From the brilliant mind of Tim Burton (“Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Sweeny Todd”), “Beetlejuice” follows loving and unassuming Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis) who drown one afternoon. Unaware that they died, they return home to dry off, only to discover their fate after spotting the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased”. Before long, they realize their house was sold to a family from the city. The family turns out to be the furthest thing from the quiet, recently deceased Connecticut homeowners.
Charles (Jeffrey Jones) and Delia (Catherine O’Hara) quickly begin making modern changes to the house, while their daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) wanders around taking pictures. Meanwhile Adam and Barbara try and come up with predictable ways to scare the family who can’t see them, with the exception of Lydia who is immediately taken with the couple and visa versa. Using their handbook, they try and understand why they can’t leave their house, how long they have to remain there, and how to get the living out of their home. They eventually find their way to a waiting room for the dead where they wait to meet their caseworker who will try and help them understand their possibilities, how to remove the living family, and the fact that they’re bound to their house for 125 years.
After several failed attempts to scare the family away, Adam and Barbara reach out to a “bio-exorcist” named, Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) who takes matters too far. After dismissing Beetlejuice, Adam and Barbara grow increasingly protective of Lydia while her parents, who don’t seemed scared by much of anything, seek ways to profit from ghosts living in their house. Still hungry to escape into the world of the living, Beetlejuice tries to convince Lydia to set him free by saying his name three times. Only when absolutely necessary does young Lydia let his name cross her lips three times, releasing Beetlejuice to help her (after making her agree to the unthinkable).
The story is a wonderful reverse about two ghosts trying to get rid of the living instead of the other way around. One would think Beetlejuice would be in the majority of the film, but the story is really Adam, Barbara and Lydia’s. While this may sound like a downside, it’s actually a plus since the scenes with Beetlejuice are so marvelously and artistically over-the-top, the movie leaves you wanting more of the zany character without feeling exhausted by his presence. Burton’s direction of “Beetlejuice” is one of his best and the stop-motion and imaginative visuals leave me aching for a time when not everything clung to digital animation.
Davis and Baldwin are absolutely perfect as the endearing couple and Winona Ryder is at her best here. But the person who carries the film, who offers all the laughs and great lines (Yes, this is a PG film and yes, the F-word is used here once), the one whose performance is positively perfect and inspired is Michael Keaton. I’ve always considered Keaton to be one of the more underrated actors, and his performance in “Beetlejuice” is proof why. No one could have played this role quite like Keaton.
It had been awhile since I saw “Beetlejuice”, but watching it again only makes me long for movies like they used to make. “Beetlejuice” is fun, sweet, gross, creative and certainly worth watching for the first time or for the hundredth time. If not for Burton’s visionary approach to the film, watch “Beetlejuice” for the acting that is nothing short of perfect here. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetle….
VIDEO: "Beetlejuice" is presented by Warner Brothers in 1.85:1 (1080p/VC-1). While the film doesn't look dazzling on this presentation, the image quality is a very nice improvement over the prior DVD release. Sharpness and detail are above-average, although a few scenes here-and-there do appear mildly softer.
Some minor edge enhancement is seen in a few sequences and some scattered specks and marks are seen on the print used, but the picture otherwise looked mostly fresh and clean. Colors looked bold and well-saturated, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. As one might expect (given the age of the film), the audio is fairly limited in terms of activity. While the surrounds are put to minimal work offering a few effects and some slight, eerie ambience, the audio is otherwise spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is just fine, with clear dialogue and crisp score.
For a 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, there isn’t much in the way of special features. It would have been nice to have a commentary, perhaps any information about the idea behind the story or the process of making the fantastic miniatures. There is, however, an extra Exclusive Soundtrack CD Sampler with a bonus booklet. Also included are:
Three Beetlejuice Cartoon Episodes -
“Skeletons in the Closet”
Audio Music-Only Track (5.1)
Final Thoughts: "Beetlejuice" still stands up quite well 20 years later, with excellent performances, a great visual style and a clever script. The Blu-Ray edition offers very good audio/video quality, but I would have liked to have seen more in the way of supplemental material. Still, recommended.
The Film B+