Edward Scissorhands is one of Tim Burton's best films, and one of the most important to his long term career. For the director, it represents both a beginning and an end. It marked the beginning of his collaboration with Johnny Depp, as well as a turn to a more mature style of filmmaking. It also was the last film of Vincent Price, who Burton idolized, as was clearly seen with his first short animated work, Vincent. It was a transitional film that reverberates through everything he's done after, up to and including his latest, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Dianne Wiest plays Peg, a suburban housewife who fills up her days selling make up door to door. The problem is, no one will buy anything from her. In desperation, she makes her way into a dark and foreboding manor at the far edge of town. There she discovers Edward (Johnny Depp), a strange looking young man with scissors instead of hands. In an act of altruism, she takes him home and he becomes part of the family. He's the talk of the town, and becomes beloved for outlandish and artistic hedge sculptures, dog stylings, and haircuts. However, small towns don't condone the different for too long, and soon Edward finds himself at the rough end of a lynch mob.
Tim Burton described Edward Scissorhands as a fairy tale. It certainly has elements of the fantastic, but it's dialed down from the extreme nature of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Batman. Yes, the houses are painted all kinds of crazy colors, but they're still recognizable as normal suburban houses. Compare that to the mess of architectural styles in Batman, one film previous to this, and you'll immediately see how Burton has learned to rein himself in. The fairy tale comes out in the underlying themes. In ways, Edward Scissorhands is a more tragic "Frog Prince."
Johnny Depp was just a young lad when he starred as Edward, and he'd never made a more important film in his career. Look at the films he's made with Tim Burton, and you'll see much that makes up the best of both of their bodies of work (including the best work perhaps either of them ever did, Ed Wood). Even this early on, it's easy to see why the two have worked together so often. Depp is brilliant as the meek and misunderstood Edward. He brings the character to life, beyond even what Burton wrote for him.
Burton also works with composer Danny Elfman, who had worked with Burton on all of his previous films. This was an important film for Elfman as well, as his scores often felt underdeveloped. For the first time, with Edward Scissorhands, Elfman created a fully realized series of compositions, that both worked on their own and in conjunction with one another. In his own commentary, Elfman says that Edward Scissorhands may be his own personal favorite of his work, and it's hard to disagree with his assessment. All of the key themes that would punctuate Elfman's later work are present here.
This was the final film of Vincent Price, beloved horror film actor. Price was a huge influence on Tim Burton, so much so that he made an animated short, appropriately entitled Vincent. Price only has a few minutes of screen time, but they're poignant and a suitable swan song for an actor who enchanted and terrorized generations of people.
But as much as the picture was important for the people who made it, it's even better for the audience. The movie has real poignancy, especially towards the end. Depp's delicate performance tugs at the heartstrings without ever feeling sappy. While the love story between his character and Winona Ryder's feels a little anemic at times, it still has a genuine emotional punch that never fails to connect. In fact, this is one of Burton's most nakedly emotional films. A minor classic.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox presents Edward Scissorhands in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in this MPEG-2 encoded 1080p transfer. I was quite pleased with the image on this disc, which does a fantastic job of bringing to life the crazy world Burton invented. The colors are the first thing you'll notice, with reds and pinks popping out at you from the screen. There's a nice amount of detail, too. Just take a look at the minute scars on Edward's face to see how much more is available here than on DVD. Another great place to look would be in the flower garden at the manor, which is brimming with color and detail. At times, blacks tend to drop off too rapidly, but this may be due to the film stock used as opposed to a flaw in the actual transfer. Any fan of the film will want to take a look at the fine image on display here.
Fox offers up a DTS-HD MA 4.0 track, from which my PS3 was able to decode the lossy core. The most enjoyable aspect of this mix is Danny Elfman's classic score, one of the first to show the mature elements of his work. But dialogue and sound effects get their equal due as well. Having no bass channel makes the track feel a little light, but every DVD version of Edward Scissorhands has had this mix. Perhaps that's my biggest problem with it. Even without the ability to hear the full lossless sound, most of the MA tracks I've reviewed on Blu-ray have offered improvements offer their DVD editions. This one, while it sounds good, fails to do so.
Continuing their erratic success to failure ratio with Blu-rays, Fox only ports over a few of the extras available on the latest DVD edition of Edward Scissorhands. Maybe if they had bothered to use a 50GB disc instead of 25GB, and used an AVC encode instead of an MPEG-2 encode, they could have fit everything in. But hey, it's Fox, who have consistently made some of the worst decisions when it comes to home video.
- Commentary with Writer/Director Tim Burton: Burton talks quietly but earnestly about Edward Scissorhands, touching on such subjects as the themes of the film, working with Depp for the first time, Danny Elfman's score, and his relationship with Vincent Price. He's very soft spoken and there are some long passages where he seems to be watching the movie.
- Commentary with Composer Danny Elfman: Elfman gives a more energetic track, which also serves as an isolated score. A lot of the commentary focuses on his discussion of the composition and themes of the music, which he then lets us hear, free of dialogue and sound effects. It may sound boring, but it's the exact opposite. I found it to be an endlessly fascinating dissection. He also comments on elements of the film itself, as well as his relationship to Burton. This is the jewel of the supplemental package.
- Featurette: An absurdly short bit of promotional fluff. Inexplicably presented in 1080i, despite being 4x3 and looking awful.
Edward Scissorhands is one of Tim Burton's most personal and revealing films. It was the first time he worked with Johnny Depp, a partnership that would drive both men to do their best work. It's a film that only gets better with age. The transfer on this Blu-ray is a real step up from any previous edition, with plenty of color and detail. Unfortunately, the sound features no such improvements and many of the extras from the DVD have been left off. While fans of the film will want to get this for its upgraded visuals, for Fox to release an incomplete package at the absurdly high price of $40 while a significantly cheaper, feature-laden DVD is readily available is just insulting to consumers. Unless you own everything with Tim Burton's name on it, show Fox that they need to put care into all of their releases, not just big blockbusters. Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.