than jump into making another blockbuster after Batman,
Tim Burton used his new clout to get an
extremely personal project off the ground.
It would be based on a sketch of a man with scissors for hands that Burton had drawn years earlier. The project was greenlit by 20th Century Fox (Warner Bros. had passed on the idea, before the success of Batman). The film marked the first time Burton had full creative control over a project, having written the story and also produced the movie. Apparently, Burton wanted to do it as a musical at first, but later decided the story could stand on its own without songs. Burton formed Tim Burton Productions in 1989 with producer Denise Di Novi to oversee Scissorhands and his future films.
Writer Caroline Thompson was hired to flesh out Burton’s ideas into a full screenplay. The deal made with the studio was that they could either accept the script or not - no changes were to be made to the film. Once the project was a go, Burton began recruiting his cast and crew and scouting locations in Florida for the perfect suburban neighborhood.
As Burton was the hottest new director in town, many actors were reportedly interested in the lead role, including Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Hanks and, most bizarrely, Michael Jackson. One actor the studio wanted for the role was Tom Cruise. Burton actually met with him, but the deal fell apart when the Cruiser reportedly wanted Edward to be made more masculine and given plastic surgery at the end.
Depp was chosen for the role. He
was best known at the time as the kid
who gets eaten by a bed in the first A
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and
as the star of popular teen cop show 21
Jump Street. Though he had already
tried to spoof his teen heartthrob image
by taking the lead role in John Water's Cry-Baby (1990) no one really took him seriously
as an actor. Once again Burton would
choose an unlikely actor that no one
else imagined in the role and turn it
into one of the film's main strengths.
The eclectic supporting cast included Dianne
Wiest (who was one of the first
people to lend their support to the
script) and Alan
to work with Burton were Winona Ryder
(in a very different role from Lydia in Beetlejuice)
and Vincent Price.
||The production took place mostly in Tinsmith Circle, Florida. The real neighborhood houses were given a makeover with pastel color schemes and smaller windows. The redesign of the suburban neighborhood gave it a generic small town feel, making it seem even more real than the reality and also shows how Edward views the bland suburbia as some kind of wonderland. One house in the film is getting fumigated and appropriately looks like a circus tent.
heat and bugs proved a problem throughout
the production, especially for Depp
who was sweltering inside his leather
suit. Despite this it was a much easier
shoot than Batman, with Burton clearly
more at home. The film was completed
in time for a Christmas release. Some
people were predicting the film to be
Burton's E.T. but the studio
decided not to oversell it, giving the
film a modest release.
||Starting with the snow falling on the Fox logo the film lets us know we're in for a magical experience. The main titles are slightly more abstract than in Burton's previous films. The title opens like a pair of scissors as the camera travels inside a gothic castle. We then see a series of images - cookies, scissors, hands, and even Vincent Price's face - that will take on more relevance later.
|Finally the main titles end as we pull back from the mansion through a window and into a little girl's room. It's telling that the first line of the film is, "Snuggle in sweetie, it's cold out there". The line doesn't just refer to the weather. The
storybook opening sets the tone for
the film as the little girl asks her
Grandma where snow comes from.
||As she begins the tale we see Edward, like Batman, watching over the town from a lonely point high above. So begins the story of Edward in flashback. Following an amusing sequence where Peg Boggs tries to sell Avon products to people she knows never buy from her, she decides to visit the gothic castle which just happens to bet at the end of the road.
|There she meets Edward, the unfortunate boy with scissors for hands who lives alone in the fireplace of the attic. She takes pity on him and decides to bring him to a colourful and romanticised suburban neighbourhood. There's a lovely scene where Edward is touring his new home for the first time and falls in love with Peg's daughter, Kim, after only seeing her photo.
Edward is given new clothes (a way of "normalising" his outlandish appearance) while the housewives all come out onto the street to gossip about him until their husbands return home.
The first half of the film is full of subtle physical comedy and gentle satire on suburban life. Edward has trouble with nearly everything, from getting dressed to trying to eat dinner. As for waterbeds . . .
|Edward soon brings his artistic skills to the town and the people almost ignore his bizarre appearance. Indeed there is something fairly patronising about his treatment, with an old war veteran telling Edward not to let anyone tell him he has a handicap and the audience on a TV show offering Edward all kinds of assistance with nothing ever coming from it (a touch of Hollywood allegory there).
There are some wonderfully composed shots that have an almost animated feel, including the one where Kevin takes Edward to show and tell and he points his blades at the students.
The celebrity adoration of Edward soon turns to him being exploited by and then violently rejected by the townspeople.
|Jim gets Edward to rob his own house and the alarm goes off, trapping Edward inside (one wonders if Jim knew this would happen and wanted to get rid of the competition). One of the most subtly amusing scenes occurs when a psychologist runs off a long list of mental problems Edward has. When a concerned police officer asks if he'll be okay out there, the disinterested psychologist just says, "Oh yeah, he'll be fine."
No one seems to
want to have anything to do with Edward
after that, and even Kim's brother Kevin
grows tired of always winning when he
plays rock, paper, scissors.
Edward continues to long for Kim, and eventually wins her love through his devotion, culminating in the beautiful ice dance scene. As Kim dances in the snow the scene becomes the ultimate representation of the artist communicating his feelings through his work.
it is cut short by Jim and things don't
improve for Edward after that.
The scene where Kim asks Edward to hold her and he replies, "I can't" is wonderfully touching. Once again their intimate moment is interrupted, this time by Jim almost running over Kevin.
A sympathetic cop chases Edward off rather than arrest him. However, Kim and Jim don't think he's dead and both follow.
|Some would later say that the violent ending was unnecessary, but without it the film would literally have no point. Edward is the most normal person in the movie and it is the twisted townsfolk who are the true monsters, resulting in his loss of innocence. Kim and Edward share a final kiss and then she leaves, telling the townsfolk he died along with Jim.
While some may have preferred a happily ever after ending, Burton ends the film the only way it could have, with Edward alone but still sharing his artistic gift with the snow he creates from his ice sculptures.
Some viewers may ask why Kim didn't go up and join him earlier, but that would have taken away from the bittersweet fairytale quality of the story.
Every performance in the film hits just the right
note. Johnny Depp, in what may still
be his finest role, brings a feeling
of tortured emotion to his almost silent
character that lingers long in the memory.
No one can stare longingly better than
him. It's easy forgot who's playing
the part, even now. Depp reportedly
based his performance partly on a dog.
He is also adept at the rapid switches from pathos to humour, such as when he stares wistfully out of the TV screen (knowing Kim is watching) and then accidentally cuts the microphone wires and gets a shock.
The makeup on Depp subtly transforms him into the character. The scratches on his face add sympathy and the removal of his eyebrows opens up his already expressive face.
His wild hair has of
course been compared to Burton's own,
adding to the autobiographical feel.
The Scissorhands designed by Stan Winston
look and act like real blades. It took
Depp quite some time to get used to
his scissorhands. He even accidentally
stabbed Anthony Michael Hall in the
arm at one point. Though he operated them himself in many shots, closeups were performed by puppeteers.
||Dianne Wiest and Alan Arkin are, respectively, touchingly real and hilariously blank as the parents who adopt him. Peg is one of the few sympathetic suburbanites who finds her good intentions hurt more than they help. Her sunny disposition (in a town where no one buys her Avon products) is infectuous. Burton apparently saw a
lot of his own dad in Arkin's performance.
|The talk Bill Boggs gives Edward about teenage girls (before getting him drunk for the first time) is particularly amusing, as is his total lack of reaction when Edward announces that Joyce took him in the back room of his new barber shop and took her clothes off. His nonchalant attitude and meaningless
sayings are always amusing ("You can't buy the necessities of life with cookies").
Winona Ryder brings warmth and beauty
(in a blonde wig) to her supporting
role as the object of Edward's affectations,
who comes to love him for his artistic
vision. The fact that she and Depp were
dating in real life during the filming
only added to the chemistry between
While some found Kim a little one-dimensional, there are hints that she has more depth than first appears, such as the fact that she (like Edward) cuts out pictures from newspapers and magazines and puts them over her bedside mirror, a subtle connection between the characters.
The makeup used to transform Ryder into an old granny is also quite impressive.
Anthony Michael Hall is suitably menacing
as the jealous jock who eventually gets
his come-uppance. Burton apparently considered Crispin Glover for the role of the bully played by Hall, but he had too much in common with the Back to the Future actor. Jim's character is
a direct comment on the jocks Burton
saw in high school. Burton was horrified
that these guys, no matter how unpleasant
they were, always had girlfriends. The
choice of both Hall and Ryder shows
how Burton likes to cast against type
(Ryder being famous for playing dark
roles previously and Hall best known
for playing nerds in John Hughes films).
Kathy Baker is very funny as Joyce, the sex-starved, Tom Jones-listening housewife with creepy fingernails. When Edward cuts her hair, it is clearly an orgasmic experience.
The scene where she attempts to seduce Edward is amusing and disturbing (especially as she seems to be wearing some kind of dominatrix underwear).
is creepily portrayed by O-Lan
Jones (who also did her own keyboard
music) and her character seems to be
a commentary on religious fundamentalism. Finally, Vincent Price, in his last feature film role, brings extra resonance as Edward's inventor.
|| He has many charming moments, such as when he moves Edward's new hands in tandem with his scissorhands before he dies. The three flashbacks to the Inventor are spaced throughout the film and each one reveals new information about Edward. He starts out as a salad cutter with a cookie heart, learns about etiquette and poetry and then witnesses the death of his Inventor who he can't touch without drawing blood.
Price's daughter, Victoria, plays the reporter who tries to get a comment from Edward after his arrest.
In this final flashback Edward's new hands are destroyed (one of the hands points to a severed finger accusingly).
During the production and following the release of the Edward Scissorhands, Burton filmed interviews with his Price, for a film titled Conversations With Vincent. Tragically, the film was incomplete at the time of Price’s death in 1993, and is unlikely to ever see release.
The film featured Burton's finest directing
to that date. Taking the comic sensibilities
of his first two features and his experience
of directing a big budget epic, Burton
was able to create a film with the perfect
balance between comedy and drama. He
also got uniformly great performances
from his cast, showing that Kim Basinger
was an anomaly in Batman.
The cinematography by Stefan
Czapsky has a beautiful storybook
feel. The scenes of Edward making his
ice sculptures are wonderfully shot
in particular. Some of the outdoor scenes
do have a rather muddy look, but this
was probably due to the large amount
of bugs plaguing the production in Florida.
The sets for Edward's castle are very impressive, especially the long staircase. The topiaries, which include a squirrel, the Loch Ness Monster, dinosaurs, a teddy bear and, symbolically, a giant hand, are beautiful. They were created with chicken wire frames.
The film also makes good use of real 1960's style locations such as the Southgate Shopping Center in Lakeland, Florida.
Edward's costume is a work of art, though
at first glance it does somewhat resemble
bondage gear. The costumes for the townsfolk
are wonderfully tacky. Joyce in particular
displays some outlandish fashions, including
a mermaid body apron.
The editing is competent throughout,
though one wishes the final shot had
been allowed to linger longer before
the end credits start. The film fell
victim to censorship in the U.K. where
several shots of Jim beating up Edward
at the end were removed to retain a
PG rating. Ironically, the softening
of the attack on Edward has the effect
of making his retaliation against Jim
seem more extreme than it did in the
The haunting score by Danny Elfman adds
to this film's status as an all-time
classic. While the suburban suites recall
his earlier work (adding element of
muzak and even gypsy music), the music
used for the more emotional scenes,
especially the ice dance and grand finale,
are some of the most beautiful compositions
ever heard in a film. Without the score,
the film wouldn't have been even half
as moving as it turned out to be. It
also emphasises Edward's gentle side
even when he is cutting people by mistake.
The fact that it wasn't even nominated
for an Oscar beggars belief.
The Tom Jones songs are also used well,
acting almost as the soundtrack for
suburbia. At other points the radio
acts as a commentary on the action.
When Edward cuts the hedge in the Boggs's
yard into a dinosaur, a sportscaster
on the radio can be heard saying, "It's
gone, it's out of here, it's history," commenting not only on what Edward is
doing to the hedge but the character's
There is so much to be got out of this
film that it's hard to describe it in
one review. More than any of Burton's
other films it improves with each viewing,
as the viewer discovers more and more
details. Burton wanted to contemporise
some of his favourite fairytale themes
and make the link with real life closer,
and he succeeded admirably. Like the
best fairytales, the story can be read
many ways, from a comment on the patronising
of handicapped people, to an exploration
of the tortured artist at work.
themes are worked in by Burton and screenwriter
Caroline Thompson, but not overdone.
Many people saw Burton in the main character
(Vincent Price even said that Edward
is Tim) but Burton later tried to downplay
the connection, saying the character
was based as much on Depp as himself.
Edward represents, among other things:
the unconditional love of an animal;
a childlike sense of wonder; an adolescent's
clumsiness and someone who longs to
touch others without hurting them.
Many critics commented on the timeless
nature of the film. Though the neighborhood
feels like a 1960's community, there
are references to modern technology
throughout. As in Batman, this
blurring of time periods, while confusing
to more literal viewers (some have even
claimed the wrap around story is set
in the 21st century, based on Kim's
age) helps the fairytale theme of the
Burton's view of the suburbia he grew
up in, where there is no sense of history
and no real reason for things being
the way they are other than conformity
comes through strongly in the film.
The film shares similarities with many
classic tales, most obviously Frankenstein,
Beauty and the Beast, Phantom
of the Opera and Pinocchio.
Some also saw influences in the 19th
Century German book Struwwelpeter,
which features a shock-headed boy with
very long fingernails (though Burton
has said he didn’t see this until
after the film was made).
Edward Scissorhands is Burton's masterpiece
and arguably his most personal film.
It's a moving portrait of an artistic
outsider who cannot touch what he desires
without destroying it. While he may
have made more technically adept films
since, none of his other work comes
close to the emotion of this deceptively
simple story. Burton mixes classic fairytale
themes to create an original and touching
character in Edward.
Despite some occasional clumsiness the
film is almost perfect in its own way.
Unlike most Christmas fairytales, though,
this is refreshingly free of schmaltz.
It manages to take themes from existing
stories and yet still feels completely
fresh. It's hard to imagine Burton will ever make
anything approaching the depth and emotion
of this wonderful film again, since it was fuelled by an adolescent angst he clearly no longer has. It's funny,
sad and visually striking. What more
could anyone want from a movie?
Upon its release, the film received
mostly positive reviews. Many critics
couldn’t resist using puns in
their review, such as “a cut above
the rest” (Peter Travers in "Rolling
Stone") and “shear heaven”
(Richard Corliss in "Time"
Roger Ebert was one of the critics at
the time that completely missed the
point of the film, though. He rather
bafflingly states that Edward is “is
intended, I think, as an everyman, a
universal figure like one of the silent
movie clowns”, then complains
“that the other people are as
weird, in their ways, as he is”,
not seeming to realise that the purpose
of the film is to show how the "monster"
is the normal one and it's the townsfolk
who are scary.
Some criticisms of the film also pointed
out the supposed plot holes - such as
why does he have scissors for hands
and where did he get the ice? They missed
the point, as this fairytale bears no
relation to the real world, except in
its themes. You have to suspend your
As Caroline Thompson said
in an interview for the making of the
film, "It's a fable. A fable is
a story that people don't necessarily
believe but they understand." Burton
was more direct in his response, saying
that people who had a problem with the
logic of the film should just go and
see films like Pretty Woman.
Despite some people not being able to
accept the timeless fantasy of the film (during one preview, some audience members actually sided with Jim for wanting to beaut up that "fag" trying to steal his girl),
it was a fairly big hit with moviegoers,
earning over $55 million. It marked
the beginning of Burton being taken
seriously as an artist. Though he was
free to make pretty much any film he
wanted, the spectre of the Bat still
loomed . . .
CHAPTER: BATMAN RETURNS