Few movies encapsulate the wonder of the ’90s more than Tim Burton’s gothic fantasy, Edward Scissorhands. Long-considered one of the most beloved movies of the decade, and now an iconic cult classic which gains regular repeated viewing over the festive period, the movie is one of Burton’s most cherished masterpieces by fans and critics alike.
The film was the first collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, a partnership that would remain successful to this very day, spawning eight movies. Premièring on December 7, 1990 and taking place against the backdrop of Christmas, the film was poised to stagger and amaze audiences in equal measure.
However, it didn’t happen. Not at first.
That’s not to say it wouldn’t eventually do such a thing, but the film initially struggled to connect with audiences on a mass level. The film ranked third in the box-office charts, behind Look Who’s Talking Too and Home Alone, the latter of which was already in its fifth successful week, and would set unprecedented records in the aftermath of its release — you can read about that here. Edward Scissorhands also finished the year behind Another 48 Hours and Bird on a Wire. Needless to say, this isn’t what the producers, or Burton, had in mind.
“[Edward Scissorhands] was not a hit when it came out. It took a long time to gain traction.”
Over time, the movie would make its mark and receive critical acclaim. The fable-like tale and the magical imagery straight from the unique consciousness of Tim Burton cast us into a world of fantasy that has rarely been emulated since. Now, 25 years later, the film is regularly praised and features as a staple on many “Top Christmas Movie” lists. Thompson would reflect on this also, hinting that the perception of the film has changed somewhat over the years.
“So many people have told me it’s their favourite movie. It’s such a lovely thing to hear!”
The story of a lonely, mechanical boy left unfinished during the demise of his genius inventor — horror maestro Vincent Price in his final film role — the character of Edward was brought to life by Johnny Depp in a role that would become one of his most iconic. A nervous mess of scars, insecurity and shy awkwardness, Edward is discovered in his abandoned mansion home by a local Avon lady, Peg, who, after reluctantly approaching the man with giant scissors for hands, rescues him and takes him home.
The film depicts how the character is perceived by those around him; neighbours, fellow family members, the media. Outcast, loner, freak — all of these words are mentioned or nuanced in the movie as Edward tries to adapt to a regular life, one that isn’t as simple as first thought. Surrounded by suburbanites who love nothing more than a gossip, being the centre of attention, and using Edward for scheming personal gain, the film produces a romantic, gentle tale of heartbreak and loneliness, providing one of the most endearing entries to cinema in modern memory.
The only person willing to stand by him is Kim, Peg’s daughter, who takes a reluctant shine to the shy, unique being before her. Surrounded by jocks and criminals, and tired of the mundane cheerleader lifestyle, Edward opens Kim’s eyes to the concept of a unique, exciting life — one she is forbidden to pursue due to society’s perception of the man with “scissors for hands.” It also provides Edward a glimmer of hope in an ever-darkening world, before it becomes clear he will always be seen as the weird guy from the house at the end of the street. You only have to view the ice dance scene to see just how magical this film is, the one true moment in the film that shows the central characters obliviously happy and carefree. It’s short and brief, but it shows that, despite the wrongdoings occurring around them, Edward and Kim could defy social norms, fall in love and live happily ever after.
The story is certainly original, much like most of Burton’s creative work, and Thompson explained how the two created the idea of Edward during a fateful meeting. Represented by the same agency at the time, Burton and Thompson got together over lunch and essentially created the movie we came to know and love.
“One night over drinks, Tim told me about this drawing he’d made in high school of a character who had scissors for hands, and I instantly knew what to do with that image. So I wrote a 70 page treatment in about three weeks and gave it to him. And that’s basically the movie we ended up with.”
One thing that changed during the treatment process? Burton originally wanted the movie to be a musical. The director felt that audiences would be willing to accept the bizarre story if it included songs, since musicals often contained fantastical elements. Burton would eventually change his mind after reading the musical version, a decision both parties agreed was best. The soundtrack would still become one of the more iconic in his career, which was the result of a long-standing partnership with composer Danny Elfman. The haunting but beautiful score was the perfect soundtrack to the dark, romantic tale.
Production designer Bo Welch, who worked with Burton on Beetlejuice two years earlier, explained the concept of the imagery, one that shows just how dedicated the crew were to the character.
“We designed the neighbourhood to appear as though you’re seeing it through Edward’s eyes. The great thrill is the friction between those two aesthetics within a single frame.”
In one scene, the candy-coloured cars all reverse off their respective driveways at the same time, routine and monotonous, creating a stunning, unique visual for the movie.
“That’s pure, beautiful art direction, and it’s justified because that’s how it would look to an outsider like Edward.”
As mentioned above, the film remains special for many fans of classic Hollywood. The film features the final theatrical appearance of legendary horror star Vincent Price. The role was written specifically for Price, who previously worked with Burton on his stop-motion animated short, Vincent. Welch had a say on this too, and explained how casting Price came about.
“Tim had always been a fan of classic horror movies. He watched them religiously as a child, and knows everything about them. That’s his point of reference. That’s his world.”
Regardless of the influence, Burton has crafted one of the true Christmas fantasy films. Without a Santa or a snowman in sight — if you discount the elaborate Christmas decorations in the neighbourhood — Edward Scissorhands proves that a film with an emotional core, and genuinely likeable characters, will always be a success over the Christmas period. True, it started slowly on its première, but it has since gone on to become one of the most iconic entries in the fantasy genre. Christmas is about hope and love and existing, and so is Edward Scissorhands. Many have a moment in their lives when they feel isolated and lonely, and this movie taps into that, showing that even the lonely have a moment to shine, especially against the odds.
“To see it again on the big screen was so cool. It really holds up.”
Which, in retrospect, is the trademark of a classic movie. Edward Scissorhands may have begun slowly, and taken time to gain traction, but there’s no doubt that this film will stand the test of time for many more years to come.
Edward Scissorhands is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.
[Image via 20th Century Fox]