It is hard to believe that a man so obviously short of talent could have such a big influence over people who have such an abundance of it, but this biopic goes a long way to explain how. First, however, one must understand that this film was not intended to be a literal account of this period in Ed Wood’s life. It is easy to mistake it as such after Jeffrey Jones delivers his Criswellian monologue, but it isn’t. Tim Burton appears to have more intended to make a film to celebrate the life of one of Hollywood’s most creative failures.
The film covers the shooting of three of Wood’s best-known films. In the order they appear in the film, these are Glen Or Glenda, Bride Of The Monster, and of course the infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space. The telling how all these titles were changed, and why, from those that Ed originally gave them, is hilarious in itself. Between the shooting of each film, we also get to see representations of how Ed found “talent” and financing to make these films. During these sequences, the film becomes the Spinal Tap of the film industry.
Johnny Depp is in brilliant form as the titular character. It is hard to get into a character who is so oblivious to his own lack of talent, and keeps such a brave face in spite of such crushing knockbakcs. Depp does this so brilliantly that it’s a wonder he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Speaking of Oscars, Martin Landau is dynamite as the ailing, forgotten one-time king of the horror silver screen. As Bela Lugosi, he is so in character that it gives a unique insight into the final days of Lugosi’s life. As we learn what happens to Lugosi while Wood is hammering the final nails into his career’s coffin, it’s hard to say whether we shed tears for Lugosi’s unfortunate demise, or because Landau portrays it with such conviction and sympathy.
If there is a weak link in this film, it is Sarah Jessica Parker. In one of life’s ironies, as she is portraying Delores Fuller and reading a review of a stage performance, she asks if she really has a horse-like face (or something to that effect). I bet she didn’t have to do much research in order to learn how to do that convincingly. Only Gary Busey, Jake Busey, and Julia Roberts exceed Parker for being obnoxiously ugly. The fact that she can’t act worth a damn also lets the side down, although not as badly as one might expect, given that everyone who plays an extra in Ed’s films is expected to turn in a rotten performance.
Some of the quirks that make Ed’s films as great as they are were left out of the film. Jeffrey Jones, for example, doesn’t even try to imitate the weird back-and-forth movement of Criswell’s head as he explains that future events such as these will affect you in the future. However, one of the funniest incidents on the Plan 9 set, an actor playing a policeman scratching himself with his gun, is captured here with a certain kind of uncanny accuracy. From this, one gets the impression that Jeffrey Jones didn’t care nearly as much about researching his character as did Martin Landau or Johnny Depp. In the end, however, the positives outweigh the negative quite dramatically.
It entertains from start to finish, which, like the titular character’s actual films, puts it well ahead of numerous films that made a lot more money or garnered a lot more critical praise. This is another film that proves quality is still possible in Hollywood, in spite of how hard the system rails against it.