EDWARD SCISSORHANDS Is The Key To Understand Why Tim Burton Makes So Many Remakes
I watched THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI for the first time recently. It's a fantastic film, as promised, but I couldn't help but wonder while watching why Tim Burton has never remade it. Why does it seem like such a foregone conclusion that Burton will eventually get around to remaking this seminal 1920 German silent film?
I find it fascinating that Tim Burton, a director who has a remarkably singular style of filmmaking, has chosen to spend so much of his career on remakes. Including his 1985 feature debut PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, Burton has directed nineteen films. This filmography is a sprawl of reboots, remakes, and adaptations of television shows, comic books, trading cards, YA book series, and Broadway musicals. For a director who seems to have such a developed voice and personal style, why does Tim Burton spend so much time retelling other people’s stories?
It’s true that Burton puts his visual and emotional spin on every project he tackles, but there are only a small handful of movies in Burton’s collective work that truly feel like personal reflections of the filmmaker’s own interests and aesthetics and not just his style applied to existing intellectual property.
And then there’s EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, a movie that might as well be Burton’s autobiography. Unlike most of the director’s films, which begin their life in development at a studio before Tim Burton is brought on board as a hired gun to put his visual panache on the project, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS was developed from scratch through sketches and ideas from Burton’s a teenager living in Burbank, California.
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is about an artistic genius who is, at first, adored by his community. He is brought down from a scary castle (Disney's Magic Castle, where Burton began work as an animator?) on the outskirts of suburbia, where he uses his unique talents to breathe life and whimsy into an otherwise boring, milquetoast community. People love him for his wacky artistic endeavors and unique outlook on life ... for a while. But then - when things too weird for their comfort zone and Edward never really makes an attempt to fit in with the norms of larger society - the town turns on him, chasing the scissorhanded boy back into his castle with pitchforks and torches.
Compare this to Burton’s own career. He was a celebrated auteur who pumped out instant classic after instant classic - all stamped with that trademark Burton look and feel. Eventually, though, Burton hit a rough patch with critics as they became tired of his zany shtick being applied to their beloved franchises and began to turn on the director. Now it feels like Burton is an underdog, a punchline more than a celebrated auteur despite being responsible for some of the best films of the '90s.
The interesting thing about EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, though, is that Edward wants to conform. He patiently and hopefully sits through hours of make-up tests as his foster mother attempts to find the right blend of Avon products that will give him a normal, lifelike appearance and provide color to his face. As people casually mention that they know a doctor that might be able to help Edward replace his scissor hands with prosthetic, normal-shaped ones, he eagerly listens — hoping to be able to finish his transformation into normalcy.
Edward Scissorhands is not being willfully different because he's trying to make an artistic or cultural statement. Edward doesn’t shop at Hot Topic, dye his hair bright shades of pink, or walk around perpetually in a foul mood. He wants to be happy and he sees a way to achieve this by being just like everybody else — he’s just not given the chance.
This characterization of Edward might offer an interesting insight into Tim Burton’s own career. Edward sought conformity by trying to fit in with his neighbors. He gave into their interests instead of chilling in his castle making ice sculptures. He tried his hand at topiary, women's hairstyles, dog grooming. Unfortunately, he tainted these interests in the process with his distinct style. He couldn't help but be Edward Scissorhands in everything he did, despite trying his best to do everything his neighbors wanted him to do.
This might explain why Burton has clung to remaking or readapting beloved stories instead of taking artistic chances on some of the truly oddball ideas he must have floating around in his head. Burton wants to be a commercial director on par with Steven Spielberg — he just can’t help but leave that same odd thumbprint over every movie he touches. It's like King Midas' touch - but instead of gold, it's black-and-white pinwheel patterns and roles for Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
Tim Burton, like Edward Scissorhands, only wants to interact with a world that he can't help but stand apart from. He seeks to conform as much as he possibly can by remaking movies beloved by mainstream audiences but, in the end, he has found that he left a larger personal mark on his work-for-hire than he initially planned — much to the disapproval of society.
Let us learn from the doomed plight of Edward Scissorhands and give Burton a break the next time he releases a visually stunning but narratively boring remake. He is, after all, just trying to fit in.