Ed Wood: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 13 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

In 1994, Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates shared a lot of gems at the Oscars. One was a non-linear anthology of three tales, hitmen, and a royale with cheese. Another was the fixing of a fifties game show and a tale of Four Weddings and a Funeral. In that same year, Tim Burton had a gem in that chocolate box about a director that went down in film history as “the worst film director of all time”. That director of such features as “Glen or Glenda?” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space” was “Ed Wood”.

The 1950’s are difficult for Ed (Johnny Depp). He has a struggling playwright career, he has a girlfriend that can’t understand him, a penchant for one take, and he likes to dress in lady’s clothing. After striking a deal with a low-budget film producer with a project that’s close to his heart, he encounters an old man in a coffin shop. What intrigues Ed is that old man is legendary actor Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) who couldn’t stand to do another movie until Ed approaches him with a small deal to be in his picture. Many look at him as if he’s out of his mind, but his enthusiasm and his passion for looking at the big picture in a positive light shuts out what others think and along his filmmaking journey, he encounters a bigger cast of characters than he ever imagined.

From the start with Howard Shore’s unusual but infectious score and a man from a coffin warns you what you are about to see, I knew I was ready to prepare for something interesting. Little that I realize, that it was going to be more than interesting. It was a love letter to those who ever thought of picking up a video or film camera and just started shooting not knowing where what that footage of shooting was going to lead to.

The performances all around are excellent and was well represented at the Oscars with the win for Martin Landau. His Lugosi is a tortured soul who is on his last legs, but only does a low-brow filmmaker who believes in him, like Ed, would give him the strength to come to terms that he is a living legend and no matter how much he damaged himself, he’s at his best when he’s with Ed even if it’s at his urgent request. It’s a surprise when Lugosi is profane, but Landau plays that so well that we can’t help but be amused greatly.

Johnny Depp is winning as Ed Wood, the filmmaker who believes his passionate spirit and his love for wearing ladies clothing can go hand in hand with one another. The commentary goes into his inspirations for the character, but the one for his voice reminded me a little bit of Jon Lovitz. With that aside, it’s understandable to see why so many would want to work for him. His enthusiasm is irresistable. No matter how bad his final result turns out, I’d want to work for someone like that.

Tim Burton’s choice to film this movie in black and white is a great one capturing the spirit of the B-movies of that time as well as the time period. I couldn’t imagine a stronger movie shot in color.

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s script is fun, touching, quotable and provides many laughs. Tim Burton’s penchant for batting 1.000 at the Oscars followed him well whether he came off with nothing (Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands) or everything. Along with Landau, Rick Baker picked up another makeup Oscar for his great transformation of Bela Lugosi winning both the awards it was nominated for. This made it three movies for Burton to win all it was up for (the others being Batman and Beetlejuice).

If there’s one movie I can compare this to, it’s 1974’s “Chinatown” for three reasons. It’s a defining movie of the decade it came out in, it resembles more of a film that was filmed in the time that it was set in rather than the decade it was made, and they both had Rance Howard in a bit role.

Finally, Ed Wood takes the bio-pic genre and turns it on it’s pie plate making bad filmmaking one of the most entertaining experiences and best films of Tim Burton.

Video: How does it look?

“I got the Early Edition!!! This is the big moment!!!”

After many years, the wait is over and Ed Wood is finally seen the way it was meant to be seen, anamorphic and in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The black and white print is sharp but with it’s share of speckles and a thin white line is evident when they’re about to start filming Bride of the Atom. Also with the first meeting of Ed and Criswell after Boris’ appearance on live TV, the print does a quick jitter (not a layer change) similar to the old reel changes without the cigarette mark in the corner. Despite those two flaws, the print remains sharp and the black and white transfer never looked better. A very good job.

Audio: How does it sound?

The track is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and the results are very good. Howard Shore’s score plays wonderfully throughout all channels, while dialogue fills the middle channel and in some cases gets slightly drowned in the beginning but unscored moments lets the dialogue come out crisp and clear, the background effects come from the rear channels so accurately, I thought it was coming from outside my house. The declaration of “PULL THE STRINGS!!!” never sounded better mixed with the score. Coming back to the Ed/Criswell meeting in the video section, the sound does get lowered a bit but not totally muted after the quick jitter and recovers after the scene is over with the same clarity and sharpness throughout the majority of the disc. This disc also has English and Spanish Subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Contrary to early reports, this Special Edition is a single disc rather than a two disc title. Despite this, there is still a healthy load of extras. When putting in the disc, the animated menus start off with the last of a moviegoing crowd sitting in the audience until the light lower, the applause is made and the black and white countdown leads to all the sections with Ed looking on in the center. On every section change, the screen goes blank and the crowd throws popcorn and cheer when an image is posed on the screen. The images are a sitting Bela in the Setup menu, A film reel with all four slots chaptered in the scene selection and a gravestone invaded by flying saucers in the Bonus Material section.

In the Bonus Material, we’re first treated to a Music Video (3:30) of the main title theme choreographed by Toni Basil of “Hey Mickey” fame and co-directed by Tim Burton. It’s an interesting piece of a girl dancing around with clips and swirling her hair around many times to the theme. Next is “Let’s Shoot This F#*%@r!!” a near fourteen minute great look at Tim Burton at work with his process during a few scenes with an intro and closing by a stammering puzzled Johnny Depp.

After we have “The Theramin”, a wonderful seven minutes with Howard Shore discussing about his score and the use of this unique instrument which is fascinating of it’s use, what it’s about and the demonstration of how it works. Also, “Making Bela” is eight minutes of the process with Rick Baker and Martin Landau both in the acting process and in the makeup chair of the transformation. It’s good to see the Oscar winners for this film well represented in this piece. I can tell a great DVD when every featurette can be seen more than once.

This would’ve been great until “When Carol Met Larry” was included. It is a nine minute piece not listed on the cover, most likely included under the “and more” category, about the acceptance of crossdressers mixed in with clips of the movie. This would’ve been great for an instructional video on the subject, but it doesn’t relate to the movie and it focuses on the couple rather than the film. It’s out of place, and only there for curiosity purposes.

And now, back to the good stuff. “Pie Plates over Hollywood” goes with production designer Tom Duffield, for a little more than thirteen minutes, on the set pieces of the film and the design as well as filming in black and white is greatly covered.
After is the Theatrical Trailer, with a black and white ratings background as opposed to the regular green background which was quite amusing in itself.

Next is the audio commentary with director Tim Burton, writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, Director of Photography Stefan Czapsky, and costume designer Colleen Atwood. It is a great piece, mostly dominated by the writers and the director, that is informative, fun, entertaining and a pleasure to listen to from all players. Finally, we have Deleted Scenes, 5 listed and a special one to the right on the last title of the scene. They are an intro to breaking in to Republic Pictures to get the octopus prop, the brief escape, an amusing dinner with Tor’s family included Tor’s little problem at the dinner table. They are all great and unlike the typical deleted scene section, I wish all would’ve been included in there, including the unlisted scene where Ed talks about resurging Bela’s career with films while Lugosi is bitter to one studio for not giving him a chance. It’s a good lead into Ed’s visit to the studio with his film and Ed’s pitched slate of films in the works. It’s a scene that is not a big deal for anyone to be outraged for but it’s a great addition.
In conclusion, Ed Wood: Special Edition has a majority of extras that are outstanding with one exception and anyone’s DVD collection would have a happy addition in this Oscar-winning title soon.

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