It’s no secret that an actor/director collaboration that most people have probably had enough of as of late is Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. The duo clearly like working with each other, having collaborated on eight films together since the 90s. But with their last movie being Dark Shadows, fans of the two are most likely glad that they haven’t done anything together since. Despite being a huge Johnny Depp fan, I’m okay with the fact that I didn’t see Dark Shadows when it came out in 2012. The comedy looked forced, and the gothic aspect seemed to only be utilized successfully in the set and costume design, but not so much in the story itself. Dark Shadows isn’t the first film of theirs to cause doubt in their work, but it seemed to put the final nail in the coffin in terms of there ever being a chance of the two of them making something as good as they did in the 90s.
Depp and Burton’s first collaboration turns 25 today, and it remains a staple of both of their careers. Depp played a pretty boy up until this point, and Burton was just coming off successfully bringing back Batman to the big screen. It was a game-changer for both of them, and to this day it remains one of their most unique and memorable collaborations.
Edward Scissorhands is probably not the project that most people thought Burton would turn to next after Batman. From capes to scissors, Burton went back to his weird style, as plainly seen in Beetlejuice, but also went for something much more thoughtful and subtle. Well, as subtle as a Tim Burton film can be. Casting Depp as the unfinished creation of an eccentric inventor proved to be an exceptional choice. People who had seen him in 21 Jump Street as a pretty boy cop certainly didn’t see this coming. But it’s clear that Depp was sick of that perception of him, which explains his decision to do Cry-Baby, John Waters’ parody on 50s-set musicals that came out before Edward Scissorhands in 1990.
The story of Edward Scissorhands is an odd one, but it manages to take its strange premise and put it in a parody version of our society, therefore offering plenty of social commentary. Set in an exaggerated but still painfully accurate version of suburbia, the film explores what happens when a bored community is introduced to something weird and wonderful. Dianne Wiest’s character, Peg, brings Edward into her family after discovering him living all alone in a creepy mansion on top of the ominous hill that overlooks the neighborhood. While essentially becoming a mother figure to him, Peg is really the only person who shows Edward true genuine care and affection right off the bat, while the neighbors just treat him like a freak in the circus. Their acceptance of Edward is quick because he temporarily alleviates them from their mundane lives, but just like a passing fad, their fascination with him eventually dies down to the point of them believing that he’s a menace to society.
The brilliance of Edward Scissorhands lies in the fact that Edward is the most normal and human character in the movie (apart from Winona Ryder as Kim, hence their romance). His appearance is his only loud quality; the rest of him is quiet, thoughtful, curious, and just happy not to be alone. Obviously it all goes downhill (thanks Anthony Michael Hall), and ends in Edward going back to the mansion on the hill, with everyone in the community believing he’s dead. Of course, a story like this can’t have a happy ending, but this dark quality is balanced out with Edward’s innocence and the social commentary exemplified by everyone in the suburb.
It’s amazing to think that Scissorhands is Depp and Burton’s first collaboration. It’s such a perfect coming-together of the two talents, showcasing Burton’s thoughtful and strange originality and Depp’s ability to give a compelling performance with only so many lines of dialogue. It certainly set a bar for their future films, which most of them have failed to meet, with the exceptions of Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, and Corpse Bride. These films, while very different from Scissorhands, still manage to have a decent balance of dark and thoughtful qualities (Sleepy Hollow a little less so, but it’s still genuinely enjoyable). Films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, and Alice in Wonderland are so bogged down by this quirky darkness that Burton has become so known for that it doesn’t leave much room for anything else.
What makes Edward Scissorhands so memorable is the mixture of reality and fantasy, and a seemingly quirky lead character who is a true representation of a good human being, compared to everyone else in the movie. The type of originality in Scissorhands would be impossible to recreate, but I’m sure that fans of Burton and Depp are eager to see something in this vein again, something that blends fantasy and reality in a compelling and unforgettable way (which Burton actually did in 2003 with Big Fish, which Depp is not in). It’s hard to say if this will happen anytime soon, but if you’re craving the good old days of Burton and Depp, certainly give Edward Scissorhands a re-watch.