[box cover]

Edward Scissorhands: 10th Anniversary Edition

20th Century Fox Home Video

Starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest,
and Vincent Price

Written by Caroline Thompson
Directed by Tim Burton

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

Review by Dawn Taylor                    

There are certain rules regarding fairy tales, and those rules are sacrosanct. The story must be a parable, a tale that tells us something universal about the human condition. There must be easily recognizable Good and Evil, and they must remain true to their roles. And the main character must overcome formidable odds, ultimately triumphing at the end. These are the age-old laws of the fairy tale, and simply cannot be messed with.

Tim Burton's 1990 Edward Scissorhands is presented as a fairy tale, beginning with an aged Winona Ryder telling her granddaughter a bedtime story. And, like all Burton films, we're treated to a deliciously designed visual world, where every detail has been crafted with maniacal care. But story-wise, Edward Scissorhands veers madly from transcendent beauty to wacky humor to depressing fatalism, leaving the viewer with the frustrating sense that Burton doesn't quite understand what the idea of a fairy tale is really all about.

The film tells the story of Edward (Johnny Depp), created by a mad inventor (Vincent Price) who died before finishing him — leaving Edward to live alone in the inventor's castle with long, sharp blades in place of real hands. One day Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest), an Avon Lady from the suburban tract at the bottom of the hill, ventures to the castle and discovers Edward, frightened and alone. She takes him home to live with her family, including husband Bill (Alan Arkin) and daughter Kim (Ryder). Initially feared as a freak by the Boggs' neighbors, Edward displays brilliant talents using his scissors on the neighborhood topiary — as well as the neighbor-ladies hairdo's — and wins acceptance. But Kim's nasty jock boyfriend (a weirdly-buffed Anthony Michael Hall) takes a dislike to Edward, causes problems and — between misunderstandings and the inevitable weaknesses of human nature — Edward becomes a modern-day Frankenstein's monster, hunted and reviled by the polyester-clad villagers.

Ten years after it first arrived, Edward Scissorhands is worth viewing mainly because it uncannily illustrates both Burton's strengths and weaknesses as a director. On the strength side is Burton the Art Director. Scissorhands is, like all Burton's films, indescribably gorgeous to look at. His use of color is extraordinary: compare the totally monochrome interior of the castle to the pastel palette used for the neighborhood houses, cars and clothing. No detail is too small for Burton, from the color of the doors on the elementary school to the hair clip Peg uses in Edward's hair while tries to cover his scars with cosmetics. And his trademark style imprints everything from the wrought ironwork on the castle door to the topiaries, hairstyles and costumes. (Unfortunately, there are times that this can detract from the film — a viewer who's thinking, "Oooh! Cool hinges on the castle door!" is a viewer who isn't exactly lost in the plot.)

Burton's background as an animator and illustrator is widely known, and discussion of his visual expertise is nothing new. The area where Burton is extremely underrated is his direction of his actors. It's no coincidence that Johnny Depp has done some of his best work with Burton, here and in Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow — Depp is one of those actors whose performances seem to be dependent on the quality of his directors, by turns brilliant (Lasse Hallstrom's What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco, Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man) or utterly lackluster (John Badham's Nick of Time, Jeremy Leven's Don Juan DeMarco, Rand Ravich's The Astronaut's Wife). And in this film Depp is phenomenal, inhabiting Edward so fully that you truly believe every nuance of his portrayal.

Part of Burton's charm as a director may be his eye for perfect casting, and once they're cast he coaxes quirky, complex performances out his actors. Arkin's befuddled husband could have been a dull, one-note role, but Arkin gives him heart — heart that doesn't come from his skimpy amount of dialogue. Kathy Baker's lascivious neighbor is simultaneously campy, sympathetic and truly evil — quite an accomplishment. And Dianne Wiest shines with such goodness as Peg, who could have come off as an unrelentingly annoying drip, but instead is strong, lovable and simply delightful to watch.

Burton's Achilles heel in Edward Scissorhands is Winona Ryder as Kim, and it's all his own damn fault. It isn't just Ryder's terrible, ratty blond wig (although it is troublesome how, in a film with such fanatical attention to detail, that wig slipped through), it's the way her character is written, which destroys the entire resolution of the story. For starters, Edward falls in love with Kim for no reason other than that she's pretty. She isn't nice to him and — when her creep boyfriend sets him up, she does nothing to help Edward clear his name. In fact, during the entire last act of the story the audience is waiting for Kim to set things to rights. But she never opens her mouth! At film's end, Kim has one last chance to make things right for Edward with the neighborhood and to give the audience their much-awaited happy ending, but she instead lies yet again and creates a situation where Edward must live the rest of his life in exile. Yet we are supposed to find her character sympathetic somehow. It's a puzzler.

Which is why Edward Scissorhands ultimately fails — it betrays the rules of fairy tales. The beautiful love interest betrays the hero and dooms him, making her out to be the most evil character in the film. And the main character doesn't triumph over formidable odds. In fact, he ends up completely hosed. And so the audience ends up depressed and feeling let down by the story. Because fairy tales are supposed to have happy endings. Everyone knows that.

Fox's "10th Anniversary Edition" DVD of Edward Scissorhands offers a beautifully remastered transfer in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), and Burton's fanatical use of color, light and shadow are well showcased here, with clear, rich detail in even the darkest scenes. The sound, in Dolby Digital 4.0, is clear and clean — all the better to hear Danny Elfman's marvelous score.

Extras include a moderately interesting commentary by Tim Burton (not as detailed or as in-depth as one might hope) and a commentary by Danny Elfman over his isolated score. If you're a fan of Elfman's film work (as I admit I am, avidly) then this is a wonderful feature. Also offered are original sketches by Burton of Edward and the Inventor; two theatrical trailers; a "making-of" featurette; short sound bites of the principals chatting about the film; and TV spots, including two in Spanish.

— Dawn Taylor

[Back to Review Index]     [Back to Quick Reviews]     [Back to Main Page]

© 2000, The DVD Journal