Every filmmaker, at least once in their career, should make an Ed Wood. And I don’t mean a crazed biopic about an eccentric storyteller. I mean a heart-and-soul investment into a behind-the-scenes feature about the business we call show. Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is infused with love, admiration, wonder and awe for movies and the movie-making process. And who can’t appreciate that?
It’s be easy to dismiss Ed Wood as a clunky misfire. At times, Burton’s biopic of his beloved Z-list director Ed Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp) looks as purposefully chintzy as Wood’s own cinematic endeavors. Yet with Burton’s film, it’s always charming as opposed to cheap. It’s corner-cutting with a purpose, and Wood fills in those gaps with eccentricities and admiration, which helps patch scenes together.
Ed Wood is the movie Burton was able to make because his Batman films and Edward Scissorhands (also with Depp) performed admirably at the box office. The film traces the rise of Wood, a schlocky wannabe director whose persistence – and offbeat friendship with a fading Bela Lugosi (Oscar winner Martin Landau) – earns him a shot at helming a feature-length creature story. History tells us Wood’s films (such as Plan 9 from Outer Space) went over like an alcoholic drink at a Baptist convention. But Depp’s passion and unchecked enthusiasm, coupled with Burton’s appreciation for Wood’s approach, makes Ed Wood one of the most personal and honest pictures in Burton’s filmography.
It’s not hard to see Burton’s personal journey reflected in Wood’s as the cult director, then a no-name, trying to let people tell his unique stories in his preferred medium (and hopefully keep his strange friends employed). “Filmmaking is not about the tiny details. It’s about the big picture,” Wood tells his skeptical producers at one point. It’s one of the many hard truths about the film industry sprinkled through Scott Alexander’s script that documents the blood, sweat and lunacy that goes into the making of a single film. Plus, the Orson Welles cameo near the film’s end is fantastically entertaining. Ed Wood should be required viewing in film schools across the country. If there’s any justice, it already is.
And yet, when you peel back the spot-on industry jabs, Ed Wood’s just the tender, unconventional story of a gentle soul trying to feel comfortable in his own skin. Touching performances by Depp, Bill Murray (as the quirky creative backer), Landau and Sarah Jessica Parker as Wood’s suffering wife prevent the film from devolving into a cynical industry spoof. And while Wood’s own material would suggest a left turn into wacky camp, Burton remained more reserved here than he did in his next picture, Mars Attacks!
If you’re a Burton fan but haven’t yet caught Wood, use this as an opportunity to gain insight into the creative process of the director behind Sweeny Todd, Dark Shadows and Sleepy Hollow. It’s Wood’s life story, sure. But it’s Burton’s, as well.
Burton’s decision to film Ed Wood in black and white angered his studio back in 1994, but it leads to a spectacular visual transfer in 2012. Much like animation, B&W photography comes across as crisp, vivid and alive on Blu-ray. The grain looks intentional (it likely is), and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio transfer is powerful. The Blu-ray has a very good transfer, improving on Burton’s original effort on every technical level.
The Blu-ray extras, however, are not an improvement so much as they are a simple cut-and-paste from previous Ed Wood releases. That’s great if you don’t already own Wood on DVD, but kind of a bust if you’ve seen the five deleted scenes (my favorite remains a peek into Tor Johnson’s home life), the strange Howard Shore music video, or the “Pie Plates Over Hollywood” feature that dives into the film’s production challenges.
Fans might get excited over “Let’s Shoot This F$#%&*r,” though it’s really just pre-recorded introductions from Depp on the Wood set. And the disc rounds out with a commentary track that includes insight from Burton, Landau, and several creative collaborators.
If you don’t yet own Ed Wood, this Blu-ray is a must. However, because of the lack of original extras, if you happen to have it in your collection already, the visual and audio upgrade (while impressive) is not enough to merit a purchase. Spend wisely.