Sweeney Todd is a strange little film: a funereal musical in which our protagonist is a slicer and dicer, and we're not sure whom it is we're rooting for: Do we love Johnny Depp's Sweeney, despite his less-than-justice-seeking ways? Do we feel for the poor people Mr. Todd kills? Do we love Helena Bonham Carter's Mrs. Lovett, who seems to want nothing more than to help Sweeney--and make her meat pies, of course? Or are the only good people in this tale the children, solidifying Sweeney's tenet that everyone deserves to die, "Even you. Even I"?
Those questions are best left up to each viewer. This is a Tim Burton film, after all. That means that, even though the color palette of the film is mostly black and white, very little else is.
One thing's for sure, though: Tim Burton just loves to play dress-up with his muse and domestic partner, Helena Bonham Carter (though it is a little weird how much he likes to pair her with Johnny Depp, don't you think?).
As usual, though, it all works well here and feels fresh even if the cast and crew are familiar. You might find yourself wondering if it's a tragedy or a comedy, so I'll fill you in: a little of both. Burton's worldview seems to be that the tragic and the comic are intertwined. You can't help laughing at Sacha Baron Cohen's Italian accent, after all; or Bonham Carter and Depp singing about all the different types of people to bake into a pie. But there's a darker (I know...a dark Burton-Depp project? Shocking!) underlying theme: Life and love can hurt us to the point where our only defense is to put up a guard and shut off. Sweeney Todd takes it to a bit of an extreme, but still. Same old story, isn't it?
Another thing that's strange about this film is it's the first DVD I've seen that has the nerve to include just ONE special feature, and to actually admit that, right on the box and in the DVD menu. Usually DVDs with one special feature would throw in some trailers or a photo gallery so they could label them "Special Features." Not so here. The DVD menu says "Special Feature." No need to lie to us by pluralizing it. You've got to respect that kind of honesty.
That special feature is a featurette called--and I am not making this up--Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd (they left out a little someone named Sondheim, but I digress). It's a 25-minute documentary about the making of the film, from the beginning of Bonham Carter and Burton's relationship (Sweeney Todd was one of the first things they had in common; after this, there's nothing left for them, she jokes, except for that small matter of a child).
It's interesting to learn that Stephen Sondheim (who's interviewed all too briefly in the doc) approved all casting choices, because when you hear Tim Burton cast these two again, you assume it was his sole decision. Helena explains that she had to train to sing for three months and audition for the part, and Tim was uncertain that she'd get it. Johnny, of course, didn't have to audition. In fact, no one had ever heard him sing, even Sondheim, until millions of dollars were being spent on the picture. Johnny says when he first sang, "My Friends," it was probably the first song he'd sung in his life.
There are some touching and intimate comments in this doc: Johnny Depp describes his relationship with Tim Burton as "it's family"; Helena talks about how Tim Burton is not remotely a narcissist, but that all of these pale characters with deep, dark eyes are sort of him, the insomniac; she says Tim thinks their son's going to be gay because she's bringing him up on musicals; and more.
For offering just the one featurette, there's a lot of good stuff here. One warning: Don't watch it if you haven't seen the movie or the musical because it definitely gives away the ending. -- DeAnn Welker