(R) 4 starsEd Johnson-Ott
Suppose you made a terrific movie and nobody came. That happened to Tim Burton in 1994, when he made Ed Wood and most moviegoers said, "No thanks." Why they passed on the film is beyond me. Like most Burton films, it showcases a lovable loser in a bizarre setting. In this case, it's '50s filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., a man of boundless enthusiasm and very little talent.
Wood wanted to make movies more than anything and, by God, he made them. They were horrible, but the worst moments were comically inept, and over the years he built a tiny fan base. Then, in the '70s, a snarky book named one of his films (Plan 9 from Outer Space) "the worst movie ever made" and the legend of Ed Wood grew.
Most of what you see in the film is true. No, Ed Wood (Johnny Depp, in one of the best performances of his career) did not have a chance meeting with Orson Wells (Vincent d'Onofrio). And as far as I can tell, there were no grand premieres of any of his movies. But most of the amazing things you witness are real (including Wood's love for Angora sweaters and women's underwear).
Tim Burton catches it all in glorious black and white. The re-creations of legendary moments from Wood's life and films are spot-on: appropriately cheesy on the set and rich and creamy off. The cast is perfect: Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette as two of Wood's lovers, Bill Murray as the demure Bunny Breckinridge, George "The Animal" Steele as gentle giant Tor Johnson, Lisa Marie as Elvira prototype Vampira and Jeffrey Jones as whacked-out psychic Criswell.
Best of the group, along with Depp, is Martin Landau, whose performance as aged film icon Bela Lugosi rightly earned him an Academy Award. The friendship between Wood and Lugosi is the heart of the movie and both men are superb.
How entertaining is Ed Wood? Hey, we're covering the release of the DVD Special Edition as the lead feature this week.
The DVD features an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the movie in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The presentation is enhanced for 16-by-9 TV sets. The transfer itself is gorgeous - I could not spot a single flaw; not a speckle. No edge-enhancement problems either. The black and white film looks just as good here as it did on the big screen; there is no fading in the solid blacks and all the shades of gray look great. A 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track supplements the presentation and everything from the dialogue to music director Howard Shore's otherworldly Theremin quavers sound crisp and clean.
Someday, I believe, we'll see a Criterion Edition of Ed Wood with even more bonus materials. Until then, this special edition will do quite nicely.
Commentary Track: Tim Burton, Martin Landau, co-writers Scott Alexander and South Bend native Larry Karaszewski, director of photography Stefan Czapsky and costume designer Colleen Atwood join in the feature length commentary track. The conversation is relaxed and informative. I wish the talk had been more scene-specific, but this works. When a new voice enters, they are introduced by Landau in his Bela Lugosi voice.
"Let's Shoot This F#*%@r!": Johnny Depp hosts this behind-the-scenes feature. He's in good spirits and the on-set footage is interesting.
"Making Bela": How does one turn Martin Landau into Bela Lugosi, especially when the shape of the men's heads are markedly different? Find out here.
"Pie Plates over Hollywood": Production designer Tom Duffield had a distinct problem. Where most films try to take makeshift props and backgrounds and make them look real, this production had many scenes that wallow in all things tacky. Duffield shows how they did it.
"The Theremin": You know that quivering high pitch sound they use in ghost movies that instantly identifies it as such? Or that quivering nothing-else-sounds-like-this instrument going "oooooooh-weeeeeee-oooooooh" in the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations"? Those sounds are made by the Theremin, a bizarre musical instrument that you play by bringing your hand near an antenna sticking out of a wooden box. I want one very much.
Deleted scenes: A handful of scenes cut from the film. Several relate to Wood breaking up with his honey bunny (a fight between the couple on the street, Wood sleeping on Lugosi's couch and having dinner with Tor and his family) and one uses shadows nicely as it shows Wood and a few of the troupe stealing a prop octopus. The best - and most mystifying - deleted scene shows Bill Murray, dressed in white, trudging through a huge meat freezer with a mariachi band behind him as he croons "Que Sera Sera!"
Plus a so-so music video build on the theme music, trailers and probably an Easter egg or two (I'm not looking for those things, but when someone else finds one and posts the directions online, I'll let you know).