CINEMA CLASSICS: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

John gets Goth with Tim Burton’s classic ode to freaks. Anyone need any hedges trimming? 

Who made it?: Tim Burton (Director/Co-Producer), Caroline Thompson (Writer), Denise Di Novi (Co-Producer), 20th Century Fox.

Who’s in it?: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Vincent Price.

Tagline: “The Director Of Batman & Beetlejuice Invites You To Meet His Newest Creation.”

IMDb rating: 8.0/10.

It’s not very often that a piece of filmmaking comes along and makes an immediate impact on me, but this was the case in 1990 when Tim Burton’s classic fantasy tale, Edward Scissorhands, was released on the big screen. With its dark, twisted imagery and unique style of storytelling, Scissorhands could very well be the greatest fairytale the Brothers Grimm never told.

Avon lady Peg Bogs (Dianne Wiest) discovers an artificial man created by a diseased inventor (Vincent Price) living alone in a spooky, old mansion. His name is Edward (Johnny Depp) and he has large scissors for hands. Taking pity on the shy recluse, Peg decides to take Edward home with her and introduce him to her family and suburban life.

Produced on a budget of $20 million, Edward Scissorhands was directed by Tim Burton and written by Caroline Thompson from a story by herself and Burton. He had first conceived the idea when he was child growing up in the suburbs of Burbank, California. Then, in his teens, Burton visualised the character in the form of a drawing, but it wasn’t until years later when the director’s film career began to take shape with his second feature, Beetlejuice (1988), that Edward Scissorhands would be fully-realised. Burton gave the task of bringing his story to life to a novice screenwriter, Thompson, who would later adapt another of his stories with the animated musical The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), which Burton produced.

Tom Cruise was the studio’s first choice for the title role, but the director and actor had creative differences with Cruise opting for a happier ending. 80s king of pop, Michael Jackson, was very interested in the project, but thankfully he was never considered as a realistic candidate. Tom Hanks turned down the chance to play the iconic misfit in favour of Brian De Palma’s ill-fated adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990). Other actors like William Hurt and Robert Downey Jr. had also expressed interest. But the young star of hit TV series 21 Jump Street, Depp, was always Burton’s preferred choice to play Edward. This was the first time the pair worked together and they would go on to forge a famous filmmaking partnership, collaborating on several films including Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Depp is so believable in the role, displaying his versatility as an actor, with a range of emotions which prevent Edward from being depicted as a mere handicapped freak.

The supporting cast are equally effective in their roles. As a veteran actor and master of the macabre, Price provides his usual enticing and morbid presence as the wacky inventor who creates Edward. Wiest adds sophisticated charm and a warm-hearted performance as Peg. Winona Ryder, who I’ve never really been a fan of, delivers a sweetness and innocence as lover Kim, which complements Depp’s character well, helping ignite a fascinating romance between the two. The scene where Kim says to Edward, “Hold me” and he replies “I can’t,” sums up perfectly the main character’s physical and emotional predicament. The scene is simple but effective, creating a bittersweet moment.

Practical effects wizard Stan Winston (The Terminator, Aliens, Jurassic Park) was responsible for creating Edward’s scissor hands. Winston would go on to design Danny DeVito’s Penguin makeup for Burton’s Batman Returns (1992). Depp’s wardrobe and makeup procedure would take nearly two hours to complete every day. The results are impressive. Another long-time collaborator of Burton’s, Danny Elfman, composed the wonderful and enchanting score for the film. Like the director, Elfman cites Edward Scissorhands as his favourite work. I’ve always been a big fan of Elfman’s scores; his unique musical style is instantly recognisable and you’ll be hard-pressed to find another composer like him. The soundtrack to Scissorhands is one that I proudly own and cherish; the themes breathe life into the story and complement Burton’s visuals perfectly, creating a dark and magical atmosphere. The “Ice Dance” theme in particular is a beautiful piece of music which tugs on the old heart strings.

Burton has always cited Edward Scissorhands as his most personal work, and it clearly shows. It delves into such reoccurring themes as self-discovery, isolation, fear, paranoia, friendship, and love. This creates a fascinating world and a multi-layered story in which the audience can find pure cinematic escapism.

The film’s visual style, like all of Burton’s work, is what really draws the audience in and captivates their senses. Scissorhands has a strong contrasting pallet, with the director incorporating both his artistic love for German Expressionism and his own personal experiences of suburban life. And Burton’s depiction of “normal” life is pretty warped to say the least. One could almost be mistaken for believing that the film is set in the 60s, with its colourful, flamboyant fashions and campy, hippy-like characters. The director himself stated, “Suburbia is not a bad place. It’s a weird place. I tried to walk the fine line of making it funny and strange without it being judgmental. It’s a place where there’s a lot of integrity.” What makes the character of Edward himself intriguing is that we can all relate to him on an emotional level. We all know what it’s like to fall in love, be the victim of a bully, and constantly worry how others perceive us.

At first, the picture was only given a limited release in the United States before gaining a wide roll-out on December 14, 1990. The film managed to gross $6,325,249 in its opening weekend and eventually $56,362,352 in North America, as well as $29,661,653 worldwide, making it a sizable box office success. Reviews for the film were also favourable with The New York Times saying “the chemistry between Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder gave the film teen idol potential, drawing younger audiences.” This is something that has gained popularity and success in recent years with other similarly-themed films like the Twilight or Hunger Games franchises.

The film also received numerous award nominations, including an Academy Award for Best Makeup, a BAFTA for Best Costume Design, a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, and a Grammy for the score. The film did actually manage to win awards, though, with a BAFTA for Best Production Design, a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film.

Edward Scissorhands will always be one of my favourite films of all time, taking me on a journey of mixed emotions and confirming my belief in the magic of cinema. Like any classic fairytale, Tim Burton’s masterpiece and its many themes will never age and will continue to speak to audiences for many years to come…

Best Scene

Dreamlike images and heavenly music combine to create a truly magical scene.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Johnny Depp said only 169 words in this film.
  • Vincent Price’s role was intended to be larger, but the veteran actor was very ill with emphysema and Parkinson’s disease so his scenes were cut to a minimum.
  • Winona Ryder dropped out of The Godfather: Part III (1990) to appear in this film. Reportedly, it was Depp who actually convinced her to do so.
  • The little blonde boy on the Slip & Slide at the beginning of the film is Nick Carter of The Backstreet Boys. Though uncredited in the film, Carter himself has confirmed this in several interviews.

John Cowdell

I have been writing and producing short films for over ten years and are now branching out into film reviews.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael Young says:

    Nice review.

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