It's about time Ed Wood came out on DVD. Originally released in 1994, this movie is a fanciful biography of the film director credited with making some of the worst movies ever committed to celluloid. Tim Burton tells Ed's story in the fashion of a cheesy B-movie, using black and white photography and a delightful, catchy b-movie style score (by Howard Shore).
Edward D. Wood Jr (Johnny Depp) is an aspiring filmmaker who manages to luck in on financing for one horrible movie after another. He has a chance meeting with an over-the-hill Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his performance) and they quickly become friends. They also develop a dependency on one another - Wood uses what remains of Bela's fame to help wheedle financing from backers and Bela uses Wood to get what acting gigs he can.
Ed has a girlfriend, Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker), an aspiring actress who slowly becomes more and more dismayed as Ed gathers a strange selection of friends into his movie making company. These friends include Bunny (Bill Murray), a wannabe transsexual, the amazing Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), an admittedly phony psychic, and Vampira (Lisa Marie), the ex-horror show hostess who needs a job. Once they complete Bride of the Monster Dolores storms out of the relationship because she just can't take any more of the weirdness. Oh, yes: Ed Wood is a transvestite and it sort of strains their relationship to the breaking point. Fortunately Ed finds a sweet woman named Kathy (Patricia Arquette), who once she understands that just because he loves women's clothes it doesn't mean he's gay, accepts him for who he is.
This movie works because it makes you care about its collection of weirdoes. Johnny Depp's Ed Wood is so naive, optimistic, and delusional you can't help but want him to succeed. Sure the guy wore panties and a bra while fighting in WWII, but so what? He's such a decent, friendly fella! Landau's cranky, funny, and pathetic Lugosi steals the show, and I can't help but feel Burton completely orchestrated his theft. The movie is a loving tribute to bad b-movies and Burton seems to direct his actors as if they are in one. Lugosi was the only actor with any real ability in Wood's movies so Landau gets to outshine everyone with the depth of his character. I may have been laughing, but I was also rooting for this collection of oddballs right through to the end.
I’m giving the disc itself such a poor rating because of one glaring omission, which I will get to in a bit. First off, the sound was great. The soundtrack was clear, with the quirky music score standing out. The movie was filmed in black and white and it looks good here. It’s in the extras where the disc falls down, hard.
The Ed Wood: Special Edition’s featurettes were boring, to put it kindly. I did like the one about how Rick Baker helped transform Martin Landau into Bela Lugosi, because we got to learn something about the real Lugosi. The audio commentary was fairly listenable, especially when writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski get to talking. They did their research and supply most of the background information that can be gleaned about Ed Wood, the man. But otherwise, they’re all a snooze.
Which brings me to my major complaint with this disc: There is absolutely nothing about the real Ed Wood. The disc’s featurettes all focus on the making of this movie, while nothing really explains the fascination with the horrible movies this man made. A nifty addition to this special edition would have been a side-by-side comparison of the original scenes from Wood's movies to the scenes they recreated for this movie. Heck, how expensive would it have been to add some scenes from Wood's movies? It might have added something to this movie if you actually have the misfortune of enduring one of his actual crappy movies.
So in summation, great movie - mediocre disc. Well worth the 20 bucks to add it to your collection but you might want to haunt the bargain bin for a copy of Plan 9 or Glen or Glenda to fully appreciate what Tim Burton has wrought. Ed Wood's story is tragic, while Burton and his writers wisely give it a funny edge. When Depp utters the lines: "This is it. This is the one I'll be remembered for!" in reference to Plan 9 from Outer Space, you can't help but feel sorry for the guy as you're laughing. On the other hand, will people like Paul W.S. Anderson or Uwe Boll (or even Michael Bay!) have such an enthusiastic following for their films 50 years from now? I think not.