Beetlejuice (1988)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.1/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

BEETLEJUICE (1988) - Tim Burton

People die. It's a fact of life. But movies constantly tell stories of the next life, usually in the horrific manner. But then came along a little horror comedy by Tim Burton called Beetlejuice. During its release, it was known as the most original idea on the supernatural genre.

Beetlejuice revolves around a recently deceased young couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) who become ghosts haunting their former home. In an attempt to scare away their house's new inhabitants, the couple call upon Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), a devious "bio-exorcist" from the underworld. Assisting the cast is the New York family that moves into the couple's house. Jeffrey Jones is Charles Deetz, a successful contractor. Catherine O'Hara is Delia Deetz, wife of Charles, an aspiring but pretentious sculptor. Finally, playing the daughter Lydia is young Winona Ryder.

Like any other film by Tim Burton, Beetlejuice strives with art direction. The imagination and creativity of the creatures in the afterlife are exquisitely crafted. From zombie women with their legs chopped off to alive men with shrunken heads, the scope of characters goes on and on. Of course, the film was released at a time when computer generated imagery was not popular yet and thus relied on animatronics and actual mechanical props. The conceptual design of the afterlife is ingenious. With a Handbook for the Recently Deceased to guide the dead couple, the film deconstructs the supernatural genre and explores the ridicule and silliness of the subject. Having a consistent tone and atmosphere, Beetlejuice contains a weird bizarre energy to it, unorthodox from everything we find familiar. This weirdness is what drives the comedy in Beetlejuice, purely brainless but never stops having fun being brainless. At the same time, I am excessively curious as to who in the afterlife came up with the jokes. At the end, Beetlejuice is freakish fun. With the help of Michael Keaton portraying a memorable role, Beetlejuice is proof that the fading supernatural genre is far from dead.

Both Davis and Baldwin are engaging as ever here. Although Davis' acting is stale and vague at times, her screen presence is attractive enough for the audience to follow. Nevertheless, her performance here is much inferior compared to her performance in The Fly. Baldwin here is young and skinny as ever, bearing extreme charisma and innocence at the same time. Though the duo is flawed and not the most appealing, the film kicks in fast enough for these problems to slide. The most bewitching characters in this briskly paced comedy are the New Yorkers. Catherine O'Hara is always hilarious, natural in her amusing acts. Despite her roles in several films being immensely similar, O'Hara works as a consistent treat to the audience, providing a great source of entertainment. As for Jones, surprisingly, he is the male version of O'Hara. Enough said. Young Winona Ryder was 17 years old when she portrayed Lydia in Beetlejuice. Unlike other teenage girls, Ryder depicts Lydia as a goth girl. With her costumes assisting her performance from beginning to end, it is no wonder why Beetlejuice was the film that "put her on the map."

But the greatest character is the name of the film: Betelgeuse (the title being a phonetic spelling). Keaton gives out a flat-out funny performance for ages to come. Disgusting, perverted, crazy, and summoned by calling his name three times, Betelgeuse comes forth as if Jim Carrey has been zombified yet resembles the appearance of Jack Nicholson's Joker. Totally wild, Keaton lets everything out in his greatest performance out of his entire career. It is no surprise as to why Burton came back to Keaton for his future films. However, if I have only viewed Beetlejuice, I would have called Burton "crazy" for casting crazy Keaton as Batman hisBatman movies. 

Unfortunately, Betelgeuse is not just the film's strength but also the film's weakness. As Beetlejuice escalates and kicks in Keaton's character, the film modifies its priorities. Like what Roger Ebert said: "[The film is] about gimmicks, not characters." Although I argue that the film still holds characterization, it is undeniable that the film halfway in begins restricting the actors from their full potentials. Some may claim that it is unclear as to whether or not Betelgeuse is an anti-hero or an actual villain, but the film purposely leaves this ambiguous, left for the audience to decide. However, it still suffers from an anti-climactic ending. What expected to be an extremely difficult task ended in a rather quick swift at the end with no narrative buildup. Then again, Tim Burton's Beetlejuice never aimed to be a milestone in the art of filmmaking. It wanted to be a fun, quirky ride, and one would have to set the mind to the right type of customer to fully enjoy this roller-coaster of a film.

In conclusion, Beetlejuice is outlandishly funny, wacky and extraordinary. Though it droops around in filmmaking standards, the film bursts in on a horse saddle and never stops galloping until the end. In my experience in viewing Tim Burton's films, I have made little secret of my distaste for his flaws in his films, focusing more on art direction and less on script and characters. It is always a question whether or not the art direction and context overpowers its imperfections. Beetlejuice stands as one of Tim Burton's films that I legitimately liked and enjoyed. Throughout Burton's career, Beetlejuice remains as probably the most surreal film of them all. At the end of the day, I oddly find the interest to call out Betelgeuse's name three times. Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse. BETELGEUSE!


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