I probably first became aware of Tim Burton when Batman came out. If you weren't there, you can only imagine what a gigantic event this movie was in terms of hype and marketing. The movie itself looks a little frayed around the edges now, post-Christopher Nolan, but Burton had brought to the big screen a Batman who looked and felt like the one in the comics, influenced as they were by Frank Miller and The Dark Knight Returns four years earlier, and helped cement the image of the character in the public's mind for generations to come.
Burton's Batman follow-up, Edward Scissorhands is a striking contrast visually. The cold, gloomy steel blues and grays of Johnny Depp's mansion home are a stark contrast to Winona Ryder's candy-colored retro suburban neighborhood. From the opening credits, it's clear Burton is going for the look of a modern fairy tale.
Depp is Goth before Goth was a thing: an S&M Kewpie doll with a haunted innocence to him that's unsettling, yet also appealing in a gruesome way. Edward was the first of many collaborations between Burton and costume designer Colleen Atwood, future triple-Oscar winner (including one for Burton's Alice in Wonderland).
Is Edward an android? A reanimated corpse like Frankenstein's monster? A homunculus grown to full size? A golem? The movie offers hints, but we never know for certain, nor do we find out why Vincent Price's inventor would stick knives where Edward's hands should be.
If this had been made today, it'd be expected to generate a franchise of some sort. Maybe a prequel starring Price's character as a young man? A spin-off featuring another creation of his? We didn't need any of that crap back then, and neither did Burton.
One unusual thing (among many) about this film is how easily Edward is accepted within the neighborhood at first, relatively speaking. He's clearly unlike anyone they've seen before, but it doesn't take long for him to carve a niche for himself. That's usually the focus in stories like this, but not here. The misunderstandings and ostracism don't come until later.
It has been said that Burton specializes in films about outsider characters. In this online age, people are more closely connected than ever before. I'm not sure, therefore, how deeply Burton's films resonate anymore. His Alice movies were huge money-makers, but they seem like old hat compared to his earlier work, like Edward.
Burton is as successful today as he ever was, but his visual sensibility and distinct style is no longer unique. Worse, he rarely strays from the formula anymore. When he does, to make a Big Eyes or a Big Fish, they're not exactly greeted warmly by audiences. So maybe one can't blame him for sticking with what works. Pity.