The Plot: The Maitlands, Barbara and Adam, are a married couple who live in a house twice the size of anything they could possibly use – however the two love it and are simply happy adoring one another. However, on a routine stop into their quaint little town; they die. Wrecking into the side of a bridge and being suspended in air by a puppy dog. The two die in the waters, but soon find themselves back on the doorstep to their home. The two don’t remember how they got home from the crash, but soon find something is wrong when Adam steps outside and is placed in a desert landscape (later revealed to be Saturn) where giant sand worms look to devour him. Once Adam finds his way back to the doorway, Barbara informs him he has been gone for apparently hours an in that time she has discovered that they no longer have a reflection and a Handbook For The Recently Deceased has been left for them. In a short time however things turn from heavenly (an afterlife with your loved one with no responsibilities?) to hellish – as the Deetz family moves in: a rather uptight city couple who share none of the simple sensibilities that the Maitlands have and soon go about demolishing their quaint home. Now the Maitlands find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, as they want the Deetz family out but are unable to scare them away due to their not being able to see the ghosts. In their confusion they find a bio-excorcist by the name of Betel Geuse who promises to rid them of their pesky human problem; but could this ghost be more trouble than they care to get into?
The Review: When first formulating the basic premise that would become “Varied Celluloid”, the idea was to basically cover as many genres as I could but keep within the confines of cult cinema. I never thought I would someday be writing about a film as mainstream as Beetlejuice is, but time has a way of opening doors. Last night, while searching through my DVD collection for something to watch with my cousin (who is as close as a brother with me), we decided to check out one of our immortal favorites. A film we’ve been watching since childhood, one of the few films we are consistantly quoting in our daily dialogue (along with Pulp Fiction and Happy Gilmore). The film we’re talking about today, the always classic: Beetlejuice. A film that helped cement Tim Burton’s genius in the minds of film fans. Since those days Burton has had a few misses along with quite a few hits, but in my opinion no other film perfectly encapsulated his beautiful and mythic take on the dark underworld that lies just beneath the surface. Edward Scissorhands may have shown his visionary brilliance by going above and beyond the ordinary within suburbia, but it was his take on the afterlife that sold me.
For fans of cinema or simply fans of entertainment, Burton’s film delivers. Beetlejuice doesn’t throw everything at you all at once, Burton’s absurdest take on reality slowly creeps into the film as it gathers steam. From the opening which gives us a hint at how bizarre the film is to get, we pan over the entire city that the film takes place in – but find out only at the very end that we have been looking over the model that Alec Baldwin’s character has been building. From there we are shown the very ordinary lives of these characters and the equally ordinary town that they live in. However, after their death and the introduction of the afterlife the look of the film begins to completely change. To describe the world of Beetlejuice I can only think to describe it as a squared circle. It’s a dichotomy of impossible shapes, lighting and shares an equally impossible story that never slows down to give the audience time to question any of the logic. Believe me, there’s plenty to question as well. However, Burton sets the rules up and questioning them just seems like folly.
It’s funny hearing stories about the creation of the film and how it originally was intended to be something so completely different than it turned out to be, and how Michael Keaton took his character and creative license and simply ran with it. Keaton takes this character of Betelgeuse and creates something so majestically over the top, it inspires people like me to continue writing about a film so popular and now over twenty years old. His character is a cross between Robin Williams and the garbage pail kids, hyper fast and witty but with the low brow sensibilities of snot and fart jokes. It is a beautiful thing. Keaton delivers line after line of memorable dialogue in every scene he appears (and it’s said much of the dialogue was improvised), and takes a relatively funny feature about ghosts and makes it into something spectacular. It’s really a shame that Keaton isn’t more active and hasn’t been able to add more performances like this one to his credit throughout the years. He has stated before that the role is one of his favorites and would like to reprise it with Burton some day. Whether or not that will happen, who knows, but it’s something to dream for. The rest of the cast are all equally fitting in their roles, from Alec Baldwin (who supposedly wasn’t very happy on his character and thought he came off as bland, which I disagree with) and Wynona Ryder to the lady who plays Juno the case worker and Otho the decorator/guide to the super natural. Simply an amazing cast who all support what is one of the greatest mixes of comedy and the supernatural.
Surely this review is nothing more than me speaking to the choir. After all, who could dislike Beetlejuice? The only thing that could possibly turn off some anal viewers I suppose would be that lack of true logic within the film, which I mentioned previously. The film raises many questions that never get answered, like why Beetlejuice actually lives in the Maitland’s miniature version of the town? Throughout the film a lot of questions come up, but there’s just no way of knowing. However Beetlejuice has it’s own internal logic, and it’s best to not question it and simply sit back and enjoy it for all of it’s craziness. Like stated, Beetlejuice isn’t the most obscure film I have ever reviewed here on VC. However, if I were to cover just one Tim Burton film or one Hollywood based gothic horror/comedy – this is the one and if any member of my usual audience hasn’t actually seen the film then hopefully this review can help persuade them. Beetlejuice is a certified classic and one of my all time favorites. Five out of five.