Of all the enchanted collaborations between Tim Burton and his beautiful boy muse Johnny Depp, none is as perfect as the mind meld that brought to life an artificial man with snippers for fingers. And of all the mellifluous partnerships between Burton and his favorite composer Danny Elfman, none matches the rightness of this score. For me, Edward Scissorhands has always been the complete Tim Burton movie: odd and lovely, sad and satiric, elusive and a little lonely, the whole thing sustained with blithe originality.
I’m probably supposed to pick something big and famous here, like Beetlejuice. Instead I’m drawn to the small and shimmering Big Fish, a Burton movie as intimately emotional as it is hugely inventive. The way I see it, the filmmaker has provided a kind of secret decoder ring with which to understand the mysteries of his art: It’s about fathers and sons and the balm of fantasy. Of course.
In his deepest and most perversely divine film to date, Burton discovers the sublime in the ridiculous, turning his gothic gaze upon the worst filmmaker of all time. In the sleazy shadows of ’50s Hollywood, Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp) gathers a stock company of loser-freaks, outs himself as a cross-dresser, and makes horror films so bad that the sets shake. His dialogue for the aging morphine junkie Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) turns sci-fi gibberish into brain-dead confession, yet Wood, played by Depp as a figure of cockeyed moonstruck fervor, remains as pure of passion as he is bereft of talent.
The camera swan-dives through the electric canyons of Gotham City, as Danny Elfman’s score surges with yummy Wagnerian bombast. Batman, his cape unfurled, sweeps down from the rooftops to fight an evil he might almost share. Burton’s pop-vigilante spectacle jump-started the comic-book genre for the multiplex age, putting forth a lusciously overripe nocturnal grandeur we now take for granted. If Michael Keaton’s Batman is a tad nondescript, that’s because Burton’s truest identification is with Jack Nicholson’s Joker, hooked on the demons within.