The plot is complicated to an extent, but the basic premise is that a recently deceased (and newly ghosted) couple named the Maintlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are trying to cope with being dead, all while trying to rid their rustic home of a group of yuppie city folk who have recently moved in. Traveling into the depths of the afterlife and netherworld the Maintlands run into a “bio-exorcist” named Beetleguise who promises to get rid of their “living situation.” The problem shifts from getting rid of the city folk, to getting rid of Beetlejuice himself!
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The fantastic Tim Burton brings us a perfectly tailored macabre fairytale in this film. Burton delights in bringing the un-seen to the screen with wonderful sets and a ghoulish atmosphere present throughout the entire film. Every frame is filled with outlandish props and nightmarish details which make this piece what it is; brilliant.
His films create their own worlds, where things that would seem odd by our reckoning are entirely commonplace. The visuals are extremely rich and the set design is simply flawless thanks to Bo Welch, who also brought us Ghostbusters II, Edward Scissorhands and unfortunately Men in Black and Thor.
This is the first collaborative effort between Burton and Michael McDowell (Screenplay) but certainly not their last, as McDowell also gave us the working script for A Nightmare before Christmas and I personally hope they work together more often in the future.
Much of the success of Beetle juice is definitely owed to the collaborative nature of the film with Danny Elfman also onboard providing the score and indeed tone of the film. Burton was a fan of Elfman’s rock band ‘Oingo Boingo’ and it’s this early work which clearly invigorates the picture. Interestingly Elfman also composed the music of The Nightmare before Christmas, which further proves this is a winning cinematic trio.
As most of you will be aware Michael Keaton plays the ‘love to hate’ character of Beetle juice and arguably this is one of Keaton’s finest roles, alongside Batman. Whilst it would have been easy to let Beetle Juice become a simple parody, Keaton gives him a likeable element and self assurance which calls us more than one time after watching the movie to stand alone and whisper the immortal words “Beetle juice, Beetle juice, Beetle juice”. I’ve heard many call his character confusing, simply because one is unable to tie a label on whether he is a villain or anti-hero though I find this adds to his charm as he finds himself a riddle he also cannot truly solve. He is simply a surreal demented delight.
A true reflection on his acting abilities it is unbelievable to think that his character only appears in 17 minutes of the film's entire 92-minute running time, though they are by far the finest 17 minutes. Keaton himself states that this is his ‘finest film’.
Part of the appeal of Beetle Juice is its low-rent aura. Only $1 million of its $13 million budget went to effects, granted however this was considered a lot of money in 1988. The low budget affects however worked in Burton's favor, because he wanted the effects to be reminiscent of the campy movies of the 1950s and '60s he had watched as a child. According to Burton, they have a human, handmade quality to them. The jerky effects give the movie charm that the polished computer graphics of today's blockbusters can never match and simply should not try to. Beetle Juice achieves what many movies now try to for so much less.
Whilst it is possible for one to dwell on the marvelous world that Burton has created in this timeless piece one simply has to put their foot down and scream ‘GO WATCH IT’.
No self-respecting Tim Burton fan cannot do without Beetlejuice in their film cupboards. With its sophisticated yet accessible blend of comedy and the macabre, I knew Beetle Juice was likely to be one of those films I would never tire of. 20 years later I’ll still grab a bucket of popcorn, turn off the phone ringer and settle in for a night with Burton. I urge you to do the same, and in the immortal words of the man himself; ‘It’s Showtime’. This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.
The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.