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Ed Wood: Special Edition 2004

Ed Wood
February 3, 2003
Tim Burton
Edward D. Wood Jr., depending on when you grew up, is best known as the guy who did Plan 9 from Outer Space or Ed Wood, this truly wonderful Tim Burton film from 1994. It won two Oscars, and now the DVD may become known best for a last-minute recall which, really, has yet to be explained. The official story was that the disc was pulled to be rereleased at a later date, but as it costs money to recall a disc, this seems unlikely. As such, people have spread a variety of stories as to why. Some cite an FYE corporate memo stating it was a rights issue of the content, others insist it was a defect. I noticed an oddity in the audio, but as of now nobody really knows why this disc came and went so quickly.

(If you missed the memo, the disc was shipped to stores and shipped back to Disney, but tons of discs leaked out for sale early and are in the hands of fans everywhere.)

The Film

The movie Ed Wood is a black-and-white comedy that follows a brief period in the life of director Ed Wood, seemingly from roughly 1952 to 1959, from Glen or Glenda through Plan 9 from Outer Space. Ed's a lot like Orson Welles, except not exactly a critical hit. His inner torments are masked by Johnny Depp's incredibly upbeat can-do personality through this film, which really gives the film a wide-eyed sincerity that really plays off Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi. Lugosi is a dying, decaying man who was nearing the end and knew it, and made a good friend in Ed. The two make movies through theft, deception, and other means of questionable legality... but it never seems that they're doing anything bad. These guys are out to be the best they can be, and the tribe of miscreants that orbit them only build the film's heroes to be larger than life, class-acts. Of course, if you're reading this review, you've probably seen the movie and know this, and what you want to know is "how is this fine DVD?"

The video and audio shows a little sign of age, with some noticeable wear and tear on the print in a few places and while the audio is mostly clean, there's one point where a problem can be heard. Namely, when Ed and Vampira are talking on the phone, there's an odd sound under Ed's scenes. While I doubt this could be an adequate reason to recall the disc, it really is quite distracting. Aside from this, the presentation of the now ten-year-old film is good, with an above par look and feel that will please fans of this delightful little film.

The Extras

There's a commentary, a trailer, and scores of short bonus features. It seems that some of these could have been made for an older special edition or laserdisc, but as I have access to neither, I'm going to assume they were new for this edition.

The commentary track is partially scene-specific, but lots of the track is pieced together from interviews with various people that worked on the movie. Notably absent is Johnny Depp, but Landau introduces all the people on the track in his Lugosi voice, which is a really slick touch. The track mostly seems to be unrelated interviews about people and their love of the real Ed Wood and their desire to tell his story in a human way, and is short on wacky on-the-set stories. Still, it's quite informative and there is little in the way of silence, which seems rare these days. Speakers include Burton, Landau, and the writers, a costume designer, and more. A nice mix, surely, and there are even references to the infamous Leno story.

The oddest feature on the disc is a music video of Howard Shore's great theme track, but the video itself is a true oddity. There's a Vampira-like woman basically gyrating on a spiral that's spinning around, plus it's intercut with scenes from the film. If this was ever shown on a music video channel, I don't know, but it sure doesn't seem like it would hold the attention spans of the viewership. It seems like it may have been part of an electronic press kit, or just an extra made for a release like this.

Making Bela is a featurette that explores the creation of Bela Lugosi from Rick Baker (makeup) and Martin Landau (actor). This is basically a junket-minus-the-junket where they go on and on about what a great time they had making Bela for this film. Let's Shoot This F#*%@r! is introduced by Johnny Depp and gives an on-the-set look of shooting the infamous Octopus Sequence. It reeks of electronic press kit as well, but it's still entertaining as all get out. A featurette on the theremin should amuse fans of our music section, as it gives a brief history on the electronic instrument and its use in this film.

When Carol Met Larry is a short feature on the ins and outs of cross dressing. It really has little to do with the film and aside from some mentions of it and a few clips. It's a compassionate look at the issue, but as this is a DVD for a movie, it seems a little out of place here. It's also notable that this feature is not mentioned anywhere on the disc's packaging. Pie Plates over Hollywood focuses on the look of the film, how they made it, and some of the sketches used for making the sets. There's a really great look at the Spook House sequence which behind-the-scenes buffs should get a real kick out of.

Finally, there are just under eight minutes of deleted scenes. These seem to be complete except for music and are of a very high quality, especially given how a lot of excised footage comes to DVD looking decayed. "Breaking In" and "Escape" both have to do with the theft of the octopus, "Dinner at the Johnson's" gives us a glimpse at Tor's family life prior to the end of the film, "Sleep Over" has Ed spending the night with a friend, and "Que Sera Sera" has Bill Murray as Bunny walking through a meat packing plant with a mariachi band singing. There are no other characters, and one really wonders if this were shot for any other reason to be included someday as a deleted scene on a DVD or Laserdisc. The overall package is good, though, and it's a real treat to be given a chance to see some of this stuff. This is assuming, of course, you're a fan of this film, otherwise you could probably do without it.

Ed Wood as a DVD is a great purchase for fans of the film because it really makes you feel like you know something about the rich creative process behind the film. Of course, it's also filled with stories about what's real and what they made up, just how delusional Wood may have been, and of course, his unbridled enthusiasm toward his art. The entire package is a real treat for fans of the film, and to everybody else, it should be a fairly good special edition. If you can get it at a fair price, by all means, do so. Die-hard fans of the film will probably enjoy it even at a slight premium.

This review will be updated when the DVD is issued again later so we can examine differences, if any.

--Adam Pawlus
February 16, 2004

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