The most remarkable thing about Beetlejuice is just how indispensable it now seems. While there exist people who have not seen it, it feels like the most natural movie for everyone to have seen largely because of how incredibly fun it is. How could anyone watch this movie and not love it?
I know I’ve risked giving my opinion away far too early, but there’s a rather profound difference between a fun movie and a good one. Luckily, Beetlejuice, remains an incredibly entertaining and well-made film even now, nearly fifteen years after its original release.
The simplicity of Beetlejuice’s premise is one of its great assets. A couple, Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis), dies in a car crash and remain on Earth, attempting to hold onto their life as a new couple moves into their home. But after they meet a trouble-making spirit named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), they’re equipped with a new weapon with which to scare away the invaders, even if things don’t go quite to plan.
Much of the fun of the movie comes from the many bizarre ways that the Maitland’s attempt to scare away the new occupants of their home, most of which involve some sort of incredibly dark, twisted, and sometimes grisly display. Maybe chop off a head, twist your face into some sort of monstrous form, or get some skeletons involved. It’s all incredibly absurd, and it makes the film a lot of fun to watch.
However, it’s not a terribly frightening film. There are some moments that are quite horrific in concept, but that’s not at all the tone that the film wants to set. It’s not a bloody film, and it doesn’t up the tension with music or long walks through dark hallways. In fact, every element of the film is used in order to further its goofy tone.
I’ll make no secret of my unending love for Michael Keaton, and he absolutely steals the show in this film despite his criminal underuse. Really, Betelgeuse doesn’t become a central character until around half of the way through the film, which can make that first half seem somewhat sparse. After seeing the film once, you’ll realize just how much you miss him in the first half upon repeat viewings.
Keaton simply eclipses everyone else in the film, to varying fault of the other actors involved. They all play their parts satisfactorily and occasionally with flair (especially during an involuntary performance of Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O”), though every scene that omits Keaton becomes a missed opportunity. Sure, the film simply wasn’t written that way, but it’s hard to resist the feeling that you wish it were.
One element of a 1988 film that has the opportunity to suffer the most is the overall look of the film, especially the use of special effects, but the look of Beetlejuice is still quite impressive. The sets are especially stellar, even those that are used only for a brief few seconds. They’re elaborate and bizarre, fitting perfectly with the feel of the story. And while there’s no doubt that the special effects have a definite plastic look to them (especially things like a giant sandworm and Betelgeuse’s snake form), this adds to the films absurd feel rather than detracting from the visual appeal.
There’s definitely a large audience of people who don’t enjoy absurd films, and those belonging to that group have a large chance of not enjoying Beetlejuice. However, like other classic absurd films like Airplane!, this type of film is timeless for its fans, and such is the case for Beetlejuice. Anyone who has seen it in the past and enjoyed it should watch it again at the first opportunity, and those who have yet to experience the insanity should devote a portion of their Halloween week to this gem.
Overall Score: 8.45 – Great. (Movies that score between 8.00 and 8.50 are great representations of their genre that everyone should see in theaters on opening night.)
Overall Score: 8.55 — Despite now getting up there in age Beetlejuice is still a unique movie the likes of which we don’t see very often. That coupled with Keaton’s classic performance and Burton’s restrained (for him) style make it a classic you shouldn’t miss. You can read his full review here!
Overall Score: 8.65 — Beetlejuice is arguably Tim Burton’s best film, far and away his funniest. Featuring stand out comedic performances from Michael Keaton and Catherine O’ Hara, it’s a wonderful example of what Burton can do when he isn’t tripping over his own bloated vision. You can read his review here!