I wonder what Ed Wood would think about the fact that his biopic is now available on Blu-ray. No doubt he would be thrilled, but there is a certain element of humor in the fact that the man who has long been regarded as one of the “worst filmmakers of all time” now has a beautiful high-definition DVD release of the film depicting his life story. Realistically, however, that is exactly what this film deserves. Tim Burton’s Ed Wood always has seemed to be a film that required loving care and attention, mostly due to the meticulous way it was shot and produced. Unlike his other films, this piece is one where Burton withheld many of his “signature” visual elements in favor of the performances and narrative. The truth is, the story of Wood and his compatriots were rich enough in content to naturally display the kind of “offbeat” world and sensibilities that Burton is famous for. It would have hurt the film had Burton “gone wacky” with it. As it stands, Ed Wood is widely considered to be one of the best in his career, having garnered two Oscars, one for Martin Landau’s portrayal of Bela Legosi (Best Supporting Actor, 1994) and the other for Best Make-up (Rick Baker, Ve Neill, Yolanda Toussieng).
There was a great deal of controversy when the normal DVD release happened in 2004. In fact, the first run was recalled and then rereleased shortly thereafter for unspecified reasons. If you were one of the lucky few to get that first run, you would have seen the “When Carol Met Larry” special feature on a cross-dressing couple. From what I seem to have been able to determine, this was removed from the general release based upon a request by director, Tim Burton. Upon receipt of the blu-ray, the first thing I looked for was to see if this short had been included on the disc. Sadly, the answer was no and the special features on this disc mirror those of the general “Special Edition” DVD. The features on the Blu-ray include the 5 deleted scenes, a make-up featurette entitled “Making Bela,” a production design short, “Pie Plates Over Hollywood,” the behind the scenes piece, “Let’s Shoot The F#*%@r!,” a documentary featurette, “The Theremin,” the music video with music by Howard Shore and choreography by Toni Basil, the theatrical trailer, and a fascinating audio commentary with Tim Burton, Martin Landau, writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, cinematographer Stefan Czapsky, and costume designer Colleen Atwood.
The film itself, displayed in its original 1.85 aspect ratio, looks fabulous on Blu-ray! Besides being one of Burton’s best script choices, his decision to shoot the film in black-and-white not only sets the tone for the film but also imbues the piece with an authentic flavor lending itself nicely to 1080p high-definition. While the previous DVD release was well done, it cannot visually hold a candle to the Blu-ray. While the source elements were clearly in fairly good condition, the digital restoration for the Blu-ray raises the bar for this film. The periodic artifacts and minor print-wear initially visible on the 2004 DVD release are no longer present, thus allowing for Burton-regular Stefan Czapsky’s cinematography to be displayed for greatest effect.
The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also quite satisfying, platforming Howard Shore’s score which, in turn, assists in providing the ambience the film truly requires. The only downfall within the audio is present in the scene in which Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) runs into Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) at Boardner’s Bar. Unfortunately, D’Onofrio’s vocals were dubbed by a different actor (attempting to accurately portray Welles’ original voice) and the dialogue is not synced to the actor very well. This snafu makes it far too obvious that it is not D’Onofrio’s own voice speaking, making this scene slightly more difficult to buy into. On the other hand, perhaps due to the fact that this is an Ed Wood-related piece, it requires at least one scene that isn’t exactly smooth?
The Blu-ray extras themselves are, for the most part, quite enjoyable. While the music video is a little strange in content, the Ed Wood-footage use is well worked in. The top extras on the disc really would have to be the “Making Bela” featurette and the commentary track. The commentary track is extensive and entertaining, involving a large percentage of the major players within the cast and crew. One of the more charming highlights of the commentary is hearing Martin Landau, as Bela Lugosi, play commentary “host,” introducing each person before they begin their section of the commentary (including himself!). The behind-the-scenes has some fun sections (the Johnny Depp intro) but it seems a little too loose and doesn’t have much direction. It’s still nice to see the actors/crew spend time together and interacting in a more casual manner. The production design short is quite thorough and informative, giving a really decent look at the visual dynamics of creating a piece like Ed Wood. The deleted scenes are also a definite highlight, and at least a few seem to have a common thread of depicting the “downhill slope” of the Ed Wood character. The deletion of these scenes from the main picture hints at Burton’s desire to depict the better side of Ed Wood’s character and the bits of his life before he truly spiraled downwards.
This film, aside from being endlessly rewatchable with an outstanding cast and stellar performances, is one that has definitely benefitted from the Blu-ray format and restoration. It’s clean and smooth, the details and colors are clear and consistently sharp, and it still maintains the look of film itself. While some of the extras may not be as rewarding as others, between the film and the commentary, the other features simply serve as icing on the cake. It’s a joy to watch the film and such great talent on a disc that has clearly had some love put into its creation.