Tim Burton Tag

Review: Ed Wood

Ed Wood (1994)

I told myself I was going to make this one a quickie and not belabor my points. So, Point No. 1—this is the only good Tim Burton movie. Point 2—it features Johnny Depp’s best performance, by far. Point 3—it’s astonishing Martin Landau did such a great job of playing Lugosi without getting much help from behind the camera. Point 4—Ed Wood died at the box office, not because it’s not a great film—it is—but because it doesn’t fit within the all too predictable definition of what a Burton film is supposed to be. And because it committed the unforgivable sin of being in black & white.

 

I guess this is going to take some explaining after all.

 

I continue to be amazed by the number of people who haven’t seen Ed Wood, and by the number who have seen it but didn’t realize Burton directed it. In an age where practically everything, no matter how inept, has its rabid fan base, there’s 

something fundamentally wrong about the neglect this film has suffered. It seems like its financial failure caused Burton to decide to only do “Tim Burton” films from that point on—akin to what happened after De Niro played a very Ed Wood-like Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy. Audiences weren’t willing to accept him as anything other than the hardboiled “Robert De Niro,” so he was essentially harassed into being that somewhat limited character for the rest of his career.

 

If the points I rattled off at the top weren’t enough to get you to check this movie out, how about these? It’s got one of the great opening-credits sequences, which manages to capture both the feel of Wood’s movies and set the tone for 

ED WOOD AT A GLANCE

The best Tim Burton film, Wood also features the best efforts of Johnny Depp, Matin Landau, and most of the other above- and below-the-line talent while managing to capture the feel of Halloween.

 

PICTURE     

Stefan Czapsky’s both gritty and elegant black & white cinematography comes across with punch and depth even on Amazon’s plain-vanilla HD.

what’s to come without feeling arbitrarily grafted onto the rest of the film. Beyond Landau and Depp, there are some hugely entertaining turns by Sarah Jessica Parker, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, and especially Mike Starr as the head of the C-grade exploitation house Screen Classics. (But there are some big casting missteps as well, especially a so-meek-she’s-barely-there Patricia Arquette as Wood’s wife.)

 

Then there’s the writing. Ed Wood stands above Burton’s other films mainly because it’s one of the few times he’s had an exceptional script to work from—by far the best effort from Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (the team responsible for the unexceptional The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon, and the inexcusable The People vs. OJ Simpson). Their portrait of Wood might not be very accurate, but it’s exactly who we need Wood to be, serving up one big fat softball after another for Depp to knock out of the park.

 

The movie is laugh-out-loud funny in a way Burton films rarely are. You can thank the script for most of that, but it’s more than ably realized by Depp, who displays some genius comedic chops he’s just been too cool to bother to use since; Murray, who adds some nicely timed flourishes; and especially Starr, who aces every scene he’s in.

 

The script can also claim most of the credit for the nicely modulated shifts of tone. While Ed Wood is mainly a comedy—and frequently a really broad one—it occasionally transitions deftly to drama, especially when dealing with Lugosi’s drug addiction. And it pulls off the really neat trick of not having Wood come across as just a cartoon or complete loser or clown. The actual Ed Wood doesn’t get enough credit for having tapped into the often trashy archetypes that define American culture in ways more sophisticated directors have never been able to. Wood wasn’t the worst director of all time, just the most naive.

 

Then there’s Stefan Czapsky’s both gritty and elegant black & white cinematography, which convincingly evokes the feel of ‘50s LA despite having to constantly push back against the director’s typically half-baked ideas. The images are punchy with a decent sense of depth, even in plain old HD on Amazon Prime. Besides, a color film about Ed Wood would just be absurd.

 

In the same way this is the best work from Burton, Landau, Depp, and Alexander & Karaszewski, it’s the only Howard Shore score I’ve ever been able to stomach. Pared down and witty, it’s an effective complement to the action and helps paper over some of the deeper sags in the mis en scène.

 

And, finally, Ed Wood is well worth watching because it’s one of those rare films that just feels like Halloween. While we tend to associate that holiday with shock-machine gore fests, they rarely capture the feel of the evening itself—which is one of the reasons why the studios tend to dump them on the market at the end of summer. But Ed Wood—along with Pixar’s sublime Coco—is suffused with the atmosphere of All Hallow’s Eve.

 

To say Ed Wood was one of the best films of the ‘90s would border on being a slight, since that was a pretty abysmal decade for filmmaking. Better to say that it stands outside that decade, and the rest of Burton’s oeuvre, as an example of what happens when the right forces come together at the right time and somewhat magically manage to conjure up something that’s better than the sum of its parts.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Batman (1989)

Batman (1989)

I think we can all agree that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films is the greatest series of superhero films yet produced, with the middle film—The Dark Knight—transcending the superhero genre to just being a great film, and with Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning turn as The Joker representing some of the best acting ever in a superhero film.

 

And you could make a strong argument that, if not for Tim Burton’s Batman reboot in 1989, we would have never had Nolan’s films 20 years later. Remember, back in 1989 superhero films were mainly limited to Superman, with the notable exception of 1980’s Flash Gordon. And Superman’s final film to that point—the abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987—didn’t exactly end the series on a high note, financially or critically. 

 

Also, superhero stories to that point were mostly light, geared towards attracting families with kids. They drew clear lines of good guys and bad guys. Think of the original Batman TV series with Adam West. It dripped with camp and positive 

messages, with Batman never crossing the line into dark vigilantism.

 

Up until 1989, that was the Batman the majority of the world knew.

 

But Warner Bros. decided to create a tentpole franchise around the Bat, featuring a dark style inspired by Frank Miller’s four-part The Dark Knight Returns comic series from 1986. They also selected an unlikely director, going with Tim Burton, who was fresh off the success of Beetlejuice and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but who had few other credits to his name, and certainly nothing on the size, scope, and budget allocated to Batman.

 

But hiring Burton proved fortuitous, as he bought into the idea of a darkly-toned film, with his own quirky sensibility, style, and world-building being just the thing to launch a darker vision of Gotham.

 

Another thing that separated Batman from previous films was its unique marketing and merchandising, which was 

designed to build hype and launch the film to blockbuster status. Sure, there had been blockbusters before, but many of these were “accidental” such as Jaws or Star Wars, or were sequels. Batman was for all intents and purposes an original film, but one with a storied history to pull from.

 

An interesting documentary, Batman: The Birth of the Modern Blockbuster (included on the previous “Diamond Luxe Edition” Blu-ray, but unfortunately not part of the numerous extras included here) does a great job of analyzing the film’s marketing efforts to raise Bat awareness to a fever pitch. And I can recall my own excitement surrounding the film. In the summer of 1989, it was the film all my friends and I had to attend, and we waited hours in line to view it in a packed opening-night theater.

 

The strategy definitely paid off, as Batman shattered opening-weekend records, bringing in $40.49 million and trouncing the previous record holder, Ghostbusters II, by over $12 million. Batman also earned $100 million faster than any previous film, doing so in just 11 days, and ended up grossing over $410 million, becoming one of the highest-grossing films to that time.

Batman (1989)

While everyone seemed thrilled at the prospect of Jack Nicholson portraying The Joker (including Warner, which agreed to some incredible demands by the actor, including not filming during any Lakers home games), fans were considerably less supportive of Michael Keaton’s casting in the titular role. But I think Keaton did a great job, especially with his quirky, slightly-uncomfortable-in-public turn as Bruce Wayne, and feel he’s the second best of the modern Bat-men, behind Christian Bale, but ahead of Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Val Kilmer—and with no WTF?! distracting nipples on the Bat-suit.

 

I’ve seen Batman numerous times, but what I mainly remember is watching it on a VHS copy and constantly struggling to see any detail in the image. Many scenes are so dark, I would constantly fiddle with my TV’s brightness control to try to find the optimal level between washed out and lost in darkness.

 

For me, that is the greatest benefit 4K HDR brings to the 30th-anniversary release. Dark, nighttime, and low-lit interior scenes—of which there are many—look absolutely gorgeous. Blacks are incredibly clean and detailed, with no noise or banding. Warner did a fantastic job on this restoration, allowing you to see things that were likely never visible before, especially on any prior home video release. There are still plenty of deep, dark shadows, with many scenes featuring black-on-black-on-black imagery, between the night, set color, layers of black on Batman’s suit, the black uniforms worn by The Joker’s henchmen, and more, but each retains its own level and layer of black. Batman is still a visually dark film, but now you don’t feel like you’re missing anything.

 

Also, even though this 4K transfer was taken from a 4K digital intermediate from the original 35mm negative—which can often introduce grain and noise into certain scenes—grain is almost non-existent here. Even in outdoor scenes or when there is lots of smoke wafting in the air, images are always clean and clear.

 

Detail also abounds, letting you really appreciate the art and set decoration for which the film won an Academy Award. Great care was taken to create a believable Gotham, and this transfer lets you see all of it. You can really notice the texture of the fabrics—the heavy wools of The Joker’s suits and overcoats; the dense, leathery weightiness of Batman’s cape; the smooth metallic shell of the Batmobile; and the high-tech carbon-looking skin of the Bat-wing. Also, I noticed for the first time that the buttons on The Joker’s suit near the end of the film actually have all the playing-card suits on them—another subtle touch the enhanced resolution makes apparent. The minor drawback to all this extra resolution is that some shots reveal themselves to be matte paintings, but that’s a small price to pay.

Being such a dark film, there’s not a lot of room for the wider color gamut to shine, but some scenes do benefit, such as the flames in the explosion of the Axis Chemicals plant or the brilliant purples of The Joker’s numerous suits, and especially his beret in the museum scene. The warm golden tones in Bruce Wayne’s mansion also feel extremely natural.

 

From the opening moments, Danny Elfman’s score really has room to breathe and shine in this new Dolby True HD Atmos mix. The opening-title scene presents his score wide and crystal clear across the front channels, letting you easily discern all of the instrumentation. While I wouldn’t call this an overly active mix, Atmos does a really nice job of expanding the soundstage, especially in key scenes throughout the film. I noticed a ton of width in the front channels, with objects traveling great distances outside the left and right speakers.

 

The overhead and surround speakers are used effectively throughout to create ambience and atmospheric sounds on the city streets of Gotham, or add layers of echoes in the spacious and stately Wayne Manor. During big action scenes, such as the gunfight at Axis Chemicals or the Bat-wing swooping over The Joker’s  

Batman (1989)

parade near the end, the speakers effectively and appropriately immerse you in sound, with things whisking by overhead, bullets ricocheting around the room, or voices calling from distant offscreen locations. Considering that this is a 30-year-old sound mix, Warner did a stellar job.

 

If there’s any shortcoming to the audio, it’s that the LFE is generally a bit restrained, especially by modern standards. Bass has its moments to shine, like during the explosion at the Axis Chemicals factory, but there are other key moments—like the massive destruction of the tower bell near the finale —where a few extra dB in the bass channel would have been welcome.

 

Both the Blu-ray disc and the digital download from the Kaleidescape Store include numerous special features, letting fans dig into multiple aspects of the film’s production and design, and the history of Batman.

 

Batman set the stage for the modern superhero genre, and it has never looked or sounded as good as it does here. While not as great at Nolan’s films—and arguably not even the best of Burton’s Batman films—this movie still makes for terrifically fun viewing and is highly recommended.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.