EdwardScissorhandscoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
1990, 105 min., Color
20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for innuendo, language, and some violence and peril
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HDMA 4.0
Bonus features: C
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Amazon link

As the original TV series 21 Jump Street was winding down, Johnny Depp made the leap to a starring role on the big screen in Tim Burton’s fantasy-fable Edward Scissorhands (1990).

Edward wasn’t the first Goth, but he’s certainly the most memorable. Before his “makeover” he’s dressed entirely in black leather with studs and rings all over. With his hair spiked and face looking pale as EdwardScissorhandsscreen1death, he could easily have passed for one of those post-punkers that sprung up as a counterculture movement in the early 1980’s in London and Dublin—except that his hands were literally clumps of scissors. We learn in flashback that he lived in this Gothic castle with his creator (Vincent Price), an inventor who died before he could fit his beloved creature with a pair of hands.

Edward Scissorhands is a clever variation on the Mary Shelley novel. It embraces the basic structure and themes of Frankenstein, but also skewers suburbia for good measure. As Burton described it, it’s as if a more sensitive and communicative Frankenstein’s “monster” just happened to live in Martha Stewart’s neighborhood.  

Depp fans will revel in his naïve, porcelain-doll performance as the sensitive and soft-spoken young “man” who’s discovered alone and confused in the castle by Avon lady Peg (Dianne Wiest, in one of her most memorable roles). This peaches-and-cream woman, who’s as cheerfully naïve as young Edward, decides to to bring him home and, since her teenage daughter is away for the weekend, lets him sleep in her room on her waterbed. It’s a gag you can see coming a mile away, and there are other similarly simplistic points-of-humor in this film. But Depp pulls it off with all the sly persuasiveness of a mime. He’s Charlie Chaplin with a lead-foot lurch . . . until, that is, he gets those scissors going. At the Gothic castle on the hill, he’d decorated the garden by maintaining topiaries of his own design. Here, what better way to thank his hosts than by turning one of their dull bushes into a T-Rex, and the other into a living, green tableau of the family?

EdwardScissorhandsscreen2Edward Scissorhands is a story about being different in a world of sameness. Edward is a non-conformist of the most outrageous sort who’s brought into the stronghold of conformity: American suburbia, where the houses all look alike (except for being painted in different pastel or Candyland colors). The men all drive off to work and return at exactly the same time, barbecues are social rituals, and everyone manicures and waters their identical-looking lawns as they lead nearly identical lives.

But since one of the women in this suburban cul-de-sac is as freaky religious as Carrie’s mother, viewers are also invited to consider Edward Scissorhands from the perspective of religious intolerance and excess. An imperfect creature ends up trying to find a place in the world and is persecuted because of his imperfection. Edward as Christ figure? It’s not all that far-fetched, since he does redeem these people from their dull-with-a-capital-D routines.

The point is, Edward Scissorhands is a deceptively simple but complex film that resonates as a fairy tale for adults precisely because it does work on so many different levels. Remove any one of the elements (like the surreal contrast between the candy-colored houses and the gloom-and-doom Gothic castle just down the street) and it fails. It’s as fragile a construction as the film’s namesake.

Alan Arkin’s deadpan nonchalance serves this film well. As Peg’s husband, he’s the perfect “Oh” response to the new family member, and his reaction to Edward’s struggle to eat a simple meal is as priceless as Depp’s performance. Then there’s Kim (Winona Ryder), the daughter who’s dating a “cool” guy at school while this outcast who obviously has a crush on her has to live out his unrequited love under the same roof. It’s a bizarre Romeo and Juliet tale of ill-fated love as well, with Edward having to deal with Kim’s bullying boyfriend, Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). Some of the minor performances feel minor, but there are enough strong reactions to Depp’s portrayal to make for a solid film. One standout is Kathy Baker’s performance as the clichéd oversexed housewife who looks, walks, and acts like TV’s Peg Bundy.

This 25th Anniversary edition doesn’t contain any new features but it does offer a sparkling new transfer that delivers a more consistent picture. The previous Blu-ray release had scenes with excess grain that stood out and disrupted the surface. Will younger family members like it? That depends. It is a film that’s both funny and sad, and very strange. We’re talking about Tim Burton, after all. So it will really depend on how young viewers respond to strangeness and Depp’s fragile-but-deadly portrayal of Edward. Even younger teens may find the movie disturbing, given the way Edward is treated at the end. It may be too much to bear unless they’re warned that it is a contemporary updating of the Frankenstein story.

Language: Fairly mild stuff, though “shit” and “dick” stand out
Sex: Flirting, innuendo, and a suggestion of orgasm as Edward cuts one of the housewives hair
Violence: Accidental cuts are inflicted, and there is a stabbing and a death
Adult situations: Some teen smoking and drinking
Takeaway: Boy, has Johnny Depp given us some amazing, and amazingly different and distinctive characters!