Tim Burton’s directorial debut was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. And while he certainly lent his unique style to the film, he was merely hired help on Paul Reubens’ project. In fact, the only reason he got the job was because ever other director in town passed. That said, it’s safe to say that Beetlejuice was Burton’s first real stab at showing Hollywood and the rest of the world what he was made of. That was 20 years ago and now we have an anniversary edition of the film to celebrate the early beginnings of this wonderfully visionary filmmaker.
Beetlejuice has a wonderful opening sequence. It opens on a forest. As we crest a hill of trees a quaint little New England mountain town, Winter River, is revealed. The camera flies over the town as Danny Elfman’s score serenades us and the credits roll past. Eventually we come to a house that we learn later belongs to the Maitlands. Shockingly a giant spider comes crawling over the roof of the house! Even more shockingly a giant hand comes in and picks up the spider. Perspective is put into place and we learn that we’ve been looking at a model and the spider is actually very tiny. In this one shot we learn that this is not going to be a typical movie and we are given a little insight into Tim Burton’s wonderfully visual imagination.
Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are an idyllic happy couple spending their vacation at home. One day, while driving home, they swerve to miss a dog, plunge into river and die. Enter the Deetzes. Delia and Charles (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones) are a wealthy socialite yuppie couple from New York who buy the recently vacated house and move in to get away from city life. They bring along with them Linda (Wynona Ryder in her second big screen role), their “goth” daughter.
The trouble is the Maitlands are having a little trouble accepting the afterlife and even more trouble accepting these intruders in their home. So they attempt to scare the family away. This proves fruitless as only Lydia can see them and she’s more intrigued than scared. At wits end they call on Beetljuice (Michael Keaton) a self-proclaimed “freelance bio-exorcist” to help them get rid of the living. Adam and Barbara soon realize that Beetlejuice has more sinister ideas in mind and must stop him in order to save the Deetz’s.
Beetlejuice is a near perfect film. The story is strange, but it offers a wonderful interpretation of the afterlife presenting it as a mind numbing bureaucracy. In this film Tim Burton’s visual style really comes into it’s own and sets the standard that many would come to love over the years. The characters all enjoyable and fully developed, the dialog is clever and funny and across the board everyone involved delivers wonderful performances.
It is Michael Keaton, however, that really steals the show. With only 17 minutes of screen time in the hour-and-a-half film (the first time you see his face is 25 minutes in) Keaton has made Beetlejuice such a large than life character that you think he’s there more than he really is; much like Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs. Even with such a small amount of screen time, this is easily Keaton’s best performance and still hands as one his personal favorites.
The film also features a wonderful supporting cast including: Glenn Shadix as Otho, a friend of Delia’s who is an interior designer and formerly one of New York’s leading paranormal researchers “until the bottom dropped out in ’72”, Sylvia Sidney, the Maitlands’ case worker in the afterlife as well as Dick Cavett and Robert Goulet.
As if all that wasn’t enough, rounding out the sheer joy of the film is Danny Elfman’s wonderful score. Elfman has scored almost every Burton film and this one is still the most memorable. This film also introduced Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” to a whole new generation.
Beetlejuice has many wonderfully memorable scenes. However, the one that stands out and has become a classic of cinema is the Day-O scene where Adam and Barbara possess a dinner party and force them to dance to calypso music and finish by grabbing their faces with evil shrimp hands. You know the scene I’m talking about. Everyone does. This film is filled with memorable moments and dialog that people still reference and quote today.
Beetlejuice is easily one of Burton’s finest films and while many films from the ’80s feel dated, Beetlejuice is as fresh and entertaining as ever. If any film is worthy of a 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, it’s this one.
Beetlejuice is presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. Sound is presented in Dolby 5.1. French and Spanish language tracks included as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles. While it doesn’t state anywhere on the DVD that the film has been digitally remastered, this edition looks cleaner and nicer than any other released. Also, this is the first time the film has been released in widescreen, which is huge. The film has never looked or sounded this good.
Beetljuice TV Series: (36 min.) If 92 minutes of Beetlejuice isn’t enough for you then you’ll enjoy this. You get three cartoons from the animated series that ran from 1989 to 1991. As each cartoon is roughly 12 minutes, you’re basically getting one and a half episodes. The cartoon shares little resemblance to the film. Beetlejuice is the star of the show and is best friends the Lydia and the Maitlands no longer exist. The first cartoon, “A-Ha” is pretty groan worthy, but “Skeletons In The Closet” and “Spooky Boo-Tique” are pretty cute. These are most certainly geared towards kids and “Skeletons” has a nice moral about not lying. So far this is the only place any of the TV Series has appeared on DVD.
Music Only-Track: Danny Elfman’s score for this film, as previously stated, is one of his best. If you don’t own the soundtrack you can just put this feature on and listen to the film’s music only.
Trailers You get trailers for Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
Beetlejuice still stands as one of my more memorable theater going experience as a child. This is one of Tim Burton’s best films and it’s wonderful to finally get a widescreen edition of it. Sadly, for being a “20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” the DVD is seriously lacking special features. The cartoons are cute, but a making of, some interviews or a commentary would have been nice. Burton did a commentary for Pee-Wee’s, was he too busy to give this film any time? Still, if you’re a Burton fanatic like me this DVD is a must buy.
Warner Bros. presents Beetlejuice: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren and Larry Wilson (story). Starring Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara and Jeffery Jones. Running time: 92 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: September 16, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.