It's been a long time since I've seen Beetle Juice. But, seeing as the film's twentieth Anniversary is upon us, I figured it was about time to revisit it. Going in, I reminded myself of a few facts: I used to love the cartoon when it aired in the early 90's, Michael Keaton was one of my favourite actors of that time frame (thanks mostly to Batman and his evil turn in Pacific Heights), and I'd have to count Tim Burton as one of my favourite modern film directors. From his debut Pee-Wee's Big Adventure onwards, Burton has rarely produced a movie that wasn't creative or entertaining in one way or another. His Planet Of The Apes remake might have been a stinker but you can't beat Big Fish, Sleepy Hollow, or Edward Scissorhands. So how exactly does this "supernatural comedy" fare today?
Another great Danny Elfman score starts things off as we meet married couple Adam (Alec Balwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) who are living an idyllic life in small town America. They live in a quaint little house on the outskirts, enjoy each other's company, and pass time doing such things as building models. They also keep getting harassed by a local real estate agent to sell their house in order to let a real "family" move in.
During their two-week vacation they head into town so Adam can get some supplies for his scale model of the town. On the way home they swerve to avoid a dog and end up plunging into the river off a covered bridge. Upon arriving back at the house they soon realize that things aren't what they seem and stumble onto the fact that they didn't make it out of the crash alive and are, in fact, ghosts. They also come to the conclusion they're caught in a sort of limbo in their house when an attempt to leave it met with a desert wasteland and a sandworm creature.
As if being deceased wasn't enough, they soon have to contend with the Deetz family: businessman father Charles (Jeffrey Jones), his wannabe artist/high maintenance wife Delia (Catherine O'Hara), and Goth looking daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder, in one of her earlier roles). They've bought the house, moved from New York, and Delia wants to completely redesign it with the help of her personal designer, Otho (Glenn Shadix). After morbid attempts to scare them away fail (like when they pose like Barbara beheaded Adam with a knife) because nobody can see them and they get no help from the people running the Netherworld they decide to call on a 'bio-exorcist' named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), despite warnings from their afterlife social worker.
Betelgeuse turns out to be too much to handle, Lydia befriends them because she's able to see them, and things hit a wacky peak during a chaotic finish that has the motor-mouthed "ghost with the most" is unleashed and sets out to marry Lydia and escape the Netherworld.
As his follow up to Pee-Wee, Burton has created a charmingly bizarre little movie here. There's a whole lot of creativity on display here, especially during scenes in the afterlife and all it's various victims, and the predominantly stop motion effects still look good to this day. The production design is also great balancing "Leave It To Beaver" with dank underworlds and they've thrown in a lot of little touches (like when they're sucked into the model the grass is turf-like in appearance), which pleased me to no end.
Keaton plays Betelgeuse to the hilt as a fast-talking and sometimes obnoxious con man. His appearances are fairly scattered through the movie but the manic energy blends pretty well with Baldwin and Davis' performances as the movies "straight men". Jones and O'Hara are just goofy enough in their roles (O'Hara is particularly great in her early moments) while Ryder is likeable. However, it's Shadix who nearly upstages Keaton at every turn with his witty banter. Everyone here looks like they were having fun and it tends to show.
Thanks to an ingenious script by Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren, fun performances, and Burton's offbeat vision, Beetle Juice has aged rather well. It was a big enough hit to get Burton the gig directing the Blockbuster smash Batman (and also let him bring Keaton along to star), get spun-off into a animated show, and garner a cult following over the years, though I'm still happy the planned sequel, Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, never arrived. (Chris Hartley, 10/15/08)
Directed By: Tim Burton.
Written By: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren.
Starring: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones.
Warner - October 7, 2008
Picture Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen.
Picture Quality: There's some jagged lines and a little bit of grain here but the transfer looks solid with good clarity and no real dirt to speak of. I can't compare with the previous, Full Frame, release but the fact this is Widescreen should be your deciding factor.
Extras: For something they're calling a "20th Anniversay Deluxe Edition" we're definitely getting the shaft on this one. It's not dissimilar to what Warner did with the 25th Anniversary edition of Poltergeist as there's such limited material here fans of the film will be extremely disappointed.
There's a trailer (plus one for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure), a 'music only' track with Elfman's score, and three episodes of the Nelvana produced animated show that aired from 1989-1991. We get no retrospective documentary, no commentary, nothing substantial. I guess they were trying to distract us from this fact by using a lenticular slipcase...