EDWARD SCISSORHANDS - DVD review

Burton has a good central premise working here, but he never really grabs us when we have so many distracting peripheral issues to contend with.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Can it really have been fifteen years since the première of "Edward Scissorhands"? Must be, as Fox has just released the Fifteenth Anniversary Edition of the 1990 movie. Maybe it's because director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp are still working together, creating weird fantasies with bizarre characters ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") that it seems like only yesterday they started.

So, here's "Scissorhands" back again, hardly changed from its first and second appearances on DVD. Fox have included the pair of commentary tracks from the Special Edition, but the new set is not the full, two-disc deluxe treatment that its fans had been hoping for.

Ever since I first saw a Tim Burton film, "Beetlejuice" (I missed "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" the first time around), I've longed to see him do Humperdinck's opera "Hansel und Gretel." He did an early TV version of the Grimm brothers' yarn on the Disney Channel, but with Burton's imagination and the opera's combination of lyric beauty and scary darkness, it would seem a natural for Hollywood's wunderkind of fairy-tale cinema. Anyway, I was reminded of it again while watching "Edward Scissorhands," Burton's surreal, semisweet fantasy. "Scissorhands" attempts to be a modern fable and contains flashes of creative power beyond the grasp of most prosaic Hollywood filmmakers. But the movie has more than its fair share of misses, too, making it for me a near miss. Maybe with an established story like "Hansel und Gretel," Burton wouldn't have to rely so much on trying to prove his ingenuity; he could just go out and do it.

I loved the first ten minutes of "Edward Scissorhands" and the last three or four minutes, too. It's what comes in between that left me unmoved. Edward (Johnny Depp) is the product of an eccentric inventor (Vincent Price), who died before he could finish his creation. Edward has only scissors, shears really, for hands and lives alone in his creator's mansion high on a hill. The crumbling old castle itself is a brilliant design, both eerie and sinister on the one hand and beautiful and alluring on the other. If one had two hands. One day a kindly Avon lady, Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest), calls on the place, finds Edward cowering in a corner, and brings him home to suburbia with her to live with her family--husband Bill (Alan Arkin), teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), and young son.

Inevitably, the easygoing Edward finds his new life at first taxing. For instance, a person with long, sharp, pointy objects for fingers should be careful sleeping in a water bed. And Edward soon develops a noticeable, though concealed, romantic interest for the daughter. But he presently adjusts to suburban life, if not to the romance. Before long he is manicuring the local shrubbery, also the local dogs, and finally the local housewives' hair. Then, after almost two-thirds of the film have been devoted to exposition, the plot shifts to tragedy as Edward predictably gets into trouble for being too different and too nice. The climax, involving Kim's jealous, cloddish boyfriend, Jim (Anthony Michael Hall), is violent and jarring and wreaks havoc with the gentle comedic tone of just about everything that went before.

Like all good fairy-tale fables, this one has a moral. People who are different are going to have a difficult time in this world. It's a easy moral for almost anybody to relate to since almost everybody has felt different at one time or another, especially in one's youth. What teenager hasn't longed to be the Student Body President, the quarterback of the football team, the captain of the cheerleading squad, the straight-A scholar, the popular, gorgeous or handsome kid as the case may be, instead of the middling nerd, the undesirable, the social reject we've sometimes felt we were? But for Burton that isn't enough. He also piles on layers of slight, superficial satire. He pokes fun at middle-class suburban living (rows and rows of ticky-tacky little pastel-colored track houses; backyard barbecues; dust covers on the furniture, etc.), middle-class values, small-town hypocrisy, small-mindedness, gossiping, and backbiting.

Burton has a good central premise working here, but he never really grabs us when we have so many distracting peripheral issues to contend with. Burton and scriptwriter Caroline Thompson are so concerned with scoring metaphoric points, they often forget to connect emotionally to their audience.

Worse still, in their overzealous attempts at lampooning, Burton and Thompson throw Edward in among people who are even more eccentric than he is. I mean, no one in this picture is normal: The Avon lady is well-meaning but dim-witted. The husband is utterly passive. The daughter is hostile. The son is a jerk. The boyfriend is Jack the Ripper. The neighbors are from hell. They make Edward and his mad creator seem positively benign, which is, of course, part of the filmmakers' rather unsubtle point. But since everyone in the movie is a cartoon character living in a cartoon world, there is no one for the main character to play against. The best dark comedies, "Dr. Strangelove" or "Catch-22," for example, are about normal people doing absurd things. In "Scissorhands," entirely absurd people are doing entirely absurd things. Our only hope is to watch the predictability of the plot run its course.

Nor does the conclusion bring any satisfaction. What are we to think, that outcasts will always be losers? To make matters even more mushy, all of this is accompanied by one of Danny Elfman's most turgid, schmaltzy, overwrought musical scores. It's unfortunate that Burton took so sweet an idea and wound up handling it in such a heavy-handed manner.

Video:
The widescreen picture quality remains largely as before, it's original 1.85:1 screen ratio easily filling out a 16x9 television screen in a ratio I measured at about 1.74:1. Every comic-book color shows up vividly, brilliantly, in fairly well-defined shapes and textures. Fox engineers, in their THX-mastered, high-bit-rate, anamorphic transfer, have no doubt reproduced the film as nearly as it was intended to be seen. There is almost no grain except in broad swaths of sky (or house paint), and there is only a very slight smearing of brighter hues. In other words, I can't imagine anyone being disappointed in the picture quality.

Audio:
The sound is also good but not remarkably so. The audio choices are Dolby Digital 4.0 and Dolby Surround, the former producing an excellent front-channel stereo spread, as wide as they come. But with only a limited response in the rear speakers, the surround sound is not as pinpoint accurate as a more-recent 5.1 mix would be. Still, the rear speakers open up a comfortable musical ambiance.

Extras:
While the big news for an Anniversary Edition should have been a boatload of extras on a second disc, it is not to be. Instead, Fox decided simply to provide the two commentary tracks from the SE, one by director Tim Burton and another by composer Danny Elfman, plus a couple of other miscellaneous items from before. The meager bonus offerings from Fox's first DVD release also remain, the package done up in an attractive new slipcover.

Let's start with the commentaries. I can't remember when I've heard two such quiet fellows in my years of listening to these things. Burton is much more serious and straightforward on his track than I would have expected, a soft-spoken man who appears to be trying to be as helpful as he can. He has the good sense to pause when he has little to say, and he obviously isn't afraid of a little dead time; yet by the middle of the movie he's practically gone mute. He does provide some good personal background on the writing of the story, and his tribute to Vincent Price is most touching. I can't say Burton's is the most stimulating commentary I've ever heard, but it is certainly earnest. On the other hand, if you think Burton is subdued, Elfman seems positively reticent to talk at all. He doesn't even begin his comments until the second chapter, making one wonder if he's ever going to say anything. Happily, when he does get started explaining the musical cues in the film, he's obviously quite enlightening. I just wish he had more to say.

The other bonus items are largely of the promotional variety. There are brief "Soundbites" from Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Weist, Tim Burton, Caroline Thompson, Alan Arkin, Vincent Price, and Danny Elfman, about a minute or so each, made around the time of the film's production. There's a little featurette left over from the first DVD edition that plays like an extended trailer. And there are a few concept-art sketches, two fullscreen theatrical trailers, and three TV spots that we saw before.

The Anniversary Edition concludes with twenty-four animated scene selections; an accompanying booklet and chapter list; English and French spoken languages; and English and Spanish subtitles

Parting Shots:
"Edward Scissorhands" is a wonderful, sadly beautiful concept taken a little too far and too obviously in its sentimental moralizing. For more cogent fantasy treatments of what it means to be different and the attendant results of people's narrow-mindedness and greed, I recommend the short stories "Born of Man and Woman" by Richard Matheson and "The Martian" by Ray Bradbury. They are a bit less obvious than yet every bit as poignant as the stuff of Burton's "Scissorhands."

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
6
Film Value
6