You know, I think it’s one of those weird unspoken rules of film that all Tim Burton movies must be weirdly enthralling, whether the film itself is good or not. So, before his use of the bizarre became overkill, we got some visually stimulating and memorable films. The one everyone remembers is The Nightmare Before Christmas but the Burton film that stands out the most to me is not animated, or Batman.
This Manic Movie Magic, we’re going to be looking at one of my favorite films of all time, Beetlejuice.
Beetlejuice, released in 1988, is about young couple named Adam and Barbara, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, going on vacation when they drive off a bridge to avoid hitting a dog. Not realizing they have just drowned, they return home like everything’s normal…until they try and leave and get attacked by a Dune reject.
Now that their house is empty, the Deetzes from New York City decide to move in and remodel the whole thing. To say this family is one giant stereotype about New York City’s upper crust society would be a HUGE understatement. You have the overly artsy, pushy step-mom who wouldn’t know good art if it bit her, the push-over father who can barely make a move without a minor nervous breakdown, and gothic depressed daughter Lydia, played by Winona Ryder.
Not knowing what to do, they end up stumbling on a weird TV commercial for a “bio-exorcist” who will remove the living from the house, named Beetlejuice, played by Michael Keaton. A little dubious about the shady character, who eventually lives in a little scale model village Adam made while still alive, they decide to hold off on saying his name three times.
They eventually find their afterlife case worker, Juno, who not only informs them that they’re stuck, but that they’re stuck for a grand total of 125 years…or they can face the sandworms, whatever they please. Juno also lets them know that, as ghosts, they can try and scare the invaders out.
And they try…and except as the jaded New Yorkers they are, the family is completely unfazed by even the scariest of their attempts.
Tired and frustrated by their failure, they finally give in and contact Beetlejuice, who brings them down into the miniature village, to negotiate his terms with the couple. They agree, and he goes about trying to scare the Deetzes in various, creative ways.
By now, Lydia has realized there are ghosts in her house and actually makes friends with them, doing what she can to make them comfortable. They appreciate her friendship and promise not to abandon her. However, when Beetlejuice goes too far, Adam and Barbara call him back, not wanting to upset Lydia.
They resigned themselves to their fate when the step-mother and her architect friend find the dead people handbook (only in a Burton film, right?) and decide to hold an artsy séance. It goes disastrously, as they do summon Adam and Barbara but actually end up re-killing them.
Desperate to save them, Lydia calls to Beetlejuice three times, who agrees to save the couple only if Lydia will marry him. Once they’re married, Beetlejuice can re-enter the world of the living, and reek mayhem once more. Lydia agrees but realizes the trouble she’s gotten into. Barbara, Adam, and the Deetzes all fight to call Beetlejuice before the “I dos” are spoken and end up defeating the pesky poltergeist in the end.
And so, we see Lydia adjusting to her new school and life in the dull-drums along with her parents and live-in ghosts all in harmony. The arrangement works out well for everyone, especially Lydia, who, in celebration of her awesome grades, gets levitated and dances in mid-air to the best, catchiest song ever, all while dead football players join her in the background.
This was one of Burton’s earliest movies, and it shows. The special effects are hit or miss, but most of the time they are pretty enjoyable. The cinematography is very well done, but what else could one expect from Burton? He’s fantastic at directing, and every shot is carefully decorated and planned to optimize either the emotions of the scene, or the pure bizarreness.
The acting from Baldwin is a little wooden but he ultimately pulls through. Ryder and Davis play their parts realistically, and well to boot but Keaton steals the movie. His character is so disgusting and terrible, but so wonderfully fun and high-energy that it’s hard not to love him. There is no one else who could have played him in the same horrible but loveable way as Keaton, and in my opinion, it’s one of his best performances.
Overall, Beetlejuice is great film, full of fun imagery and dialogue, you’ll never be bored, I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but if you’re into the weird and morbid, chances are you’ll like as much as I did.
Stay tuned for next week when I review the Satoshi Kon classic psychological thriller, Perfect Blue.