review
There's been some discussion on the World Wide Web recently at to whether Warner are scrimping on the bits when it comes to encoding their Blu-ray discs - even talk of people boycotting the studio completely. I don't have the software or know how to be able to report exactly what the average bit rate is on this disc - but I can tell you, to my eyes, it's nigh on flawless.
Presented in its correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and given a 1080P makeover using the VC-1 codec, this could have been a disaster given the material on offer.
Dark, dingy and dirty, the streets of Victorian London look a horrible place to live. But thanks to Burton's genius and some very clever encoding, the shadow detail is immense and when there is the odd flash of colour (more in a bit...), it kind of looks out of place. From the opening scene where an old sailing ship sails up the Thames under Tower Bridge, I knew that this section of the review would be pretty straight forward. Each individual plank on the ships deck is visible and is a mixture of brown, silver and grey where the moonlight combines with the mist through the rigging. The knots and grain of the wood used to build the ship are visible from a distance in the gloom such is the detail on offer here.
As Todd disembarks, the shadow detail becomes even more apparent as we see the rats scurrying the city streets in the gloom. It all holds up well and the picture never collapses into a blocky mess that could so easily have happened.
When Todd flashes back to when his wife was stolen by Turpin, the whole set is swathed in gold and the audience is almost blinded by the colours on view. Skin tones pass their first test with (ahem) flying colours and are solid and bright. There's no sign of edge enhancement to be seen.
the print is in pristine condition being such a recent release. no tears or cracksles to be seen throughout.
If Warner are holding back on the bits here, it certainly doesn't show where it matters most - onscreen. I also own the Region 1 2 disc special edition SD DVD of this film. I thought that the picture was reference quality for standard definition - and still do. But compared to this, it's like watching VHS. The solarisation visible on that disc in the dark areas is completely absent here. This is certainly up there with the best Blu-ray discs in the picture department and easily wins a very solid 9 out 10.
Presented with a lossless Dolby TrueHD track along with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 640Kbps (and if it were on an HD DVD, would be called a Dolby Digital Plus track), the sound quality was always going to be the aspect that would make or break this disc for me. And I'm pleased to say that I wasn't disappointed...Having heard the Dolby Digital track on the SD DVD, I plumbed for the lossless version - and this is what I found
Remember that big heavy box you paid all that money for a while ago. That's called your subwoofer - just in case you forgot it was there, this disc was put together to remind you of it's presence. Indeed, mine was on its knees, hands held in prayer begging for mercy - and that was before the opening titles ran!
In case you haven't got it, this film contains LFE down below the required 20 Hz all the way through.
Stephen Sondheim seems to have used a church organ to get his point across and add atmosphere to the piece. It works. The hairs were standing up on the back of my neck as my room reverberated and the ornaments fell off the shelves.
But it's not all about the bass, is it? The dialogue seemed a little on the quiet side when I played the track at a low level. Turned up to 11, the dialogue comes into context with the rest of the sound stage and becomes audible and easy to make out. Simple message from Warner then - play loud!
Surround effects are sporadic and used mainly for ambience in the street scenes. The music often comes from behind you as well and when it happens, it works well.
As with the picture quality, you can tell with the sound that you are in for a treat from the very beginning. As the first splatter of blood hits the window in the opening credits, you are met with a mighty low whuuump. Steerage is immaculate throughout and you certainly won't be hearing any complaints from me about the sound track - though maybe it is a little too bassy...? I'll leave you to make up your own minds.
The Region 1 standard definition 2 disc set that I keep referring too throughout this review was full to the brim with extras - and I'm glad to say they have all been ported over to this HD offering - better still, they have all been encode in 1080i VC-1 HD!
So, let's open the treats box and see what we have, shall we?
Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd (26.08) is a collection of interviews together and individually of the trio which pieces together different ideas. It's a good piece and the director deserves credit here for allowing his leading man to put forward a lot of ideas that actually ended up in the movie.
Watching this reel makes you feel certain that we haven't seen the last of the trio working together.
Sweeny Todd is alive: The Real History of The Demon Barber. (20.10) is a short film documenting how the legend of Sweeney Todd came about and involves all sorts of people - including a person who claims to be an expert on the penny dreadful!
Musical Mayhem: Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. (12.04) is an interview with Stephen Sondheim, the composer of the stage show on which the movie is based. Musical theatre purists should watch this for the pure relief of hearing Sondheim give his blessing to Burton to leave out a large part of the show.
Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition. (19.16) is a film about the theatre in Paris called the Grand Guignol which specialised in staging horror shows and has since given it's name to describe a genre of musical theatre.
Designs For A Demon Barber. (08.55) is a vignette detailing the set and costume design for the movie.
A Bloody Business.(08.52) is an interesting piece detailing the role of the barber in Victorian England. Here we find that not only did they cut hair and shave chins, but they would also carry out the odd amputation or pull the occasional tooth. I shall never be able to look at my barber, Bob, in the same light again.
HBO First Look.(24.02) is the only real back slapping Hollywood luvvy piece on the disc. These HBO doc's pop up on quite a few discs and I'm not really a fan to be honest. You can watch this kind of stuff on the E channel all day if you so desire. I'd rather learn more about the film making process than hear how great it is to work with this guy or how brilliant this girl is...
London Press Conference. (19.40) is the pre shoot press conference where we get such questions as “Jonny, how does it feel to be playing Sweeney Todd?”
Razors Refine. (08.41) is a montage of stills from the film set. They are accompanied by the main songs from the movie. It's a very moody piece and a great way to listen to the music - I found myself wanting more.
Photo Gallery is a set of 52 stills taken from the film and the storyboards. Some of them are absolute works of art and I'm now on the lookout for a book with this artwork in it.
So, there you have it. A pretty exhaustive set of extras. All of them well put together and relevant to the film. All but one of them actually makes the film more enjoyable and if the HBO doc was missing, I wouldn't miss it. A very well earned 9 out of 10 on the extras side.
Truth be known, I've been waiting for this disc to come out like a kid lying awake on Christmas eve. I'm a bit of a Tim Burton fan (not that you would notice...) and will always be first in the queue at the local multiplex on opening morning of his latest offering. The trouble is, I actually missed this at the cinema because my work took me away for its entire run!
But I needn't have worried. Warner has brought a fantastic Blu-ray package for us to enjoy in the comfort of our own homes. We can be safe in the knowledge that, unlike the reel at the multiplex, the awesome picture quality on the disc will never deteriorate or develop tears or cracks.
The unbelievable depth of the LFE channel would bottom out the sub at any cinema not worth it's weight - but in your home, it will have you grinning from ear to ear and telling your better half I told you it was worth it after explaining how much your subwoofer cost.
Then as she swings for you, tell her she can watch as much Jonny Depp as she likes in the copious amount of extras available on the disc - she'll love you for it. And you will learn more about the film making process than you thought possible because the extras really are that good.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street goes straight in at number one in my all time top ten Blu-ray disc list. It may not be to everybody's liking simply because it's a musical. But I urge you to at least give it a rent to see what all the fuss is about. Maybe do what I did - start with the standard definition disc and progress upwards. I can't promise you won't regret it - but you may just regret not giving it a go.
Just a quick line to finish - this disc is a UK exclusive. The good news is it is region free and played fine on my region A Japanese PS3. Nice...
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