Edward Scissorhands ★★★½

While I think Tim Burton's best film is ED WOOD, his second-best film and the one that most showcases his style is EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. When you just say the name Tim Burton, a certain visual aesthetic immediately comes to mind, and this film and NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (ironically directed by another person) are the two films that most embody that iconography. I also tend to refer to this as the textbook example of a film that starts strong only to have a weak third act, though it has enough good elements to overcome this.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS represents Burton at his peak Burton-esque, showcasing the same visual style of BEETLEJUICE but in a more emotionally-resonant film. The first two thirds of the film are a perfect fable; Burton creates a storybook feel to his exaggerated suburbia landscape and mixes the strange with the mundane in a humorous yet sombre way. Johnny Depp is excellent, playing a character who is mute for long stretches of the story and must carry the film with just his sad face and Buster Keaton theatrics. What's interesting is that Edward only chooses to be mute for most of the time; the few times he does speak, it always stands out and grabs your attention. When you consider that this was the first Depp & Burton collaboration, a match that soon became as legendary as DeNiro & Scorsese, it really is remarkable how perfectly Depp just "got" the material and meshed perfectly with Burton's vision.

The rest of the cast is also great, including Winona Ryder as the archetypal girl next door, Dianne Weist and Alan Arkin as campy suburban parents, and Vincent Price (in his final onscreen theatrical role) as the classic mad scientist. Everything about the world Burton creates here is interestingly peculiar. And the score is possibly Danny Elfman's best, or at least in his top three.

So why does the third act just not work for me? Even seeing this movie as a kid, I always felt like something about the movie went off-course about two thirds in. I think it's mostly due to how poorly written Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) is as a character, and how he suddenly goes from just being a jerk boyfriend to a murderer with a gun. Hall is a good actor and does the best he can with the material, but he's forced to play a villain with no compelling motivation that seems to only be this way because it's what the plot needs. Since the first two thirds of the story are a fable, telling us the simple child's tale of where snow comes from, we don't mind that the characters are mostly satirical archetypes who are paper-thin. However, once the story starts to get darker and takes on more emotional weight, the lack of characterization stands out more.

The final showdown between Edward and Jim in the castle isn't just contrived; it's also incredibly generic. Roger Ebert worded it best: "This conclusion is so lame it's disheartening. Surely anyone clever enough to dream up Edward Scissorhands should be swift enough to think of a payoff that involves our imagination." Burton has never really been much of a writer, and this really does feel like he just didn't know how to give the story a climax and so relied on old tropes.

And yet, despite my issues with the third act, I do think EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is so powerful that it manages to overcome its flaws. It's a movie so filled with beloved iconography, enrapturing music and visuals, and a heartfelt mime-performance by Depp at its center, that it ultimately resonates on a level deeper than its plot. Its emotional core is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. And when you get down to it, isn't that the truth behind all of Burton's best work?

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