There is no mistaking that Beetlejuice is directed by Tim Burton. The trademark white and black pallet is present but more so are the bizarre but extremely inventive ideas that have made his movies so iconic and so appealing. Unfortunately, these ideas are not realised as well as they could be and one very specific character is wasted.
The idea of a happily married couple being killed in a road accident only to find themselves haunting their dream home, now being occupied by a horrible new family (and one lovely daughter) is a plot full of potential and in some areas Burton manages to realise this potential. His version of the after-life is portrayed well, with a DMV-style waiting room to file “after-life” issues being one particular highlight.
The central pair trying to scare the family is also full of some very visual and very clever moments. It is impressive for a period where CGI was limited and design like this was done much more practically that some of the more grotesque aspects are still realised in all their glory today and still hold-up pretty well.
The cast helps the film translate as well. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis play ghosts Adam and Barbara with all the charm and appeal you’d expect from the acting heavyweights while Catherine O’Hara and Jefferey Jones are seemingly relishing the roles of the obnoxious new tenants. Winona Ryder plays the sweet young girl who wants to help the ghosts well enough too.
The film is stolen by the titular character though. Betelgeuse is teased throughout the opening of the movie and pretty much the whole first half. It would be a seemingly impossible task for any character to live up to the build but when he does finally appear he doesn’t disappoint. It is easy to forget, considering this the year before Batman and that he has won acclaim for his role in Birdman, that Michael Keaton began his career as a comic actor but it is clear in this role. The movie changes and becomes so much more watchable when the character is on the screen. His role is clear and his motivations even more so, which is why it is such a shame that he is so wasted.
The major issue with Beetlejuice is that the movie lacks direction. It feels like two or three separate films bolted together with no room for the other potential plots to breathe and develop. In one case it is about removing the obnoxious new homeowners, a second plot involves Betelgeuse’s tactics and using him as a “consultant” and a third is Betelgeuse trying to escape his fate in the after-life. All are very good plots with plenty of scope but all are left wanting by a film that doesn’t balance the structure well-enough.
What you are left with once all of the plots have tried their best to develop is a movie called Beetlejuice that barely features the character. Keaton’s character is the best aspect of the movie but he never gets the proper chance to unleash and let loose, being a character always trying to get into the movie but never getting enough screen-time to make his potential impact.
Overall, Beetlejuice is a movie full of amazing visuals, a great central concept and a cast which could have made this a classic. Burton’s style seeps through every pore of the film, including his inspired casting of Keaton is the title-role. Unfortunately the film is far too messy, with too much going on, to make any real sense and worst of all, Betelgeuse suffers the most by being used the least.
Rating – 3
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