Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #25: Beetlejuice (1988)

For a movie that's as old as I am, Beetlejuice holds up pretty well!

I've decided to continue my Tim Burton retrospective by taking a look at his zany post-mortem comedy featuring the first performances of a few actors who would become staples in his later films. Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns), Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands) and Jeffrey Jones (Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow) all appear in Burton's 1988 endeavor, and I must say they're quite suitably cast.

The film also includes Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as the recently deceased protagonists of the film, and Catherine O'Hara, whose performance as the stark-raving mad artiste who drives her family insane is by far one of the highlights of the film.

The premise of Beetlejuice is unique and wildly creative--something Burton's films don't offer anymore. The story follows the afterlife experiences of Adam and Barbara Maitland, a married couple who, to quote The Doors, "break on through to the other side" after their car takes an unanticipated detour into a river.

The afterlife, however, is cleverly depicted not as a terrifying nightmare, but a bureaucratic headache. The Maitlands take a considerable amount of time to figure out what has happened to them, and once they do, they are given only an easily distracted caseworker and an extremely cryptic instruction manual (pun intended) on life after death to help them through.

But as though this post-existence existential crisis wasn't enough for the Maitlands, they also have to contend with the new occupants of their home--the relentlessly irritating Deetz family, consisting of Ma (Catherine O'Hara), Pa (Jeffrey Jones) and angsty teen (Winona Ryder).

The Maitland ghosts attempt to rid themselves of the Deetz family on their own, but when their attempts are continually foiled, they turn to a 'bio-exorcist' who specializes in ridding the dead of living, breathing vermin.

His name? Juice. Beetle Juice.

It's a wacky concept to be sure, but a fun ride overall. The actors are all very committed to their roles, and Burton does what he does best by creating a creepy, haunting aesthetic to balance off the goofiness of the script.

Finally, it's also worth noting the immense amount of skill possessed by the makeup artists who worked on Beetlejuice. A recent discussion with a friend of mine regarding the virtues of practical makeup as opposed to CGI effects gave me a new perspective on the value of good makeup artistry, and the Oscar-winning Beetlejuice exemplifies the power of makeup-done-right. (But you'll have to watch to see what I mean!)

Overall, Burton's post Pee-Weenian, pre-Batmanian hit reminds us what imaginative film can be like. While nowadays everything seems to be either an adaptation, a sequel or a remake, it helps to remember that twenty years ago, Hollywood was willing to take a chance on a crazy concept like Beetlejuice, and it paid off.

But don't get me wrong. I liked Predators as much as the next guy.

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