His story will touch you, even though he can’t.
Those who are familiar with the films of Tim Burton — and after the raving commercial success of Batman and the critical acclaim of Ed Wood, who isn’t? — know that he frequently takes well-known themes and turns them on their ear. While at first glance Edward Scissorhands may seem like a suburban, modernized rendering of Frankenstein, at its core it is really a fairy tale in the classic Brothers Grimm vein. The Brothers Grimm lived up to their surname — their stories were grim, not the treacly Disney versions we’re used to. The rebellious mermaid didn’t get the prince at the end of “The Little Mermaid.” Many stories had a dark undertone. That’s the sort of fairy tale Edward Scissorhands is: happy on the outside, darkness lurking underneath, with a bittersweet ending.
Longtime readers of DVD Verdict will no doubt remember that I am this site’s resident Tim Burton fanatic. In fact, since the last time I reviewed one of his films I’ve started my own fan site that has become moderately popular. Tim Burton is my favorite filmmaker for many reasons, not the least of which is that I enjoy his movies immensely. I relish his filmmaking ideals, which seem to value unique imagery over the more mundane details of linear plotting and in-depth character analysis. Burton’s films are a treat for the senses, from the lush visuals to the scores by Danny Elfman that exist harmoniously, symbiotically even, with the visuals. (Nitpickers, take note: I may be giving credit to Elfman, but I’m fully aware that Howard Shore wrote the music for Ed Wood.) I identify with the outsider protagonists of his stories, living in their own version of reality, yet always just out of step with their peers living in their world.
Edward Scissorhands is the story of one such young man, desiring to fit in but entirely unable to do so. Edward spent much of his life in a decaying mansion perched high atop a hill overlooking a suburban “paradise.” He had been created, Frankenstein-style, by an aged inventor (Vincent Price). The inventor had assembled Edward one step at a time, replacing his artificial components with more human-like ones. The final step was to replace his hands, which had been assembled of scissors. Alas, the inventor died before the final step of Edward’s assemblage.
No one from the suburban track homes ever bothered to visit the mansion, until one day Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest), an Avon saleslady, decided to ply her wares to the mansion’s inhabitants. She finds the scared and lonely Edward crouched in the attic. At first she is afraid of the strange boy with blades for fingers, but she quickly takes pity on him and brings him back to live with her family.
Peg’s family accepts Edward almost without question. Her husband, Bill (Alan Arkin), treats him just like one of “the guys.” Her son, Kevin (Robert Oliveri), thinks he’s cool because he could kill a guy with one karate chop. Kim (Winona Ryder), the family’s teenaged daughter, doesn’t meet Edward for several days but she is drawn to him because his sweet, sensitive, naïve nature is far different than her cruel jock boyfriend, Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). Edward is a curiosity to the neighborhood, viewed with bemusement, with fear only just under the surface. He is just as afraid, for he is in a world entirely removed from the mansion. The reactions of the bottled-up housewives range from the sexual attraction of Joyce (Kathy Baker) to the zealous religious indignation of Esmeralda (O-Lan Jones).
Edward becomes something of a local celebrity for the creative things he can do with his scissor hands. He creates fantastical topiaries for the neighborhood, much like the ones that graced the grounds around the mansion. He does dog grooming, until Joyce decides that his skills would go to better use cutting women’s hair. However, his naïveté leads to problems, as the trust placed in him by his adopted family and their neighbors erodes. It is only a matter of time before the bittersweet ending leaves even the toughest of guys misty-eyed.
Edward Scissorhands marked the point in Burton’s career where he had earned the influence to be able to make the projects he wanted to make. His feature film debut, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, had been a surprise success. He followed it up with the popular comedy Beetlejuice, and exceeded all expectations for Batman. That movie grossed over $250 million in the United States alone. Warner Brothers wanted him to direct a sequel to Batman, and were not particularly pleased when he brought his idea for Edward Scissorhands and vehemently said it was the next movie he wanted to make. It was an idea he had been nurturing since he was a teenager. He paid novelist Caroline Thompson to write the screenplay, which was accepted by 20th Century Fox, who was all too willing to lure a promising and commercially successful new filmmaker into their fold.
If you can believe it, Fox’s first choice to portray Edward was Tom Cruise. I don’t even know where to begin with that. Burton’s only choice for the role was Johnny Depp. Depp’s public exposure at that time came from his teen heartthrob role on “21 Jump Street.” Edward Scissorhands was not his first big-screen role. His film debut came in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street, playing the boyfriend of Heather Langenkamp. He also appeared in Oliver Stone’s Platoon and John Waters’ Cry-Baby. Edward Scissorhands was the first of three Tim Burton films in which Depp would star; he played the titular “worst director of all time” in Ed Wood and Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow. I admire Depp’s ability to transform himself into his character, to become immersed in another person’s life. Edward is a role that demands such dedication to the acting craft, for very little of his emotional state is expressed verbally. Even behind prosthetics and makeup, Depp brings subtle nuances to Edward’s expressions.
Winona Ryder was decidedly cast against type as blonde cheerleader Kim. Most of her roles to that point had been dark: a murdering high-schooler in Heathers, the teenaged bride of Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls Of Fire!, and a young woman obsessed with the dark side of life in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. She brings emotional depth to the role that none of her peers could manage. Kim will seem familiar to many people: the cheerleader who dates the school jock because it’s the accepted thing to do. She is reluctant at first to recognize her feelings for Edward, but gradually sees his caring heart and that he is not as intimidating as his exterior makes him look.
I must make special mention of Anthony Michael Hall. Edward Scissorhands was one of the first hints that he could play an evil character, at least until he played Bill Gates in the TV movie Pirates Of The Silicon Valley. (Ha! I’ve been waiting this whole review to get in that cheap joke!) Until Edward Scissorhands, he was best known as the original Rusty in National Lampoon’s Vacation and as the nerd in three John Hughes movies: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science. It’s strange, seeing him going from being intimidated by Judd Nelson’s tough guy character in The Breakfast Club to becoming that character (minus the abusive father).
Fox used to be a reviled for their poor support of the DVD format, but they have shown a remarkable turnaround in the last several months. Edward Scissorhands may not be one of their “five-star” discs, but it is certainly a disc worthy of being called a “special edition.” The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic. The image preserves the film’s varied palette without difficulty, from the deep, rich blacks to the gaudy pastels of the neighborhood’s houses. No digital artifacts are visible, and there is a minimum amount of dust on the negative. For a transfer of a ten-year-old film, it is quite impressive. Audio is presented in 4.0 and 2.0 surround. 4.0 surround is rarely seen, so I consider it odd that it was not remixed in 5.1. What you get is the same channels (front left and right, center, mono rear) that you would with the 2.0 matrixed surround, except they are discretely presented and can take advantage of the full 448k bitrate. Fidelity is excellent, and the sound effects and score are nicely balanced with the dialogue. The rear channel is rarely used, which is unfortunate because had Danny Elfman’s score been allowed to envelop the viewer, it would lend a bit more emotional depth. That’s a minor quibble. Bonus: the disc is THX certified, if that means anything to you. All it means to me is that my wife yells at me to turn the volume down when the THX trailer is displayed. I think they maximize the volume specifically so wives will yell at their husbands. There’s no justice.
Extras are not as plentiful as they could be, considering the wealth of information available about the making of the film and the extensive concept artwork drawn by Burton, but it is a satisfying package. Two commentary tracks are available, one by Tim Burton and one by composer Danny Elfman. Those of you who have heard Burton’s commentary for Sleepy Hollow know what to expect: infrequent, mostly incoherent remarks. He does have interesting tidbits to share, but it’s something like listening to Shakespeare — his speaking style takes some getting used to. He is at his best when he is paired with someone else that can act as a sounding board, such as his commentary with Paul Reubens on Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Elfman’s commentary track is really just an isolated score interlaced with notes about the music. He claims that it is one of his favorite scores that he has written, and I would agree that it is one of his best. It brings Edward’s emotional timidness to the forefront, as well as evoking the fairy tale nature and fantastic, exaggerated tone of the film.
Also included are a featurette, “soundbites,” two trailers, three television spots, and concept art. The featurette is your typical short promotional fluff piece. The soundbites are short interview snippets with the principal actors, screenwriter Caroline Thompson, Tim Burton, and Danny Elfman. The concept art is depressingly brief — only six of Burton’s sketches.
Fans of Tim Burton are advised to pick up this disc immediately. In fact, everyone is advised to pick it up immediately. Edward Scissorhands is a film anyone can enjoy. Like the greatest fairy tales, it touches upon themes and emotions that are universal.
At right is a link to my Tim Burton fan site, “The Tim Burton Collective.” There you will find articles pertaining to Edward Scissorhands, as well as pictures from all his films that are on DVD.