Ed Wood (US - BD)
Gabe looks back in Angora at Tim Burton's quirky bio-pic, now in HD...
You are interested in the unknown. The mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are giving you all the evidence, based only on a secret testimony, of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Can your heart stand the shocking facts about ‘Edward D. Wood Jr.’?
The films of Tim Burton usually bring flashy, hyper-stylized images to mind. I have to admit I’ve lost much of my interest in Burton over the years, thanks to increasingly expensive and empty ‘quirky’ visuals, but I can’t forget the joy of the director’s earlier, ‘signature’ work. When thinking of Burton’s best, I usually recall his most beautiful and visually original work, specifically Beetlejuice, Batman Returns, and Edward Scissorhands. But aside from Edward Scissorhands (arguably), none of these films feature much in the way of an emotional center and mechanical screenplays often dull their beauty. In recent years his films have become more personal, almost insufferably so, leading me to assume he doesn’t have any real connection to other human beings; only his own repetitive, boring fears of commitment and paternal rejection. Then I remember that there’s an exception to all of Burton’s rules of style over substance; a film that is genuinely moving and genuinely quirky, because it’s based on a true story – Ed Wood.
Ed Wood is a singular film in Burton’s canon for many reasons. Outside its general lack of ostentatious visuals and literal lack of colour, the film carries a bizarre tone that’s often difficult to wrap your head around. Burton’s films are always weird, but they’re predictably and aggressively weird, not vaguely unpredictable or sullen. I assume that Burton intends on mimicking the uncanny, amateurish feel of Wood’s movies, but he has to be careful not to overstate incompetence, lest his film turns genuinely bad, instead of faux-bad. This balancing act extends to the film’s sense of humour, which rarely attempts to make the audience laugh out loud, rather, we’re meant to be charmed on a relatively low-energy level. Energy levels aside, I don’t think it’s inaccurate to refer to Ed Wood as Burton’s Raging Bull. I mean, aside from the obvious comparisons (both are bio-pics and both are shot black and white), there’s a similarly natural and stark quality to the two films, one that is spiked by delightful hints of gothic lighting. If I didn’t know better, I’d claim that Burton seems to be playfully mocking Scorsese’s masterpiece at times. The problem with Ed Wood isn’t so much the prevalence of its weirder qualities, it’s the deliberate pacing, which is actually a crucial ingredient in the unique brew. The entire narrative could do with a bit of trimming, but I have no idea what could be cut, especially considering the fact that Burton and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who apparently specialize in ‘90s bio-pics, because they also wrote The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon) are basically telling two stories here – the funny, feel-good tale of Ed Wood’s ‘rise’ and the melancholy tale of Lugosi’s twilight years.
It feels like the more visually elaborate Burton’s films get the easier it is to forget that he’s actually quite good with actors and that even his worst movies ( Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland) feature at least one or two solid performances. Depp’s characterized performance is a good mix of flamboyant and centered, yet I find even I forget about it in favour of his more recent Tim Burton movie roles, probably due to utter saturation at this point. Martin Landau predictably won his first Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi. Not that Landau isn’t great (he’s heartbreaking), it’s just that his performance unfortunately covers two of the Academy’s favourite bases – Landau had been around long enough for the award to be an homage to an entire career and it was a portrayal of an existing person, Lugosi. The Academy even got extra points because the award was kinda/sorta an homage to Lugosi himself, who was, as the movie so plainly states, basically forgotten by Hollywood and left to die in the gutter. The role here to really remember is Bill Murray as Bunny Breckinridge, a deadpan gay man hoping to save enough money for a male to female sex change. Burton is clever to not overuse Murray, who is his usual understated self. Revisiting the film for the first time in a long time, I’m also willing to call this Sarah Jessica Parker’s and Lisa Marie’s best performances too, for whatever that’s worth.
I know what you’re thinking, Ed Wood was shot black and white and made to look cheap and old, why would I need to update my DVD copy? Well, it’s still a very good-looking movie and the texture of the film is important to Burton and cinematographer Stefan Czapsky’s look. And we all know how I feel about how much better film grain looks in HD. Or at least how good it can look in HD. This new 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray transfer is much, much sharper than the DVD release, sometimes to a bit of detriment in terms of high contrast. The SD transfer is dull and flat, but it does feature softer gradations that reveal some more detail. In HD fine textures and complex patterns are more well-defined, but the heavier black crush and white bloom do tend to delete a few of the subtler contrasting details (for example, Ed’s black jacket can disappear into black background elements on Blu-ray, but do not on DVD). However, the purity of these occasionally too intense blacks and whites blow those of the generally washed-out, overly grey DVD right out of the water. And, honestly, there are just as many fine details present on the Blu-ray that go missing on the obviously mushier DVD. I’m sure that Burton prefers one look to the other, so, for the sake of the Blu-ray’s majority advantages, let’s just assume it’s the higher contrast look. I’m pretty sure he prefers this Blu-ray’s lack of slight blue tinting at the very least. Aside from the intended grain and shutter effects, this transfer is generally free of artefacts, specifically the haloes and occasional interlacing effects that appear on the DVD.
Alright, I suppose I’m with the doubting Thomases in the house in terms of the need for a full 5.1 presentation here, considering the lo-fi qualities of Ed Wood’s sound design. Honestly, I’m not even sure if the film was presented in digital 5.1 when it was originally released (the end credits state ‘Dolby stereo’), but it sounds natural enough here on this uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. There are some minor directional effects (cars driving through the shot, the noise of a camera shutter, characters speaking from off-screen) and basic immersive ambience (rain, crowd noise), but the name of this game is centered, natural, captured on-set dialogue with minimal effects enhancement. In this regard this track does its job well. The major source of stereo and surround enhancement is Howard Shore’s musical score. Even here the separation of elements generally ape the sound available to budget filmmakers in the 1950s, sticking instruments on the left and right. There’s some rear channel enhancement and centered solo instruments, but the bigger plus is the warmth and clarity of the music (which I entirely forgot featured bits of ‘Swan Lake’).
There are no new extras featured on this disc, but everything featured on the old special edition DVD is present starting with an audio commentary featuring Burton, Landau, co-writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, cinematographer Stefan Czapsky, and costume designer Colleen Atwood. Next up is Let’s Shoot This F#*%@r! (14:00, SD), a strange making-of featurette/EPK featuring an intro from Johnny Depp and a bunch of raw, behind the scenes footage. The Theremin (7:20, SD) is a brief interview with composer Howard Shore and expert Mark Seagal, who discuss the history of the electronic instrument known as the Theremin. Making Bela (8:10, SD) is an interview with Landau and make-up artist Rick Baker, who discusses the process of creating Bela Logosi for the film. Pie Plates Over Hollywood (13:50, SD) covers features an interview with production designer Tim Duffield, who discusses the look of the film, complete with pages from his sketch book. The extras also include five deleted scenes, including a brilliantly surreal sequence of Murray walking through a meat freezer with a mariachi band, singing ‘Que Sera Sera’ (7:40, SD), a Howard Shore music video (3:30, SD), and a trailer.
Is Ed Wood Tim Burton’s best movie? It’s hard to say because it’s still such a singular movie in his canon. I’m tempted to say Batman Returns or Edward Scissorhands are the best Tim Burton films (assuming he’s a brand), but that Ed Wood is the best film Tim Burton has ever made. This new Blu-ray release is visually a surprising upgrade over the old DVD (aside from some contrast issues that might cause quibbles among fans) and feature all the extras already made available on the special edition DVD.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and DVD Special Edition resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 18th September 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director/Actor/Writer/Costume Designer Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Making Bela, Pie Plates Over Hollywood, Let's Shoot This F#*%@r!, The Theremin, Music Video, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie, Bill Murray
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 127 minutes