After sending Pee-Wee on a big adventure, raising Beetlejuice from the dead, and flying Batman into Gotham City (twice), Tim Burton was heralded as one of America’s most original and commercially viable directors. So, what did he decide to do as a follow-up to his successful late ‘80s/early ‘90s run? Why, he made a quirky little film about Ed Wood, a man often referred to as “the worst movie director of all time.”
It’s easy to imagine why Burton was drawn to the life and career of this notoriously wacky filmmaker, who also had a penchant for wearing woman’s apparel. Clothing fetish aside, both directors take (or “took,” in Wood’s case) an inventive, handcrafted approach to filmmaking and always exhibit a deep affection for their misfit, on-screen characters. The biggest difference between the two, however, is that, Wood only succeeded in making a few so-bad-they’re-good cult films, while Burton can’t seem to make a truly bad one. My review of the Blu-ray after the jump.
Nearly twenty years after its initial release, Ed Wood still stands as one of Burton’s best and, thankfully, the folks at Disney Home Entertainment have done a fantastic job restoring it for Blu-ray. The black and white cinematography by Stefan Czapsky has never looked more lush or crisp than in the high definition format. For those Ed Wood initiates who might balk at the thought of watching a black and white movie, rest assured, what the film lacks in color it more than makes up for in colorful characters, beginning with its titular one, played with delightfully manic energy by Johnny Depp. By now, audiences are used to seeing Depp essay eccentricity, but, at the time, the jig was new, and Depp’s performance as the director with a passion for making movies and a fetish for angora sweaters still holds up as one of his strongest.
Joining Johnny in his “let’s put on a show!” quest are a rogue’s gallery of game actors portraying lesser known characters from Hollywood lore, including Bill Murray as actor and drag queen “Bunny Breckinridge,” Sarah Jessica Parker as B-movie starlet “Dolores Fuller,” and Lisa Marie as the amusingly monotone “Vampira,” the big breasted antecedent to my generation’s “Elvira.” The film’s most unforgettable character, however, is Martin Landau’s “Bela Lugosi.” At turns monstrous, hilarious and heartbreaking, Landau won an extremely well-deserved Oscar for his performance.
His cantankerous Bela serves the film well as both moody counterpoint to the ever-chipper Wood and as tragic reminder of how Hollywood uses and abuses its own. When Wood first meets Bela, his glory days as Dracula are behind him and his career’s vampire cold. He’s broke, jobless and addicted to morphine. With Wood’s loving aid, however, Bela is soon back in front of the cameras on the set of Wood’s future cult oddities Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster. The humorous and moving relationship between director and star is the film’s true centerpiece and one of the most lovingly rendered examples of intergenerational friendship ever captured on film.
Meanwhile, the real world relationship, or creative collaboration, between director Burton and actor Depp continues to flourish twenty years after Ed Wood. Together, the two have made seven films together, including Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd. I’ve heard some movie nerds complain of Burton/Depp fatigue in light of their most recent effort, Dark Shadows, but that film’s problem wasn’t its director or leading man but its largely mediocre script. Ed Wood certainly proves what these two can do with a uniquely witty script like the one written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who would go on to pen the similarly offbeat biopics The People Vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon. It’d be great if these guys could reteam for another weird, true-life tale, perhaps one fulfilling Depp’s expressed dream (or joking whim) of playing actress/comedian Carol Channing. In the mean time, they still have this wonderfully oddball classic to claim as their own and, now, so do we, on glorious Blu-ray.
While no new bonus features were created for the Blu-ray release, thankfully all of the 2004 “Special Edition” DVD features have been transferred over, including deleted scenes, the “Making Bela” makeup featurette, the production design featurette “Pie Plates Over Hollywood,” the behind-the-scenes doc “Let’s Shoot This F#*%@r!”, “The Theremin” documentary, audio commentary with cast and crew, trailers, and, lastly, a music video featuring Shore’s score and directed by Toni Basil (of ‘80s pop hit “Mickey” fame)!
For me, the standout feature is the audio commentary, which weaves together amusing anecdotes on the making of the film from director Tim Burton, actor Martin Landau, writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, d.p. Stefan Czapsky and costume designer Colleen Atwood.
The high definition picture shows off the stunning work of cinematographer Stefan Czapsky, while the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio brings Howard Shore’s alternately quirky and moody musical score to vivid new life.
Infectiously fun and lovingly crafted, this is an undisputed Burton and Depp classic and the perfect film for anyone who loves oddball heroes, movies about moviemaking and, of course, angora sweaters (and the men who wear them).
Ed Wood is rated R for some strong language and has a run time of approximately 127 minutes.