Reviews

Review: Beetlejuice

0

It’s amazing how much a child’s imagination, a Saturday morning cartoon spin off and a collection of action figures can influence one’s memory of a film. My memories of Beetlejuice are so incredibly vivid and detailed that upon starting to watch it for the first time in over a decade I realized I still knew it scene by scene, and thanks to the cartoon, had Danny Elfman’s score memorized as well.

But does the fantastical world of Beetlejuice in the film live up to the one that I created in my head or was I just an easily impressionable youth, who got a bit carried away by some really cool claymation effects and the wonders of Michael Keaton? Is Beetlejuice really still a classic or have the years been a bit too cruel to the ghost with the most? I think most of you know the answer to this, but I was still shocked by how well the film lived up to my childhood memories and imagination.

It’s amazing how much a child’s imagination, a Saturday morning cartoon spin off and a collection of action figures can influence one’s memory of a film. My memories of Beetlejuice are so incredibly vivid and detailed that upon starting to watch it for the first time in over a decade I realized I still knew it scene by scene, and thanks to the cartoon, had Danny Elfman’s score memorized as well.

But does the fantastical world of Beetlejuice in the film live up to the one that I created in my head or was I just an easily impressionable youth, who got a bit carried away by some really cool claymation effects and the wonders of Michael Keaton? Is Beetlejuice really still a classic or have the years been a bit too cruel to the ghost with the most? I think most of you know the answer to this, but I was still shocked by how well the film lived up to my childhood memories and imagination. {{page_break}}

It’s easy to admit that we’ll probably never see another film like Beetlejuice any time soon. For starters it has one of the most creative, yet simple storylines put to film in a long while. It poses the question what if the tables were turned and instead of people wanting to get rid of ghosts, ghosts wanted to get rid of us. It’s so simple, and blatantly obvious once you think about it. Taking the lives of recently deceased couple Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Gena Davis) as its subject the movie cleverly sets up a world where ghosts are flung into the afterlife with only a complicated handbook to guide them.

Left alone and trapped in their house in order to haunt it for 125 years the now ghostly couple seems pretty happy until a family from the city movies in and starts to tear the house apart making it trendy and modern. The daughter of the family, Lydia (Winona Ryder before she started stealing things) is not so into her parents and discovers that she can see both Adam and Barbara who are attempting to scare the family out of the house, but failing miserably. This, finally, is where Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) comes in as a bad ghost that does professional human removal – basically the opposite of a ghost hunter. I say finally because for a film with his name as the title Beetlejuice plays a surprisingly small role in the movie. It's important, obviously, but his screen time isn't huge.

I suppose that is one of the things that really makes the film stand out so much, however. Keaton isn’t actually on the screen that much, and yet Beetlejuice is such an amazing character that you can almost forget everything else in the movie. Not only is this Keaton’s best and most iconic role, but there is a reason for it being that. The man is absolutely fantastic as the ne’re-do-well ghost, and he needs to be. With an actor who missed the point of the film or the character Beetlejuice and Beetlejuice would be absolutely nothing. He would be a waste of space, dependent on special effects and one-liners that fall incredibly flat. Instead, however, Keaton delivers a manic ghost, with a strange underlying desperation to him that is both funny and a little pathetic. Keaton makes Beetlejuice a character and not just the prop that he could have been, and it’s what makes the movie and character so memorable.

The final reason a film like Beetlejuice won’t come along for a long while is because visually it’s all over the place, especially for a mainstream film. The world that Tim Burton constructs in Beetlejuice is both visually striking and yet perfectly applicable. Long before Hollywood let Burton go absolutely Goth crazy, Beetlejuice showed us how a creative style can make a film stand out and still be fun. The movie is simply different, and that rarely sells anymore and so is rarely seen. It’s also easy to see why scenes from Beetlejuice stuck so easily in my head. They’re creative and different, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it since.

It should be noted that the movie seems a bit rushed upon second watching. Much of this can be contributed to the fact that you just want more screen time for Keaton. The plot definitely seems to jump rather quickly to the end, and whether this is because the script was cropped short to fit a running time or that’s just how it is, it is a blemish on an otherwise stellar film. Thankfully for us, the cartoon, which I have a soft spot for, carried on the movie’s charm, even if it did pander to children far more.

I want to finally note that the special effects quite impressively stand the test of time. Yes, they are all claymation, but they still look great, and are almost more effective than any CGI stuff today. The claymation actually adds to the wonderful camp of Beetlejuice as a whole, and I don’t think I’d trade a single second of the movie out for anything more "up to date."

Overall Score: 8.55 – Spectacular(Movies that score between 8.50 and 9.00 are some of the best films its genre has ever created, and fans of any genre will thoroughly enjoy them.)

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.