Tim Burton Series: Edward Scissorhands & Batman Returns
Published at PassionForCinema as part of a series of posts on Tim Burton.
In 1990, Tim Burton collaborated with Johnny Depp for Edward Scissorhands, while the movie was a very moderate success, it started Burton’s succesful partnership with Depp, as they went on to make 6 movies in all right up to the latest Sweeney Todd. And in addition, Depp also provided the voice in Burton’s animated feature Corpse Bride.
Edward Scissorhands was a reworking of Beauty and The Beast fable, into a modern day American suburbia. The Beast here is Edward( Johnny Depp), a misdirected creation of a crazy inventor( Vincent Price), who dies before he could complete his work, leaving him with misshaped hands, that have a scissor like shape. Incidentally Price, himself died after this movie, and also he was the star in many a B movie horror flick of the 60’s.
Edward is discovered by Peg Boggs( Diane Wiest), a not too succesfull Avon saleswoman, who comes to his mansion on the hill. Taking pity on his rather strange appearance, she adopts him into her family, which includes her son Kevin and her daughter Kim( Winona Ryder). Though most of Peg’s neighbours, dont take to Edward kindly, they are thrilled, with his hedge clipping and hair cutting skills. There are however people like Esmeralda, a religious fanatic, and Jim, who happens to be Kim’s oafish boyfriend.
Tim Burton again explores the feelings of alienation through Edward Scissorhands character. Part Frankenstein, part Forrest Gump, Edward is a person, totally unfamiliar with the ways of the world. He really can’t differentiate between wrong and right, as in when the resident slut of the town, Joyce tries to seduce him, he is merely confused. And he innocently tells his family members
And then she showed me the back room where she took all of her clothes off.
In a way, Edward’s character reminded of Kamal’s in Swatimutyam, a child trapped in an adult body. Tom Cruise was supposed to play the character, initially, but he turned it down as he felt Edward’s character was not virile enough. Well, thank heavens for small mercies, as that finally lead to Johnny Depp taking it up. It was a challenge for Depp, as he had to enact the character with minimal dialog, and more with eyes. And he perfoms exceedingly well, in fact Edward Scissorhands was the movie that enabled the transition of Depp from a teen idol into a serious, mature, adult actor.
The Beauty here is Kim, Pegg’s sensitive and beautiful daughter, who finds herself slowly attracted to Edward. Incidentally Depp and Ryder were also dating off screen at that time, and was one of the factors that motivated Burton to cast her as the heroine. She is the one who truly understands Edward. While people around, including Kim’s kid brother Kevin, sees him as a freak, she sees him as a human being to be understood.
But at the core, Edward Scissorhands, is primarily about society’s reluctance to accept people who are not normal. It is a comment about the conformist nature of the suburbia, as can be seen in the climax when the neighbours come like a mob to Edward’s mansion to kill him. For all his grotesque appearance, Edward is really a gentle soul at heart. However at every stage he is misunderstood by the public, for whom he is only a freak and an exhibit. Though in essence a fable, Edward Scissorhands, is also a comment on the rather shallow, nature of society.
The movie again has some wonderful effects scenes, especially, Depp’s make up, is at once scary, but yet, when you see his nature, you feel the empathy for him. One scene that stands out is the one, when Edward, is carving an ice sculpture, and inadvertently creates a snow shower, and Kim comes out dancing under it. Beautifully filmed, and pretty much tender. Again during filming, Burton created the suburbia atmosphere in such a way, as to make them look pretty colorless. Also Burton deliberately reduced the window sizes, as to reflect the paranoia nature of the suburbia people.
In 1992, Burton again returned to the dark alleys of Gotham, with Batman Returns. Batman was again played by Michael Keaton, while the villians here are played by Danny De Vito as The Penguin, and Michelle Pffeifer as Catwoman.
Again like Batman, the focus here is more on The Penguin and Catwoman, and this Michael Keaton’s idea itself. The Penguin was a deformed child, who was abandoned by his rich parents, and growing up in the sewers of Gotham City, his aim is to get rid of every first born child, as a revenge for what his parents had done. He feels he is no less a monster than the billionaire industrialist Max Shreck, as he says But somehow, you’re a well-respected monster, and I am… to date… not!.
Another improvement over Batman, is the female lead here. Compared to Kim Bassinger’s vapid portrayal of Vicki, Michelle Pfeiffer gives a real kick ass performance as Catwoman, who is at once both Bruce Wayne’s love interest, as well as his main rival. One great scene, is when during the fight with Batman, she catches him off guard, saying How could you? I’m a woman! , and when Batman steps back, hits him again saying
As I was saying, I’m a woman… and can’t be taken for granted. Life’s a bitch; now so am I.
The first meeting between Max Schreck and The Penguin is brilliantly shot, as also the scene where The Penguin gatecrashes into a party, with his famous quote “I was not invited, so i thought i would crash in myself”.
While Batman was shot at Pinewood studios, Batman Returns was shot extensively at Universal Studios. Burton also used CGI for the bats, as also for some members of The Penguin’s Army, which included real penguins also. Burton also extensively employed the miniature effects for showing the Penguins Lair as well as the Bat Ski Boat. This was however the last Batman flick that Burton directed, and after Joel Schumacher took over, it resulted in the series becomming campy, culminating in the awful Batman and Robin. While today, every one praises Christopher Nolan, for resurrecting the Batman franchise, due credit must be given to Tim Burton, who really took the first step towards restoring the original ethos of Batman.