Every time I see this film, I see more things to admire in it.

James Plath's picture

Edward Scissorhands wasn't the first Goth, but he's certainly the most memorable. Dressed entirely in black leather with studs and rings all over, and with his wild hair and face looking pale as death, he could easily have passed for one of those post-punkers that sprung up as a counterculture movement in the early 1980's in London and Dublin. Except, of course, for those distinctive cutlery hands. Still, in "Edward Scissorhands," you have this unique individual of the most outrageous sort who's brought into the stronghold of conformity: American suburbia, where the houses all look alike (except for being painted in a different pastel or Candyland color), the men all drive off to work and return at exactly the same time, and everyone manicures and waters their identical-looking lawns as they lead nearly identical lives.

That's certainly one way you can look at Tim Burton and Caroline Thompson's "adult fable or fairy tale"--as a fable about being different in a world of sameness. But you can also view it as a religious allegory, because Edward was "made" by an inventor who lived in an old castle on top of a mountain at the cul-de-sac end of this pastel-and-Candyland suburb, and the inventor (Vincent Price, in his last film role) never got around to finishing his imperfect creation by adding a proper pair of hands. One of God's imperfect creatures ends up trying to find a place in the world, and is persecuted because of his imperfection. Edward Scissorhands as Christ-figure? It's not all that far-fetched, since he does redeem these people from their dull-with-a-capital-D routines. And if you realize that, then you also realize that this simple little story can also be viewed as a full-blown satire on American suburban life.

This film has been out for more than 25 years now, so I hope I'm not spoiling anything for anyone by saying that "Edward Scissorhands" is also an updated retelling of the Frankenstein story--which is to say that you can also view the "inventor" as a man, not an allegorical Supreme Being, and watch his faux-human creation struggle in the world until the peasants finally grab their pitchforks and torches and chase him back to the castle from whence he came. People who see it this way can point to the suburban housewife who isn't a part of the circle--the one who has a "Carrie" shrine to God in her house, with a gazillion candles and a daily reminder that Edward is an evil scourge. Then again, she's drawn in such broad strokes, that those who want to see her as a satire of religious conservatives can certainly do so.

The point is, "Edward Scissorhands" is a deceptively simple but complex film that resonates as a fairy tale for adults precisely because it does work on so many different levels. Remove any one of the elements (like the surreal contrast between the candy-colored houses and the gloom-and-doom Gothic castle) and it fails. It's as fragile a construction as the film's namesake.

Johnny Depp fans will revel in his naïve, porcelain-doll performance as the sensitive and soft-spoken "Other" who's discovered alone and confused in the castle by Avon lady Peg (Dianne Wiest, in one of her most memorable roles).

So if you're a do-gooder, where do you put a guy with four or five blades on each hand whom you've rescued, as if he were a stray cat? Peg, who's as cheerfully naïve as young Edward, lets him sleep in her daughter's room since she's away for the weekend. On her daughter's waterbed. Okay, it's a gag you can see coming a mile away, and there are other similarly simplistic points-of-humor in this film. But Depp pulls it off with all the persuasiveness of a mime. He's Charlie Chaplin played in slow-motion . . . until, that is, he gets those scissors going. At the Gothic castle on the hill, he'd decorated the garden by maintaining topiaries of his own design. Here, what better way to thank his hosts than by turning one of their dull bushes into a T-rex, and the other into a living, green tableau of the family? Soon (since everyone in suburbia is concerned about keeping up with the Joneses--or in this case, Peg and her family) a line is forming for Edward's services, and he turns that bland neighborhood into a sculpture garden. Then it's on to other things, like trimming pets, and giving the bored housewives a thrill by cutting their hair with his furious snipping.

Alan Arkin's trademarked deadpan nonchalance serves this film well. As Peg's husband, he's the perfect "Oh" response to the new family member, and his reaction to Edward's struggle to eat a simple meal is as priceless as Depp's performance. And then there's Kim (Winona Ryder). The daughter who's dating a "cool" guy at school, while this outcast who obviously has a crush on her has to live out his unrequited love under the same roof. It's a bizarre Romeo and Juliet tale of ill-fated love as well, with Edward having to deal with Kim's abusive (and crime-oriented) boyfriend, Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). Some of the minor performances feel minor, but there are enough strong reactions to Depp's portrayal to make for a solid film.

Hi-Def makes the visual style of this film really pop out, but one suspects that the 18mbps transfer (MPEG 2) was a deliberate attempt to not draw too much attention to a master that isn't as pristine as could be. Some scenes show slight graininess, usually ones with atmospheric sky for background, which briefly breaks the plasticine Hi-Def look. But the colors appear to be fully saturated and the black levels are strong. The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen.

I have to say, though, that there were a half-dozen points where there was a slight "hitch" in the playback. Is it my Samsung player, or the disc? Too early in the development of Blu-ray to tell, probably, but worth mentioning.

Lately Fox has been releasing their Blu-rays in DTS HD Master Lossless audio. This one's in 4.0, with additional options in Spanish or French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and subtitles in English (CC), Spanish, Cantonese, and Korean. The sound is very good, but not so exceptional that you find yourself catching your breath during some of the effects. What you notice, though, is that it seems perfectly suited for Elfman's magical score, as if it were mastered with the music in mind. There's a nice concert sound to it all.

Neither Tim Burton nor composer Danny Elfman is the sort of fellow who'd be a blabbermouth you wouldn't want to be trapped next to on an airplane. On each of their commentaries there's more dead air than on most of these things--so much so that you wonder why they couldn't have shared the microphone, or been spliced onto the same commentary track by a skillful editor. But, there you have it: the same two "okay" commentaries that were on the 10th anniversary edition DVD. Also included from that DVD release is a brief featurette that feels more like a pre-release promo. Missing is an art gallery, but I for one don't fault Fox for not thinking it worth going to a 50-gig disc just to add a few stills. Rounding out the bonus features is the original trailer.

Bottom Line:
John J. Puccio was disappointed by the film, and said so in his review. But every time I see this film, I see more things to admire in it--from Kathy Baker's performance as the clichéd oversexed housewife who looks, walks, and acts like Peg Bundy--to Price's poignant face while viewing his "creation," as if it summed up an entire career looking into the face of things that are different or evil. It's a film where I could have seen myself giving it a 6 or 7 out of 10 when it first came out, because it's really pretty straightforward on the surface and some of the minor performances aren't inspired. If you can't appreciate all of the different ways you can "read" this story (and I think this comes from multiple viewings), "Edward Scissorhands" feels too easy, too unsatisfying--especially the ending that lapses into something of a Hollywood cliché.

Unless, of course, you consider it a retelling of "Frankenstein" who, as Burton puts it on the commentary track, just happens to live in Martha Stewart's neighborhood.


Film Value