Coming off the news that Beetlejuice would receive a reboot/sequel, I decided to write up a few guidelines for a Beetlejuice sequel to follow and split them up into four main categories: Story, Themes, Visuals and Music. That’s right, it’s another edition of How To Do It: A Beetlejuice Sequel.
You might already be adverse to the idea of a Beetlejuice sequel, either because you think the first one was perfect and should be left alone (this is quite common among sequel talk of anything), or because you just hate sequels in general and probably think sequels are never a good idea, in which case, there’s no pleasing you. Alternatively, you could be like me and think that sequels sometimes kick the ass of the first movie. Some of your favorite movies could be sequels, even. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Yeah, Toy Story 3 was better than Toy Story 1 & 2″… and you’re absolutely right. That all being said, I believe a sequel could be done properly… it’s just that the odds of such a thing are not very likely.
The Beetlejuice sequel is in the unfortunate position of being a reboot, remake and sequel all rolled up into one… but can it work? Hit the jump to find out…
First off, let’s clear the Beetlejuice sequel smog for a second… Yeah, I know, you’re feeling betrayed right now. You thought I’d just jump right into it… Well, there has been a mountain of shit piled up on a proposed Beetlejuice sequel for quite some time, believe it or not, and we’re gonna cut through it, come Hell or high water. MUSH!
Over the years, a sequel for Beetlejuice has accrued an abundance of rumors and speculation. The most concrete idea to ever come about for a sequel was to have it take place on a tropical island. There was a script floating around a long time ago about Lydia’s father, Charles, buying an island resort somewhere and the whole family moving out there to live. Soon, Charles finds out they built the resort on the burial ground of an ancient Hawaiian Kahuna. That spirit comes back to haunt the island, and, no joke, Beetlejuice becomes a hero by winning a surf contest with magic… Yeah… And yet, despite this horrible (yet, at the time, possible) script idea, nothing seemed to have ever come of it (and hopefully never will). Still, I must address this idea in full and tear it to shreds, literarily speaking.
Now, let’s try and figure out the logistics of how this idea came about. Firstly, were there ever any tropical undertones to the first movie? No. Was there any doubt left over that the Deetz’ would cohabitate in that house with the Maitland’s for years to come? No.
Do you know what I think the actual inspiration for this idea was? Harry Belafonte.
Apparently, because Harry Belafonte’s music played such a big role in the first movie, that somehow means that a Beetlejuice sequel should take place on a tropical island. I don’t know who thought that this was a good idea (Oh wait, I do: Tim Burton), but it really isn’t. In fact, it fits perfectly in line with other sequels at the time that did a similar thing (Weekend at Bernie’s II, A Very Brady Sequel).
Harry Belafonte’s music served merely to make the movie quirky and funny during some scenes. In most other horror films, you’d expect such scenes to be scary (i.e.: being possessed into doing the calypso at the dinner table in front of guests). It’s also the element of taking something random and placing it out of context, which can make you feel uneasy or have mixed emotions. In this case, the emotion we felt was that of hilarity and shock.
Besides that undeniable fact, Beetlejuice isn’t even the one who liked Harry Bellefonte’s music to begin with. In fact, it was Adam who showed an appreciation for his music. Proof can be heard playing on his radio in the scenes before he and Barbara became ghosts. Not to mention the two spooks used Belafonte’s most popular song, Day O, to lead their procession of possessed party-goers… So how does this inspiration make any sense if the two characters who had anything to do with something remotely tropical are gone from the picture? The answer: It doesn’t, because it’s a horrible idea.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let me address viable options for a sequel in terms of story. Since this movie is going to be an amalgam of a reboot and sequel, it will have to accomplish two things: One, it will need to serve as an introduction to Beetlejuice’s universe while at the same time not alienating long-time fans, and two, it will need to serve as a logical sequel to the first movie and not just “The Chronicles of Beetlejuice” where every movie is like Indiana Jones; a brand new adventure every time. So here are the viable options I could conceive of for a premise:
- Option #1: Have it take place in the present with Lydia Deetz, in her 40’s now, has her own family (Winona Ryder’s about 41 now). Now an adult, she has to once again tango with the ghost with the most and protect her family.
- Option #2: Have it take place in the present, but with a different family inheriting the Maitland house. That house is just so iconic and creepy, it’s hard to imagine a sequel being bereft of it and maintaining the same mood. The new family is haunted, crazy stuff happens, yada yada.
- Option #3: Have it take place in a different location that isn’t Hawaii [for God’s sake] with completely different characters. This is probably the most plausible possibility, though it will be considerably tougher to pull off.
If you’ll notice, Adam and Barbara aren’t in any of these options, because I think they would most likely have moved on by now for two main reasons:
- If they had unfinished business, they already completed it. In the universe of Beetlejuice, a ghost can haunt a house for however long they want, but I can’t see Adam and Barbara wanting to stay there forever, so I think they would have wanted to move on and see what lies beyond their realm (though, if the Nietherworld in the cartoon series is any indication… maybe not).
- The original actors, Alec Baldwin and Gina Davis, are too old to still be playing the same parts, and I definitely wouldn’t want them to be recast. Their characters were pretty vital to the plot of the first movie and served as a good foil for Beetlejuice’s crazy antics, but I don’t think they’d be necessary for a sequel since their arcs are pretty finished, since they’re, well, dead.
You might be asking yourself now, “What themes are present in Beetlejuice? It’s just a funny movie, dude.”
Well… you’re wrong, dude. There was a pretty big emphasis on satirizing high-brow society in the first movie. This was integral to really draw out the contempt Adam and Barbara had for the Deetz’. They needed to come across as snooty, upper-class city folk overrunning their town and, in fact, their house. The interactions between Otho and Delia were particularly indicative of this. When Delia would dress up in ridiculous outfits and how she would decorate the house let you know just how much contempt Tim Burton probably had for those kinds of people.
That leads me to the sequel… In order for Beetlejuice to work, at least on a sociological level, he needs to clash with his environment. He is the free radical swarming about in whatever society he’s in, so the kind of people he’s going to haunt will dictate his demeanor, jokes, speech and, most importantly, his own contempt for those people. In the first movie, he is opposed to everything mundane (Adam and Barbara) and everything upper-class (The Deetz’). There needs to be similar conceptual opposition for a sequel.
Visually, a sequel would need to stand up to the original’s style, with cold blues and greens to accentuate scenes. There also should be that emphasis placed on splitting the two dimensions; the mortal world and Beetlejuice’s world (and all that that implies). I stressed in my Flixist Film School: A Primer to Art Direction article the importance of differentiating realms and why that plays a big part in the memorability of a film. There’s no exception here.
A big question to face for a Beetlejuice sequel is whether or not to use CG for special effects. Beetlejuice had a number of special effects utilizing blue screens and stop-motion animation, most notably for the sand worm and horrific sculptures Delia Deetz made. Everything else was either heavy make-up or some kind of trick photography. Now, I’m not saying that using CG would taint this sequel or the memory of the first movie. God forbid we use some current technology to make something NOT look like utter crap… but perhaps there could be a combination of both? I’ve seen it work in James & the Giant Peach and other stop-motion films, so it’s not entirely out of the question. I think a happy medium between the two could work; stop-motion effects to ensure the feel of the first movie and CG effects to make the results more seamless and plausible. Yay or nay?
Musically, I feel the only person, indeed, the only composer alive who can pull off a score to accompany this sequel is none other than the man who did the original score, Danny Elfman. Beetlejuice was arguably his finest work to date, giving way to intense, jagged themes and moods that you really didn’t see with any of his other work. In order for a sequel to work, his talent must be present. There needs to be a similarity between the two films’ scores and, most importantly, a throw-back to the original Beetlejuice theme (ideally whenever Beetlejuice arises on-screen). Whatever he plans for the rest of the film, this absolutely needs to come back, or else it’s a bastardization of the whole concept to a Beetlejuice sequel.
On the off-chance that this sequel DOES take place on a tropical island, then I give up. Not just on this franchise, but on movies, and indeed life in general. There really is no justification for it, no matter how wacky of an idea Tim Burton thinks it is. The setting would just kill the mood and instead evoke a tropical shine that coats the entire film in coconut juice, making it devoid of anything even remotely scary. A Beetlejuice sequel needs to walk that fine line between satire and parody, quirkiness and quirk for quirk’s sake, horror and horrible, intentional cheesiness and inherent cheesiness. It needs to know and understand what made that first movie an instant classic and then do that in a new and exciting, but not alienating, way.
Finally, one last thing that absolutely needs to be in place for a Beetlejuice sequel is Michael Keaton to reprise his role as Beetlejuice. There simply is no other actor who can imbue the character with as much comedic timing and outrageous performance and fit the part. Not only that, but Keaton has continually professed his love for the character and his willingness to reprise the role at a moment’s notice. Besides, anyone else, even if they’re “good,” would just feel like an imposter… In fact, I’m curious to see people try and come up with another actor to fit the part. Go on, I dare you. In the comment box below.