Friday, May 30, 2008

Review - Edward Scissorhands

Edward Scissorhands
1991 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

I can only imagine what the pitch meeting was like for Tim Burton. Sitting across from the studio executive he'd say, "I want to make a movie about a Frankenstein monster with scissors for his hands who goes to the suburbs!" The exec would respond, "That's a great idea for a horror film!" and Burton would reply, "Horror?"

Instead of a bloody horror film Burton took this premise and made a family comedy. An Avon lady finds Edward alone in a dilapidated mansion. An inventor created him to be human but died before finishing leaving him with scissors rather than hands. She takes pity on him and brings Edward to her ideal suburban home. There he slowly begins to grow connected with people and reveal a creative side. Trouble comes as he falls in love with her daughter. The daughter has a thug of a boyfriend who initially takes advantage of Edward and later helps turn people against him.

I'm not as enamored with Burton as I was ten years ago but Edward Scissorhands is a movie that makes it clear why I did like him. The film is dependent on the unique visual style that made him famous. Besides Edward himself there are his creations, vast topiary creatures and odd hairstyles, which are placed in the context of the most pastel, generic suburbia one could imagine. Placing the macabre in the middle of the familiar is Burton's trademark and this movie helped define him.

The story itself is sappy and manipulative. A strange outsider comes to town, slowly wins over the hearts of the townspeople, but then an incident happens and the outsider is forced to flee. That arc has been played out dozens of times and the movie hits all of the emotional notes exactly on cue. Edward's the sensitive artist and pure soul that the audience is to empathize with. And despite the fact that I recognized the pattern and the manipulation instantly it was still effective.

Danny Elfman's score plays a large part in that manipulation and it is essentially the same score that he's written a hundred times before and since. Plenty of bubbly, bouncy tunes in the lighter scenes, the swelling tones in the melodramatic ones. It's fine work but it's also standard Elfman.

I can't say much about the acting because so much of it was completely subdued. Johnny Depp as Edward is supposed to be almost completely inert and emotionless. Most of the other characters are not given much to do other than react to him. Wynonna Rider as his love interest is particularly weak; not bad enough to make me wonder how she got the role but she's unable to make me believe the character arc she goes through.

But I don't think anyone is going to watch Edward Scissorhands for the performances (and watching because of an attraction to one of the actors is not the same thing as watching for the performance). It's the style that makes the movie and carries it. Though it's not my favorite example of Burton's efforts (I like Ed Wood best) I'll take Edward Scissorhands before any of his recent efforts.