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Face-Off: Edward Scissorhands vs. Batman Returns

Nice to see you again, fans of the cinema! This is the Face-Off, where two movies enter and both movies leave, but one leaves in a slightly better light. Yes, here we take two competitors and compare their key elements and see who comes out the champion. It's a fierce competition that results in blood, tears, and online arguments, but the more brutal the battle, the sweeter the victory.

Today is Christmas, and everyone is rewatching their favorite holiday movies that teach us all about the true meaning of the season, family and blah, blah, blah. For this session, we're going to go a different way. While a logical competition would compare movies like A CHRISTMAS STORY, ELF, CHRISTMAS VACATION, HOME ALONE, and others, for this Face-Off we will be tackling two popular movies that may not be Christmas movies by definition, but have Christmas settings that certainly give the holidays an extra dose of darkness: It's EDWARD SCISSORHANDS VS. BATMAN RETURNS.

Both directed by Tim Burton during his string of hits in the 80s and 90s, each movie demonstrates some of the best of Burton's sensibilities as a filmmaker, from his emphasis on atmospheric production design to his focus on tragic figures. The first movie was the director's first after shooting into the mainstream with the first BATMAN, and this tale of a tragic but beautiful soul proved just how talented and versatile this director is. After this he got to work on BATMAN RETURNS, a sequel that may not have been as big as the first but utilized some terrific production values to deliver the best Batman movie we would see for another 13 years. 

These are two of the most well-known movies in the Burton canon, and both have their scores of fans, but which will ultimately win this Burton Battle on Christmas morn? Scroll down to find out. 

The Ensemble

Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands
Winona Ryder as Kim Boggs
Dianne Wiest as Peg Boggs
Anthony Michael Hall as Jim
Alan Arkin as Bill Boggs
Kathy Baker as Joyce
Conchata Ferrell as Helen
Caroline Aaron as Marge
Robert Oliveri as Kevin Boggs
O-Lan Jones as Esmeralda
Dick Anthony Williams as Officer Allen
and Vincent Price as The Inventor

Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Danny DeVito as Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot
Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman/Selina Kyle
Michael Gough as Alfred
Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon
Michael Murphy as The Mayor
Vincent Schiavelli as The Organ Grinder
Cristi Conaway as The Ice Princess
Andrew Bryniarski as Charles "Chip" Shreck
and Christopher Walken as Max Shreck

Direction

Prior to SCISSORHANDS Burton had done PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, BEETLEJUICE and the first BATMAN movie. Not a bad reusme for a budding, odd director with a knack for surreal visuals. But it wasn't until this movie that he really started to get into personal territory. Sure, his previous movies had all the wackiness and visual razzle dazzle we have come to expect from Burton, but SCISSORHANDS got into the mind of the filmmaker who was once a lonely, isolated child who wanted a friend. That's what this movie is about: self-discovery and the idea that people see you as a monster. That concept is taken and then wrapped in a gothic fantasy that's as visually arresting as it is emotionally endearing. Burton is no less passionate about production design, showcasing a fine eye for detail when it comes to the macabre, lacing the design throughout a crystal clear vision for this totured soul's story. This is his most personal movie to date, and there's no better showcase for his sensabilites as a filmmaker, which is surprising considering how much good work he's put out since.

It seems doing SCISSORHANDS greatly influenced Burton's work on BATMAN RETURNS, as he took that focus on a tossed-away character - The Penguin - and explored it with some depth. Of course, this time the isolated figure WAS a villian, but Burton's focus on his tragic backstory actually makes you feel sorry for him. But while that element is very much in play, this sequel was moreso a chance for Burton to play with bigger toys, getting back to his flair for grander production values. His skills with action are on better display here, and you see more of the gothic overtones in the visuals, as he's more confident when it comes to the bigger budget. Still, I feel like there only one crux to Burton's approach: more visuals done better, but he's still avoiding the main character. Batman was on the backburner next to The Joker in the first movie, and he's done so again with Penguin and Catwoman here. That's Burton mindset in aciton. He's more focused on the obviously flawed, darker characters, which I feel has always been the bigger flaw with these first two Batman movies. Burton did an excellent job establishing the tone and visual style for The Bat early on, but he never cracked the man behind the cowl. 

Script

The story goes that when he was a young, black-cloaked child Tim Burton drew a picture that represented how he felt about himself at that particular time of his life. The drawing was of a black figure with sharp, knife-like hands, and thus that was the birth of the concept of Scissorhands. Years later Burton asked writer Caroline Thompson to write a spec script for the movie, which of course led to the now classic movie we have. With a brisk runtime, this is a sweet, tragic and often funny story that utilizes many of the themes and styles used in classic, gothic horror movies like FRANKENSTEIN and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. At first, Edward is accepted, with people marveling at his artistic talents and even earning a groupie (you're crazy, Joyce), all before being tricked into committing a crime and eventually chased out of town. He's used and abused, and the script's focus on the small town and a specific set of people within it keeps the story and themes front and center. At the heart of that story is always Edward, and though he doesn't often speak he gets to do enough that paints him as a sympathetic figure who no one truly understands. But one person does, and that's Kim, and even though it comes late in the game the romance of the story is palpable and effective. Burton knew how the bring the story to life, but Thompson's script gave his vision a beating heart, and this script is a strong example of a writer and director connecting on a creative level that's the stuff of beauty.

More characters isn't necessarily a bad thing in BATMAN RETURNS, as it can often be in comic book movies. This is because the three characters at the center of the movie are indeed quite compelling, and Daniel Waters deserves credit for giving Penguin, Catwoman and Batman distinct personalities that clash and give the movie a pulse. There's the scheming, despicable, but still tragic Penguin; the sexy, witty, but guarded Catwoman and; Batman, the dark hero whose armor is pierced by Catwoman. While the character work is great I find the story is never as strong upon rewatching, and going back to what I said above it's because of the focus on the villains and not the hero. Yes, the villains are more interesting in this movie, but Batman needs to be the driving force, and the story focuses more on Penguin's rise and fall than on Bruce Wayne/Batman doing something new. He's wrapped up in Catwoman, and his conflict with Penguin is never as compelling as it should be, even though he's one of the Bats' most iconic baddies. Penguin does his own thing, while Batman and Catwoman have their thing going on, with the latter finding ways to get between the bird and the bat and have a place in both stories. Not a bad script, but the folly of having three main characters does take a minor toll on the overall story.

Best Bits & Lines

Bits:

Storytime

Finding Edward

Driving Home

Getting Dressed 

Dealing with Dinner

The Mighty T-Rex

The Barbecue

Enter Kim

Transforming the Town

Show and Tell

Talk Show

Failed Seduction

Break-in Gone Wrong

Edward’s Rage

Dancing in the Ice

Doggie Trim

The Angry Mob

Finale in the Mansion

Still Snowing

 

Lines:

Psychologist: The years spent in isolation have not equipped him with the tools necessary to judge right from wrong. He's had no context. He's been completely without guidance. Furthermore, his work - the garden sculptures, hairstyles and so forth - indicate that he's a highly imaginative... uh... character. It seems clear that his awareness of what we call reality is radically underdeveloped.
Officer Allen: But will he be all right out there?
Psychologist: Oh yeah, he'll be fine.

--

Edward: I knew it was Jim's house.
Kim: You... you did?
Edward: Yes.
Kim: ...Well, then why'd you do it?
Edward: Because you asked me to.

--

Old Kim: I don't know, not for sure. But I believe he is. You see, before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did. If he weren't up there now... I don't think it would be snowing. Sometimes, you can still catch me dancing in it.

--

Kim: Hold me.
Edward: I can't.

--

Esmerelda: It's not heaven he's from! It's straight from the stinking flames of hell! The power of Satan is in him, I can feel it. Can't you? Have you poor sheep strayed so far from the path?
Edward: We're not sheep.

--

Peg: My, those are your hands? Those are your hands! What happened to you? Where are your parents? Um... Your mother? Your father?
Edward: He didn't wake up.

Bits:

Little Oswald Abandoned

Tree Lighting Attack

The Bat-Signal!

The Batman Arrives

Penguin and Shreck

Selina’s Transformation

Oswald’s Parents

Catwoman’s First Pounce

Nose Bite

Batman Brawls in the Street

Catwoman Goes Shopping

Catwoman and Batman

Catwoman Teams with Penguin

Selina and Bruce

Ice Princess Goes Down

Bat-Mobile Hijack

Cobblepot's Downfall

Penguin Attack

Showdown in the Sewer

Catwoman's Final Strike

One Life Left

 

Lines:

The Penguin: Just the pussy I've been lookin' for!

--

Catwoman: I am Catwoman. Hear me roar.

--

The Penguin: The heat's getting to me. I'll murder you momentarily. But first, I need a cold drink of ice water.

--

Catwoman: Somebody say fish? I haven't been fed all day!
Batman: Eat floor; High Fiber

--

Catwoman: We need to talk. You see, you and I have something in common.
The Penguin: Sounds familiar. Appetite for destruction? Contempt for the czars of fashion? Wait, don't tell me...naked sexual charisma.

--


Batman: Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.
Catwoman: But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it. 

--

Catwoman: Meow.

--

Catwoman: You poor guys. Always confusing your pistols with your privates.

--

Catwoman: How could you? I'm a woman!
Batman: I'm sorry, I-I...
[she hits him]
Catwoman: As I was saying, I'm a woman and can't be taken for granted. Life's a bitch, now so am I.

--

Max Shreck: Selina! Selina Kyle, you're fired! And Bruce Wayne, why are you dressed up like Batman?
Catwoman: Because he *is* Batman, you moron!
Max: Was.

--

The Penguin: My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It's okay to be scared; many of you won't be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish *all* God's children! 1st, 2nd, 3rd *and* 4th-born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!

--

Selina Kyle: It's gonna be a hot time on the cold town tonight.
Bruce Wayne: You-you've got kind of a - kind of a dark side, don't you?

Musical Mastery

Danny Elfman is to Tim Burton what John William is to Steven Spielberg. It's hard to imagine the director's movies having the same impact or legacy without the composer giving them a defining sound. Having worked with him on PEE-WEE and BATMAN, Elfman already had a strong collaboration with Burton, and while this is the director's most personal movie the same could be said about Elfman with his score here. Having that same dream-like, ethereal, and slightly kooky sound we've come to expect from Elfman, going back through his catalog proves SCISSORHANDS remains his most wondrous score, giving this modern(ish) fairy tale a sweeping and magical sound. His score gives many scenes a pronounced emotional weight, like when Kim is dancing in the ice as Edward shears away. Even the intro music comes off like a twisted, eerie, beautiful ballet of sound. It doesn't have the sheer oomph of its competition's score, but this is probably my favorite of Elfman's work as a whole.

While we continue to give Marvel shit for having uninspiring music, doing so makes going back and listening to Elfman's work on movies like BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN such a damn delight. He gives these heroes the proper heroic, adventurous sound benefitting for them, emphasizing the softer elements with low-key sounds and giving the exciting moments a rousing feel that makes you want to swing a cape around your shoulders. The BATMAN RETURNS score (and BATMAN for that matter) have a special place in my heart as one of the first movie scores to secure its way in my noggin as a kid. When that theme kicked on I knew it was Batman time, and I hummed it to myself as I ran around the yard in makeshift capes. As time has gone on I've appreciated more of Elfman's music, and I do think SCISSORHANDS is a better-composed score from start to finish, but there should be no denying Elfman's work on BATMAN RETURNS as some of the best in the comic book field.

Production Design & Visuals

SCISSORHANDS is an excellent example of how to use minimalist production design to get the most out of your story and convey the most meaning. Take the plain-Jane town in the movie, with all the homes painted this bland pastel color to highlight the boring, routine of these simple folk. Then, right at the end of the street, is this monolithic, dark manor atop a bleak hill; It's like Leave it to Beaver meets Dracula. Then when Edward comes to spruce the place up with his unsurpassed barber and gardening work - the topiaries being about as iconic as the movie itself - the town is transformed into a work of art, and all thanks to this weird, sweet man. And you can't talk about this movie without mentioning the marvelous effects work from Stan Winston, creating all the unique gadgets in the manor and Edward's look. The man has proven a genius in countless movies before, and he lives up to his legend with incredible work that's both haunting and alluring.

As I mentioned above in the "Direction" column, Burton came more into his own with BATMAN RETURNS in terms of establishing his bolder visual style, taking lessons learned on SCISSORHANDS and incorporating them into a big-budget action flick. What comes out is a movie that looks and feels much different than the first BATMAN, having bleaker, gothic vibes made all the more interesting by the Christmas setting. The trees have no leaves, snow litters the ground, and the costumes and makeup are creepy and rich with detail. This all gives Gotham a bit more personality while not taking away from the darker tone Burton established in the first movie. Furthermore, there's some terrific makeup and costume work here, especially with Penguin, giving him all sorts of crazy umbrellas to play with and amusement park rides to traverse the sewers with. For my money, this is the best-looking of this era of Batman movies having all the personality of a Burton movie meshed with an excellent comic book outing. *Sigh* He needs to do another one.

Legacy

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS easily could've bombed. The could have come off as too weird, starring an actor more known for TV work covered in scars and crazy hair, draped in dominatrix clothes with scissors for hands. But people connected with the movie, making it a hit that still remains a classic today. Between the imagery, music, and abundance of imagination, this movie about one strange dude has connected with anyone who feels like an outcast. In fact, it's sort of *the* movie for anyone who feels like an outcast. This is an iconic movie thanks to its combination of surrealness and sweetness, with so much iconic imagery and music that leaves us in awe upon every viewing. May I also mention that this is a go-to favorite for anyone who shops at Hot Topic, or folks who love them some black makeup. Sure, it may be a close contest with THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS as the top favorite, but still.

BATMAN RETURNS is a superhero sequel that doesn't get enough credit. The visual style is better and while Jack Nicholson's The Joker from the first movie is perfection, the work here from DeVito and Pfeiffer is just as good, if not better. On the whole, I think it's a better movie. The smaller box office return against a doubled budget didn't sit well with the studio, and thus WB rebooted the series with Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer, a decision they would likely soon regret come 1998. As a result, the movie may not have gotten the love it should have at the time, with everyone holding the big, fat hit that was the first movie in higher esteem. But over time the movie has come into a better light, and though there may be legions who hold the first one higher, for me, BATMAN RETURNS is the best of that era of Caped Crusader movies.

Awards, Praise & Money

Awards:

Oscars:

Best Makeup (Nominated)

Golden Globes:

Best Actor Musical or Comedy - Johnny Depp (Nominee)

**Another 9 Wins & 21 Nominations per IMDb**

 

Praise:

Rotten Tomatoes: 90% (91% Audience Score)

Metacritic: 74 (8.8. Audience)

IMDb: 7.9

 

Money:

$56 million ($86 million globally)

 

Awards:

Oscars:

Best Visual Effects (Nominee)

Best Makeup (Nominee)

**Another 2 Wins and 27 nominations per IMDb**

 

Praise:

Rotten Tomatoes: 80% (73% Audience)

Metacritic: 68 (7.6 Audience)

IMDb: 7.0

 

Money:

$162 million ($266 million globally)

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

BATMAN RETURNS is a superior comic book sequel, no doubt, and managed to make an umbrella-loving, sewer-dwelling, horny-ass Penguin man seem mildly endearing, Watching the movie gets you some of the best of both Burton and Batman, making it a unique treat of the genre. But EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, despite not having the excitement of capes and one-liners, is a special movie that remains just as effective today as it was for audiences years ago. The production design is still marvelous, the director is at the top of his game, the music is some of the best work the composer has ever done, and there remains a timeless sense of wonder in this story of a man trying to find love, acceptance and identity.  Really, it's just a beautiful, unique movie that audiences will be watching for years to come, always finding something to marvel at or relate to, because deep down we all have a little Scissorhands in us. That being said, my gardening skills are shit. 

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