Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Format: NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (DTS-HD High Res Audio), French (Dolby Digital
5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Touchstone Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: September 18, 2012
Run Time: 127 minutes
In the last few years, we’ve witnessed the full transition of Tim Burton
from auteur to product.
We now know exactly what to expect from him and he doesn’t seem interested
in deviating from the formula. He still holds its share of joys, but the
problems seem to grow larger and more prominent with each passing film.
That’s why Ed Wood – still the best movie he’s
ever made – remains so important. It reminds us of what he’s capable of when
he focuses on character rather than empty imagery. The newly released Blu-ray
is another opportunity to discover how good he once was and hopefully can be
It also benefits from a real-life version of Burton’s patented quirky
misfits. Edward D. Wood, Jr. trolled the nether depths of Hollywood in the
1950s, producing some of the worst movies ever made with an eagerness
bordering on the fanatical. As played by Johnny Depp, this version of Ed
downplays the uglier realities (alcoholism and pornography) in favor of the
crazy-eyed dreamer he hopefully was at his peak. He loves the movies more
than anything on Earth, and would do anything to make them . . . which leads
him down a strange path to cinematic immortality.
We follow him as he befriends an aging Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau in an
Oscar-winning performance), hustles his way to his first directing gig, and
eventually creates his “masterpiece”: the ingeniously awful
Plan 9 from Outer Space. As with most Burton
films, there isn’t much in the way of plot. The film is episodic and hinges
almost entirely on Depp’s fantastic performance. We follow Ed through the
herky-jerky story because the actor makes us believe in him. His boundless
optimism, his passion, his conviction that a big break is just around the
corner . . . none of that dims, even in the face of relentless opposition.
As underdogs go, he’s hard to top, in part because we know there’s a real
guy behind it all.
He also shows a lot of loyalty, and he doesn’t seem bothered by oddballs . .
. fairly rare traits in the 1950s. His first girlfriend Delores (Sarah
Jessica Parker) can’t get past that – or his fixation on her angora sweaters
– but the true-blue Kathy (Patricia Arquette) sees the sweet soul beneath
and stands by him as he makes his dubious mark on the world.
But Burton saves the real love affair for Lugosi, a forgotten drug addict
slowly dying of sheer pathos when Wood finds him. Their friendship reminds
the old actor of his long-forgotten legacy, and helps him practice his craft
when no other filmmaker would give him the time of day. I’ll admit that I
still prefer Samuel L. Jackson’s tough-talking hit man in Pulp Fiction,
who Landau beat for the Oscar, but that doesn’t negate the rich, powerfully
soulful performance from an actor who knew what it was to be down and out.
(Check out The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island if you don’t
believe me.) Lugosi comes to life again thanks to Edward’s passion, and
their quietly touching relationship anchors the film in hard-won emotional
terms. Burton based their interaction on his own camaraderie with the late
Vincent Price, a comparison that honors all the parties involved.
That helps make Ed Wood the purest embodiment of Burton’s misfit ethos, as
well as a strangely affecting ode to movies in general. Eddie loves
filmmaking so much that it doesn’t occur to him he’s no good at it, inducing
us to root for his efforts despite their awful results. The gorgeous
black-and-white cinematography evokes both the period and Wood’s films with
genuine affection, while Howard Shore’s freaky-deaky score represents one of
the only times Danny Elfman hasn’t set the beat a Burton joint.
The results hold up on any number of levels: as an adoration of B-movies, as
a one-of-a-kind biopic, as a message about believing in your dreams and
visions no matter what may come. Burton wraps it all in his singular vision,
devoid of bells and whistles and all the more potent for its comparative
subtlety. As the director drifts ever further into self-indulgence, it’s
nice to remember what made us fans in the first place . . . and what kinds
of movies he may yet produce if he finds material this good again.
THE DISC: The Blu-ray disc offers nothing that
older DVD copies haven’t: a slightly better picture along with the same
collection of behind-the-scenes features found on the DVD. Pixelation isn’t
too bad, but the film’s relatively obscure status means that Disney only
made a token effort to bring it to the new format. Thankfully, the features
have always been solid and the low price lessens the sting of double
WORTH IT? Not if you already own the DVD, but for
the legions of people who haven’t yet discovered it, this makes a great
opportunity to become familiar with a justified cult classic.
RECOMMENDATION: Take a pass if you already own it.
Otherwise, you owe it to yourself to give Ed Wood a look.
- Rob Vaux