Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Lisa Marie, Jeffrey Jones, George Steele, Juliet Landau and Bill Murray
Plot: Ed Wood is based on a true story about a terrible director (Depp) struggling in B Movie territory, fuelled with passion yet without an ounce of talent to his name.
Ed Wood has been widely associated as one of the lesser Tim Burton movies. I am forced to agree that there are major problems with this biopic, the main one being that Tim Burton’s style isn’t as strong, when he is constricted by the rules of telling a true story, but there are still merits here.
Tim Burton’s specific style does manage to break through at times. Ed Wood’s career is clearly a topic he knows a lot about, especially as the movie flaunts the House of Horror tropes that Wood’s career was buried in. When you squeeze Vampira into your movie, you are clearly dredging up a preferred part of movie history. The cheesy Gothic tone of some of the flicks named in this movie is clearly something that Burton has a hand in to this day (albeit with a lot more class and skill). Burton’s directional style also comes through with the use of black and white. While Burton tells the story of Ed Wood, his style of filming also pays tribute to his work. The soundtrack and camera styles suit the tone perfectly, so you are rarely thrown by the fact that we are watching a movie with poor quality lighting. On the other hand, some of the editing needed tightening up. The first few minutes drift through the story, cutting in odd places. I was unsure if Burton was purposefully being lazy with his transitions, as a dig at Wood’s poor directing skills, but there is a line between replicating someone making a bad movie and actually making a bad movie.
I also felt that I was not getting as many jokes as I should have been. This is an era of film-making that I am not experienced in. Jeffrey Jones’ psychic went right over my head and I didn’t realise who Tor Johnson was, until the movie references his famous Halloween mask right at the end. Easier to understand were Vampira, who we all know, even if it is just from that iconic look, and, of course, Bela Lugosi, who is a screen legend. Martin Landau is phenomenal as Bela Lugosi, definitely deserving his Supporting Actor Oscar, but my problem with Lugosi’s role in this movie is that he seems to distract from this movie’s goal. Through the middle act of the film, we cannot escape the feeling that Burton has gotten a little bored with Ed Wood’s story and has decided he would much rather make a biopic about Bela Lugosi. As touching as some of Lugosi’s last moments in this movie are, when the movie ends up going to the rehab clinic, you might question what happened to Wood’s own character arc. Easier to get were not specifics, but the overall Hollywood atmosphere. Juliet Landau’s young starlet hops from a bus in LA, goes straight into the nearest bar, searching for fame and fortune. The B Movie producer is sleazy and gives Ed Wood three days to write a script and five more days to film the entire movie, with only a brief premise to aid him. It is amusing that this movie revels in terrible movie-making, yet there is something so earnestly Hollywood about every scene in this movie.
However, when Burton gets too lost in his purposefully poor direction and the story wavers, it will be the performances that keep you going. Martin Landau may have left with the OSCAR, but everyone else deserves credit. Johnny Depp is fantastic, breathing life and energy into Ed Wood, making him the essence of young and hopeless film-makers. There is something so hard to dislike about Wood’s total and utter commitment. When the movie steps back from the actual film-making and we focus on Wood’s journey to the set, raising funds or waiting for an important phone call, we begin to feel sorry for him, as though we are watching an underdog story. Depp’s unstoppable joy is so infectious that when it begins to show signs of stopping, we feel sorry for the man. Him and his cast are so enthusiastic about making movies, yet they really don’t see that they are making a load of crap. The feeling sorry for Wood almost always goes away immediately, when his comedic direction are depicted hilariously on-screen and we see that he hasn’t got a hope in hell and there is a very good reason why no one is ringing him with more work. It is a credit to both Depp and Burton that we feel that pity more than once and we really do wish the man is going to catch a break any time soon. On the acting side of things, I wouldn’t feel right finishing this review without briefly crediting Bill Murray. He is under-used, yet whenever he is on screen, he is so naturally funny that he instantly improves a scene.
Final Verdict: Ed Wood has moments of genius and the acting is superb, but Burton doesn’t have as much control on the story as you would like.