Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Glenn Shadix, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Dick Cavett, Annie McEnroe, Susan Kellermann, Adelle Lutz, Maree Cheatham, Tony Cox, Jack Angel (voice), Patrice Martinez
Written by: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren, based on a story by Michael McDowell Larry Wilson
Directed by: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 92
Date: 29/03/1988

Beetlejuice (1988)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Turning on the Juice

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Tim Burton's second feature film is even more visually impressive than his 1985 debut feature, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, even if the overall look here is more vulgar and overwhelming; it relies more on special effects and makeup than on the creation of a "universe." But it's also one of his flat-out funniest films, with Michael Keaton giving a performance for the ages. He plays the title character, a "bio-exorcist" who apparently helps dispose of "pesky living critters," and though he only appears in a tiny fraction of screen time, he dominates the film. A nice, normal couple, Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) are enjoying their huge country home when they die in a car crash and return as ghosts. A horrible, big city couple, Charles (Jeffrey Jones) and Delia Deetz (Catherine O'Hara), move in with their depressed, black-clad teenage daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) and proceed to viciously re-decorate (with help from the pretentious Otho, played by Glenn Shadix). Unable to scare their new tenants, the desperate Adam and Barbara call on Beetlejuice, and instantly regret their decision. He's a hyperactive, nasty creature, spewing jokes faster than the movie can keep up, and he's brilliantly hilarious. (Even after seeing the movie a dozen or so times, he made me laugh once again). Burton depends heavily on his bizarre sets and set-dressings, clashing the original country home with the grotesque, re-modeled version (and Delia's horrid, demonic sculptures). The film opens with one of those dull, routine traveling helicopter shots of the small town and its green fields and sweet little buildings, but at some point, the image segues into Adam's miniature attic model of the same town. It's Burton's way of introducing the unreality of the situation, and to announce that no rules shall be followed. Interestingly, Keaton played in a serious, drug-abuse movie the same year, Clean and Sober, and received a much-deserved National Society of Film Critics award for Best Actor for both movies.

DVD Details: Warner Home Video re-issued this beloved comedy for its 20th anniversary. I haven't seen the previous edition(s) so I can't say for sure if it has been remastered, but it looked good to me (I used to own this on VHS). The new disc comes with a music-only track (highlighting Danny Elfman's score), and three episodes of the 1989 "Beetlejuice" cartoon series (which failed to captivate me). There's also a trailer and optional subtitles.

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