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Tim Burton Week: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

There are some films, just a handful mind you, that are damn near perfect.

You do not remember how perfect they are until you sit down and watch them. You can watch them again and again and they stay fresh as you notice new things even on the hundredth viewing. These rare films will make you feel every possible emotion from laughter to adrenaline to heartbreak. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a great example of a perfect film and so is the early Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands. Not as well known or successful as the little lost alien, the Gothic tale is a mesmerising and beautifully told story by a director at the top of his game.

When a little girl asks her grandmother where snow comes from, she relays the story about the man in the strange mansion that overlooks their town. The mansion belonged to an inventor (Vincent Price) who created the man, Edward (Johnny Depp). He gave the man everything but died before he could replace his scissor blade fingers for real hands. The man, or rather boy, lives for many years until the local Avon lady Peg (Dianne Wiest) visits and finds Edward living all alone. She decides to take him home and introduce him to suburban life. Edward charms the locals with his sweetness but he is still an outsider to those around him including Peg’s beautiful daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). With Edward unable to distinguish what is right from what he is told, his naivety spells disaster for the gently created boy.

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After the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Batman, Burton was the bankable hot young director in Hollywood. Before embarking on another trip to Gotham with his Batman sequel, he wanted to do a personal project. The film, also written by Burton was inspired by tales such as Pinocchio as well as Burton’s own upbringing.

Like most classics Edward Scissorhands is a mixture of emotions throughout. There is the wonder of a child hearing a story from an elder and the tragedy of the Inventors death. The hilarity of Edward’s naivety mixed with the warmth of his feelings for Kim and the hurt from the town that takes advantage of him. All are present in the story driven by it range of characters.

Edward himself is a classic Burton character. Like Jack Skellington, Pee-Wee Herman, and most of the director’s central leads, he is someone who tries to do good but ultimately fails. A grown version of Pinocchio, he wants to be a real boy but he is different and these differences make him easy prey for others. The film, in many ways, makes a statement on suburbia. All may seem well with its pretty coloured houses and neighbourly gestures but behind this façade is betrayal, resentment, and judgment.

Visuals will always be a talking point in any Burton film. Here the director gave us some of his most striking and iconic images such as the scene of Kim dancing in the snow as Edward crafts an ice sculpture in the background or the giant topiary animals that Edward cutes in the mansions grounds and then the towns gardens. All this moments are easily related to this film and are another feature that make it stick so much in the audiences mind.
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It seems strange now that the studio put up a fight regarding Burton’s desire to cast up and coming actor called Johnny Depp in the lead. Their first choice was Tom Cruise but Burton held out and a star was born in Depp’s sensitive yet poignant performance as Edward. His striking looks and genuine childlike innocence make him a charming new arrival to the small town. Yet his love, naivety and titular hands prove a tragic combination in Burton’s cruel reality.

Winona Ryder had already starred in Burton’s Beetlejuice and teen cult classic Heathers at this point in her career. Building up a reputation as the gothic outsider girl Burton typed his young starlet against type and made her the initially superficial, blonde cheerleader. Kim’s reluctance towards Edward is extreme at first but his gentle heart opens up her character and Ryder gives an early standout performance as a young girl drawn to a strange boy.

Although only featured in a few short scenes Vincent Price plays Edwards fatherly creator the inventor. His time on screen may be brief but his love and affection for the boy he creates is felt until his last tragic breath. This would in fact be one of Price’s last feature film roles before his death in 1993.

The film marks the fourth now legendary partnership between Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman. Having scored all but four of Burton’s films Edward still stands out in a successful list of works. Elfman created a gentle, melancholy scored that adds so much to an already engrossing film. The theme ‘Ice Dance’ alone captures the beauty of this haunting tale.

A wonderfully told superb gothic fairy-tale, Edward Scissorhands is a dark take on Pinocchio and to many Burton fans, the most accomplished and heartfelt work of the great director.


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is out on 30th September 

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