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Featured Blu-ray Review: Ed Wood

September 16th, 2012

Ed Wood - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Ed Wood was a master filmmaker in a genre of films referred to by some as Z-movies. These are movies that are generally so bad they are good. As such, he's developed a huge cult following over the years with Plan 9 From Outer Space considered the best bad movie of all time. He also had a rather interesting personal life. Both of these make him a good target for a biopic. Tim Burton, on the other hand, is not your usual director and his flair for visuals is not what you would normally associate with a biopic. Does it work? Or does his style clash too much with the genre?

The Movie

The film beings with Criswell rising from a coffin to address the audience to tell us the movie is based on the real testimony of those who survived the shocking events. That's not 100% true. Even Tim Burton admits he changed the facts to make it seem more like a 1950s B-movie.

The plot begins with Ed Wood pacing outside a theater waiting for the press to show up to the first showing of his new play, when Bunny Breckenridge tells him they can't wait any longer to start the play. When they read the review in the paper, it isn't good. While Ed Wood tries to remain upbeat, that night, he tells his girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, that he will never make it in Hollywood, not like his idol, Orson Welles.

Ed Wood thinks he has his big break when he learns a schlock producer, George Weiss got the rights to the story of Christine Jorgensen, the transsexual woman who was big in the news at the time. Ed Wood tells George Weiss he's the best man to do the job, because he likes to dress like a woman. Who better to tell the story of someone with a secret than him. However, George Weiss doesn't want someone with passion, he wants someone with experience and speed.

After getting drunk and heading home, Ed Wood spots Bela Lugosi buying a coffin. He strikes up a conversation and offers to drive Bela home. When Ed Wood learns Bela Lugosi hasn't worked in four years, they talk about the classic movie monsters. This talk inspires Ed Wood, and later convinces Bela to be in his first picture, which in turn convinces George Weiss to hire him. He also uses this as an opportunity to come out of the closet to Dolores, who is understandably shocked at first. The filming of Glen of Glenda ... happens. And the result is ... a film. (Glen of Glenda is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made.)

This film doesn't bring Ed Wood the success he hoped for. However, Dolores is supportive and suggests maybe he just isn't 'studio material' and he should work in the independent film industry. He begins working in his true passion, monster movies, eventually teaming up with Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson for Bride of the Monster and eventually made his masterpiece in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

I'm skipping over a lot of the movie at this point, because I don't want to spoil how Ed Wood's career unfolded. Although, if you are a fan of B-movies, you probably know a lot about it. The film has three main strengths. Ed Wood's life and career was unusual. His personal idiosyncrasies aside, his determination in the face of a nearly absolute lack of talent is almost commendable. His enthusiasm and belief in the magic of filmmaking is infectious. We feel that enthusiasm thanks to amazing acting. It's not a shock Martin Landau won an Oscar for his performance in this picture, while Johnny Depp thrives in strange roles like this. Finally, Tim Burton and the rest of the filmmakers did an excellent job recreating the 1950s B-movie feel, including the black and white cinematography and especially the music, which is heavy on the theremin.

Ed Wood is a must see if you are a fan of B-movies in general or of Ed Wood's films in particular. It is also a must see if you are a fan of Tim Burton's films or Johnny Depp's acting.

The Extras

There are actually quite a few extras on the Blu-ray, starting with an audio commentary track with Tim Burton, Martin Landau, as well as the cinematographer, Stefan Czapsky; the costume designer, Colleen Atwood; and co-writers, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. On a side note, it is in the setup menu and I hate it when they do that. An audio commentary track is an extra. The top of the extras menu has five deleted scenes with a total running time of close to eight minutes. Next up is a music video for the theme score for the film. Tripy is the best way to describe it. Let's Shoot This F#*%@r! is a 14-minute making of featurette. The Theremin is a seven-minute featurette on the score. Making Bela is an eight-minute featurette on Bela Lugosi's career and how Martin Landau prepared to play him. Finally, there's Pie Plates over Hollywood, which spends 14 minutes looking at the production design in the movie. This is a good selection, even if none of them are Blu-ray exclusives.

The video and audio is excellent, given the type of film it is. It's shot in black and white, so there are no colors to comment on, but the level of details is very high, and the contrast is very strong. There are no instances of print damage, compression errors, or digital manipulation. The audio is not overly complicated, but there's enough activity in the surround sound speakers to not feel barren, while clarity is never an issue.

Finally, it only costs $13, which is good for a catalogue title, especially one with solid extras.

The Verdict

Ed Wood isn't your typical biopic. It is more of an homage to the era and style of the filmmaker than a straight recitation of the facts. However, it works perfectly in this case. The Blu-ray is shovelware, but it is worth the price.

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