20 years after it blasted Tim Burton onto the map, Beetlejuice deserves a much better disc release than this. Previously only available on a barren, early DVD release, this new edition surely offered the opportunity for an interesting celebration and retrospective assessment of the film, and how it affected the careers of those involved. Instead, you get three cartoons – admittedly good cartoons, but cartoons nonetheless – alongside a music-only option and the trailer. Look carefully, and you still won’t find a single contribution from Burton, Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis or Winona Ryder, and the disc is all the poorer for it.
The high definition transfer has come out well, to be fair. While some of the model effects have struggled a little in the translation to a 1080p picture, this is actually a nice piece of work. The darkness comes across exceptionally well, and the distinct colour palette feels the benefit too. The effects occasionally are exposed as being dated, and sometimes the image feels a little washed out, but it’s not a bad job. An uncompressed audio track completes the transfer work, and it too is a solid improvement on what went before. It doesn’t have a carnival with the movie’s audio track, but it has a lot of fun with Danny Elfman’s score.
The film, however, is a hoot, perhaps even more so than you may remember. As someone who hadn’t seen Beetlejuice for many years, it’s surprisingly easy to forget just how good it is. Very funny, wildly imaginative and paced as well as any movie Burton has made (it helps that it’s off the screen in under 100 minutes), it’s a genuine hoot, and a film that flies by. It’s the performances too that help make it. Winona Ryder was once regarded as one of Hollywood’s most promising actresses, and here’s the proof, in a terrific turn as the melancholy Lydia. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis too as the leading couple are in good form, and the subsequently-disgraced Jeffrey Jones offers proof as to his undoubted comic acting mastery.
But this is Michael Keaton’s film, and as the title character, he manages to dominate the movie, even though he’s in for a surprisingly short amount of time. He only really turns up properly about half way through the film, and it’s perhaps his career best role and performance (yup, including the Caped Crusader). Check out the scene where he basically plays a game of charades with Ryder to get across the name of his character, and you’ll see a controlled-yet-paradoxically manic comic creation, quite unlike anything else thrown up by 1980s cinema. When he says “It’s showtime!”, you can’t help but allow yourself a gleeful grin.
And let’s not forget too arguably the most joyful scene in the entire film, one that Keaton doesn’t actually take part in. The dinner party is a wonderfully choreographed, outstandingly funny piece of cinema, and again, it leaves you wishing that Burton would tackle more of the comedy that he’s clearly very talented at handling.
Beetlejuice is a wonderful 80s movie, and one that many within it would struggle to match again. Fortunately, no sequel ever came along to bastardise it, which means that it can be appreciated as the true original it is. A pity that, for a film that deserves genuinely celebrating, not many extra features turned up for the party.
The Movie:The Disc: