Writer/director Tim Burton does writer/director Ed Wood in the charmingly disjointed biopic comedy Ed Wood. This marvelously wicked ode to Hollywood’s worst director is, to this day, Burton’s only attempt at Art House and his least grossing film. It is also his best film. Critics and fans of B-movies love it and mainstream audiences tend to avoid it. Such is the way of things when you commit to a picture shot solely in black and white in the modern era. Sad, but true. Winner of two well-deserved Oscars, Ed Wood in all its transvestite glory finally arrives on blu-ray.
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewskis, Ed Wood is a look at a creative mad scientist in the world of film. Book author, screenplay writer, commercial specialist, and creature feature filmmaker, Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is ceremoniously quite the busy body. He bounces from one project to another and tackles each one with the same gonzo-spirited gusto. If only his grandiose ideas could become productions worthy of his sweat. Well, to some they are.
Partnering up with a drug-riddled Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), Wood starts shopping around his twisted ideas for weird science fiction pictures that combine elements of horror with atomic concerns. Who wouldn’t fund a picture with Lugosi? A lot of people won’t in the 1950s. Lugosi is a has-been in the business and now a too far gone and out on morphine for anyone to have faith in his ability to get through a picture. Wood believes his shoot-quick-and-think-later down and dirty style of filmmaking makes him a Hollywood catch.
The Ed Wood script, while incomplete, tells his story as an outsider who has a bit of success with a transvestite picture titled Glen or Glenda and believes he can survive where only the insiders make the dough. Driven by the words of his idol, Orson Welles, Wood goes to any length to get funding for his pictures. His babies must be completed. The film highlights the making of Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space and the efforts that went into making those pictures.
Wood exists on the fringe of the studio system and populates his movies (and his life) with real oddities. Featuring a transsexual named Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray), a TV psychic Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), TV horror hostess Vampira (Lisa Marie), actress Loretta King (Juliet Landau), and girlfriends Dolores Parker (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Kathy O'Hara (Patricia Arquette), Burton fastens a movie about this creative mad genius that is as lively as it strange.
Burton recreates the Hollywood of the 1950s with a perfect sense of reality. None of his usual style appears in Tom Duffield’s production design – that is, outside of a great cemetery title sequence – and the film breathes easier because of its subdued nature. The characters are the freaks in this one, not the director. Yet, the central relationship between Wood and Lugosi reaches great depth in showing just how each cared for the other. There’s an honest narrative about friendship here that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Burton, believing black and white photography was the only way to shoot the weird and wacky world of Ed Wood, has cinematographer Stefan Czapsky shoot only black and white stock. Today, with all the black and white processing centers closed, black and white look is a post-processing effect in which the saturation levels are tuned way down. At the time of the film's release, there were still companies that developed true black and white footage. Consider the film, then, to be one of the last authentic black and white releases.
It’s not all comedy, though. There are moments of sorrow and, respectfully, the film ends before Wood’s life became imprisoned by alcoholism and pornography. Through it all, Burton achieves in giving Wood the recognition and respect he worked so hard to achieve when he was alive. Behind the curtain or behind the camera, Wood is only the mad genius of maladroitness. Oh, but an awkwardly hilarious trip it is. Fans of Ed Wood’s films will be delighted by this and a new found respect for the artist should appear.
MPAA Rating: R for some strong language.
Runtime: 127 mins.
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
Cast: Johnny Depp; Martin Landau; Sarah Jessica Parker; Patricia Arquette; Jeffrey Jones
Genre: Biography | Comedy | Drama
Tagline: Movies were his passion. Women were his inspiration. Angora sweaters were his weakness.
Memorable Movie Quote: "You must be double-jointed. And you must be Hungarian."
Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures
Release Date: September 28, 1994
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: September 18, 2012
Synopsis: Ed Wood is a biopic of the movie maker Edward D. Wood, Jr. The film is based in large part on Rudolph Grey's biography Nightmare of Ecstasy. The film focuses on the period in Ed's life when he made his best-known films, and also his relationship with Bela Lugosi (played by Oscar winner Martin Landau), the down-on-his luck actor who had starred as Dracula in the eponymous film.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - September 18, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps); Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Walt Disney's 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is a wonderfully enriched black and white hi def, release. The blacks are deep and finely shaded, meaning gray areas and lighter blacks can be seen for better texture appearances and finer details. Whites are solid; even the pasty skin tones of some of the characters have a nice sheen. Yes, fine detail is present in Wood’s angora sweaters. The tackiness and low-lighting elements of Wood’s movie sets are only heightened by this release and show just how detailed they are. It took a lot of work to make these sets look like crap. There’s a nice level of consistent grain throughout the transfer, too. For being mixed front-centered only, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is a solid reproduction of era only technologies. This was a style choice and it works for the picture. The rear channels support Howard Shore's theremin-heavy score.
- Don’t get too excited. The commentary isn’t new and it isn’t exactly a good example of one either. It features heavily edited interviews from Director Tim Burton, Actor Martin Landau, Co-Writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, Director of Photography Stefan Czapsky and Costume Designer Colleen Atwood that have all been edited together into a somewhat disjointed single track. I was really hoping Disney would have fixed this for the film’s blu-ray release. Sadly, the mouse did not.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing new and exciting about this release. The extras have been ported over from the 2004 DVD. While the blu-ray is worth the upgrade in picture alone, the supplemental material is all but too familiar. There are five deleted scenes with the greatest one involving Bunny Breckenridge and a mariachi band at the wrap party for Bride of the Monster. With a proper intro (and conclusion) from Depp himself, the featurette entitled ‘Let’s Shoot This Fucker!’ is the best as it is comprised of footage from the shoot. The theremin, which Howard Shore uses a lot in the score, gets spotlighted in two featurettes and, in a separate one, Landau and effects guru Rick Baker discuss bring Bela Lugosi back from the dead. The final one is solely about the production design of the film. While interesting, most of these featurettes are honestly only going to appeal to stark raving fans of the movie (like myself). While it’s good that none got dropped, it would have been nicer to have received some new ones.
- Deleted Scenes (8 min)
- Let's Shoot This Fucker! (14 min)
- The Theremin (7 min)
- Music Video Composed by Howard Shore (3 min)
- Making Bela (8 min)