Hold onto your minds, they’re about to be blown: Beetlejuice is now twenty years old. Yes, it’s true. The 1988 film from director Tim Burton that stars Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin and Gina Davis is now only a year younger than I am which completely confuses me. I grew up with this film and it was always one to rent from the library, although I’m not entirely sure why; it’s creepy as hell and to this day I get weird flashbacks of the sand worm sequence that still scares the crap out of me for no real reason other than it did when I was young and there are lingering memories of me being scared out of my mind. Although there is the occasional bad memory associated with it, Beetlejuice is still a largely entertaining film.
After falling to their deaths prematurely, Barbara (Gina Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin) are shocked to find strange individuals moving into their house and even more shocked to discover that they had in fact died. When the new family begins to destroy the home they so lovingly crafted into their own, Barbara and Adam turn to the people-exorcising being known as Beetlejuice. Although Beetlejuice’s brand of horror is exactly what they were looking for, they soon realize that the tactics used may be just a little too strong and Adam and Barbara are soon forced to stop Beetlejuice before the kills the humans.
What surprised me most about this film was how very little Beetlejuice was actually in it. We’re well into the film with our main and secondary characters fully developed before our title character even shows his head. After that we wait even longer before he’s out in full force and at that point the film itself is nearly over. I can’t say that I have any other brilliant idea of how to construct this film as quite honestly there is nothing else like it to even compare it to. In that regard, it doesn’t matter what the film does, as it is all by itself when it comes to classifying it. This is definitely a dark comedy and is undoubtedly one of Burton’s classic films, standing out more than his other works due to its unique visuals and storyline.
Although the film itself follows some usual Burton staples (visually and also aurally, as Danny Elfman once again orchestrates the soundtrack), it also still remains fresh feeling even by his standards. Perhaps because it is one of his earliest works, but I continue to enjoy everything about this film; the characters are all well developed and the sets and costume work all stand out. The stop-motion animation used in the film still remains enchanting, if not entirely disturbing and sometimes hokey (the aforementioned sand work sequence is incredibly fake looking by today’s standards), and when it’s all paired up with Elfman’s score, it’s a hard film to pass up.
Watching it again for the first time since my youth, something I realized about the film was that it quite honestly is light on plot. It ambles along at a brisk pace before running into a sweeping finish; it’s entertaining as hell along the way to be sure, but you’d be hard pressed to find any real moral or point to the story. The film just exists and trying to tack on anything that delves into the deeper meanings of it will come up empty. Simply put there isn’t much meaning to this film other than to entertain; certainly it was a strange premise to come up with, but one that remains unique to this day, likely because no one would know what to do with a character like Beetlejuice.
It’s about as surreal as a Burton film can get that’s grounded in any sort of reality, but that’s part of its appeal. If you aren’t a Burton fan you will be horribly off put by Beetlejuice because it is almost a straight up injection of Burton’s weirdest. Recommended.
Although the 20th anniversary release saw a DVD launch back in September, the Blu-ray edition was delayed by a few weeks. Does this mean that the barebones “Deluxe Edition” is now fully loaded? Hardly. The only Blu-ray “exclusive” is a bonus CD packed in with the set that is nothing more than a CD sampler (what is with the CD samplers lately? This is the second WHV release I’ve seen one with). The only extras included is a selection of animated series episodes that are admittedly fun to watch, but are a far cry from what I’d expect from a film turning twenty. Surely Keaton and Burton must have been up for something? Hell, Baldwin’s still in the limelight and Gina Davis isn’t up to much, so where are they? Even a simple twenty-minute retrospective would have sufficed but, alas, nothing. There is a motion changing image on the slip cover for the standard Elite Blu-ray case, but that’s about it in terms of extras. Extremely disappointing.
So how does the Blu-ray end of the release hold up? The VC-1 encoded 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is impressive at first glance, but the more you watch it the more you realize that there just isn’t much depth to the picture. The whole affair looks soft and incredibly grainy; I applaud Warner for not smearing the grain over with too much DNR, but there is just not detail to be gleaned from this transfer. I’m sure there must have been something they could have done, but perhaps once they realized there would be no extras to accompany it, they decided to just go forward with a less-than-stellar video transfer. A real shame.
Thankfully the soundtrack doesn’t seem to have been ignored as much, as the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track does impress on several occasions, whether it’s the musical bit in the film or just a general use of surrounds to help emphasize Beetlejuice’s actions, the TrueHD track here is definitely fun to listen to if nothing else.
Overall that wraps up the release and there’s nothing more to say. The menu for the set is a standard Warner pop-up with nothing more than chapter selections, set-up options, and navigation for the bonus cartoon episodes included on the set. Fans hoping for more will be sadly disappointed. Recommended only if you’re in the market to get rid of the old snapper disc release, but if you unwittingly bought the Deluxe Edition DVD release, then I’d just pass on this set. The audio and video aren’t worth the upgrade price.
Beetlejuice: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition arrives on Blu-ray on October 7th and is currently available on DVD.