×

Film Review: Tim Burton’s ‘Edward Scissorhands’

Director Tim Burton takes a character as wildly unlikely as a boy whose arms end in pruning shears, and makes him the center of a delightful and delicate comic fable.

With:
Johnny Depp Winona Ryder Dianne Wiest Anthony Michael Hall Alan Arkin Kathy Baker

Director Tim Burton’s audacity and originality continue to impress in this post-“Batman” effort in which he takes a character as wildly unlikely as a boy whose arms end in pruning shears, and makes him the center of a delightful and delicate comic fable.

Edward Scissorhands” will clip out a sizable B.O. reward if Fox marketers can convince the public this pic isn’t too strange. Half the fun is seeing how long Burton and screenwriter Caroline Thompson can sustain their outrageous concept, and the answer is, almost long enough.

Conventional melodrama in pic’s last reels shows less imagination than the premise, causing pic to sag a bit, but a final fairy tale flourish more or less restores pic’s charm. Fablelike tale follows the scattered tradition of the lonely and “deformed” outsider who is brought into a community where his differences will be either appreciated or rejected.

Johnny Depp plays Edward, who lives in isolation in a gloomy mansion on the hill until a sunny Avon lady (Dianne Wiest) discovers him and takes him into her suburbia home and mothers him like a crippled bird. The creation of an inventor (Vincent Price) who died and left him unfinished, Edward sports an astonishing pair of hands — five-fingered, footlong blades that render him either lethal, with every gesture a dangerous slash or stab, or extraordinarily skillful, as he proves when he goes to work on the shrubbery.

For the bevy of bored housewives in the pastel-colored nabe, gentle and exotic Edward becomes an instant celeb who amuses them by artistically pruning their hedges, their dogs and their coiffures. With his pale, scarred face, wild raven hair and smudge of purple lipstick, the weirdest sex symbol yet snips away at his creations with mad concentration and grace while the middleaged femmes compete for his attention.

But when he’s wrongly accused in a burglary, his star falls and they turn on him, eventually driving him out of the community. Meanwhile his wistful and impossible attraction to Kim (Winona Ryder), the Avon lady’s teenage daughter, adds another level of tension. What makes “Edward Scissorhands” remarkable is Burton’s brilliance as a visual storyteller. Every element in this seamlessly produced work gels to create an entrancing, slyly comic vision.

Production design, costumes and performances combine to paint a deliciously funny ultrasuburbia stuck stylistically in the early ’60s, where women subsist on voracious gossip and men return from work en masse, sweeping nightly into the culs-de-sac in a parade of headlights. Problem is, once this magically funny world is established, story hasn’t much of anywhere to go. Edward doesn’t have to save the world or even the neighborhood. He has only to maintain his delicate perch in the community, increasingly hard because of his growing attraction to Kim (Ryder), who’s closely guarded by her thuggish boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall).

Commenting on both celebrity and tolerance, Burton has the same people who embraced Edward’s differences as fashionable eventually turn on him. But mostly Burton’s out to create a fairy tale (as pic’s storybook beginning and ending attest), but it’s a tale with edges. Depp, former tv teen idol in his second starring screen role (after “Cry-Baby”), gives a sensitive reading of Edward as a sad, funny clown with a Chaplinesque shuffle.

Acting under whiteface and with elaborate footlong blades rigged to his arms, he’s left to express himself with his eyes and bizarre movements, and does a deft and affecting job. With Ryder kept mostly in the background, Wiest’s mother figure shares the screen with Depp, and she’s a smash. Her outpouring of cheery tenderness is absolutely the right balance for Edward’s ghoulish uniqueness.

Also a hoot is Alan Arkin as her unexcitable husband, who consistently underreacts to Edward’s bizarreness, and Kathy Baker as a sex-starved vixen. Edward’s twitching, insectlike pincers are an inspired effort by designer Stan Winston. Pic’s extraordinary design scheme, for which 44 houses in a Florida suburb were repainted in pastels, is likely to be vying with “Dick Tracy” for honors at Oscar time.

Film Review: Tim Burton's 'Edward Scissorhands'

Production: 20th Century-Fox. Director Tim Burton; Producer Denise De Novi, Tim Burton; Screenplay Caroline Thompson; Camera Stefan Czapsky; Editor Richard Halsey; Music Danny Elfman; Art Director Bo Welsh

Crew: (Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1990. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: Johnny Depp Winona Ryder Dianne Wiest Anthony Michael Hall Alan Arkin Kathy Baker

More Film

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    LGBTQ Groups Backing SAG-AFTRA in Member Privacy Fight Against IMDb

    SAG-AFTRA has announced that a coalition of national LGBTQ groups is backing the union in its fight for member privacy against IMDb. The groups include the National LGBTQ Task Force, the country’s oldest national LGBTQ advocacy group; GLAAD; the Transgender Law Center; the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund; Transcend Legal, Inc.; and Equality Federation. [...]

  • Myst Computer Game

    'Myst' Film and TV Rights Sell to Village Roadshow

    “Myst,” the influential video game that helped usher in the CD-ROM era, may inspire an ambitious multi-platform film and television universe. Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, the co-producer and co-financier of the “Matrix” and “Sherlock Holmes” franchises, has acquired the rights to the first-person graphic adventure. For those born post-90s, “Myst” was wildly popular and hailed [...]

  • ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion,

    ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion, Learning From the Past

    Two estranged half-siblings from a small coastal town in Slovenia spend the better part of their young lives ignoring each other’s existence. But when circumstances force them to move into the same cramped apartment, they have no choice but to come to terms with the past that binds them, while trying to decide how to [...]

  • The Traitor

    MMC Studios, One of Germany's Biggest Production Facilities, Changes Hands

    Germany’s MMC Studios, which has hosted such recent international productions as Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller “7500” and Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition film “The Traitor,” is changing hands. Frankfurt-based investment company Novum Capital has acquired the facility in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest film and TV studios, from Luxembourg private equity fund Lenbach Equity Opportunities I. The [...]

  • Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Earns

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks Off Tuesday With Solid $3.5 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Annabelle Comes Home” collected a strong $3.5 million in Tuesday night previews. The supernatural thriller is expected to earn $30 million over its first five days in theaters. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” movie and seventh entry in the Conjuring franchise. Preview ticket sales are in line with [...]

  • Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour'

    Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour' Picked Up for U.S. by Brainstorm Media

    “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, has been picked up for North America by Brainstorm Media. HanWay Films has also closed sales for a host of European and Asian territories. Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, “The Wolf Hour” features Oscar-nominated Watts as June, a former countercultural celebrity who lives [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    'A Star Is Born' Soundtrack Surpasses Global Sales of 6 Million

    Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s onscreen chemistry continues to be felt on the official soundtrack to “A Star is Born,” which just surpassed 6 million albums sold globally and has been certified double platinum in the U.S. Released by Interscope Records in 2018, the album debuted atop the charts and remains the highest-selling album of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content