Edward Scissorhands: Cutting Up Suburbia

His story will touch you, even though he can’t.

 

Tim Burton says this is the best movie he’s made. Danny Elfman says his score for this film is the best he’s written. Clearly, they have strong feelings for Edward Scissorhands. Burton came up with the idea for the film as a lonely teenager, but when he became a filmmaker he learned that the story was not something studios would jump at. Years later, on the day he told Fox that he was ready to make Edward Scissorhands he had Beetle Juice and Batman in his portfolio. Who could say no to that?

The story begins with Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest), an Avon lady, trying to sell her neighbors new products. Unsuccessful, she makes one last desperate attempt at the old mansion that lies on a hill at the end of the street. It once belonged to an inventor (Vincent Price), but it is now abandoned – except for a boy that was left behind. It turns out that young Edward (Johnny Depp) was manufactured by the inventor, but the old man died of a heart attack before being able to attach hands to his arms. For some reason, Edward was given scissors for hands and now he’s stuck with them. When Peg arrives at the mansion, she feels compelled to bring Edward to her home. Adjusting to suburbia is not easy for a boy who looks so different from all the others, and Edward quickly becomes the subject of much gossip among all the nosy neighbors. Not all of them are friendly, but Edward falls in love with Peg’s teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder) who initially finds reason to resist his charm.

A place drawn in pastel colors
Most of Burton’s fans may agree with the director in claiming Edward Scissorhands as his greatest film. It is certainly one of his finest achievements, but as always with Burton’s movies there is something to complain about. The obstacle this time is the story, which is thoroughly predictable; at every twist and turn you know what will follow. Some fans might argue that it’s the pattern of every fairy tale… and a fairy tale it is. The neighborhood where the Boggs live doesn’t exist in the real world; this is a place drawn in pastel colors and populated by caricatures. Burton has fun comparing it with the inventor’s Gothic castle and one can easily sympathize with the character of Edward that even shares a few visual similarities with the director; I guess this was how Burton felt growing up in Burbank, California. Depp is excellent as the pale, scarred boy (a performance that set him off on a career of playing characters that seem out of place); Ryder touching as the teen who slowly falls in love with the odd one; Wiest and Arkin hilarious as the suburban couple; and Vincent Price magnificent in one of his last parts as the inventor.

The production values are very high; moments of horror, comedy and romance are effectively (and intelligently) highlighted by Bo Welch’s production design, Stefan Czapsky’s dreamy cinematography and, yes, one of Elfman’s greatest scores. Stan Winston’s scissor-hands look marvelous, perfectly in tone with the inventor’s steampunk sensibilities. So much to admire… but turning Kim’s boyfriend into an almost Batman-esque villain is another example of where the story makes a wrong turn.

Edward Scissorhands 1990-U.S. 100 min. Color. Produced by Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay: Caroline Thompson. Cinematography: Stefan Czapsky. Music: Danny Elfman. Production Design: Bo Welch. Makeup: Stan Winston, Ve Neill. Cast: Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands), Winona Ryder (Kim Boggs), Dianne Wiest (Peg Boggs), Vincent Price, Alan Arkin, Anthony Michael Hall.

Trivia: The first draft of the script was allegedly written as a musical. Tom Cruise, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jim Carrey were allegedly considered for the lead.

Last word: “I loved the idea – and this did go with an impulse that I felt and still feel, and I think a lot of people feel – of feeling misperceived, the feeling of being sensitive and overly sensitive and wanting things you can’t get. I remember going through a very strong feeling, a very teenage feeling, of not being able to touch or communicate. I had that, very strongly. I’ve never been a very physical person. I didn’t grow up in a way that was very physical. And I always resisted that. So there are simplistic things like that – which I would call the melodramatic teenage impulses. And then the subtext of presenting yourself in such a way that is not the way you are meaning. For me, I saw that character as all of that. He is a way that you feel: What you say is not coming across, what you want is misperceived.” (Burton, Rolling Stone)

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