Tim Burton is known for being bizarre, macabre and eccentric, and so are his films, perhaps none so much as 1988’s Beetlejuice. For those unfamiliar, Beetlejuice follows the Maitlands, a happily married and recently deceased couple who realize that not only are they ghosts, but they’re apparently forced to endure an odd “city folk” couple and, even worse, an undead ghost named Beetlejuice who lives in Mr. Maitland’s scale model of the town.
Told you it was bizarre.
In the Maitland’s version of the afterlife, they are forbidden to leave their home, so the movie’s plot follows the couple’s comedic attempts to expel their new tenants including calling upon the talents of the aforementioned “bio-exorcist,” Beetlejuice ( Michael Keaton). Keaton steals the show with his turn as the title character, a repulsive and nasty man who’s absolutely hilarious. Keaton has the least screen time of any of the main actors, but his performance outdoes them all.
Beetlejuice was successful and well-produced enough to earn Burton an Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup, and its stop-motion work and color palette were both clear inspirations for his later work, particularly A Nightmare Before Christmas, but also Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Beetlejuice is no literary masterpiece, nor is it cerebrally challenging or even as coherent as Burton’s later work. The eerie humor and slapstick comedy are still worth the price of admission.
Having just appeared on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment, Beetlejuice is finally re-framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this time with a 1080p VC-1 encoded video transfer. This new HD version of the film shows good color, detail and contrast, and although it’s decent for a 20-year-old film, the transfer doesn’t compare as well to most other HD titles. In spite of its remastering, the film still looks like a product of the 80s, with an often flat image, a soft appearance and inconsistent black levels. Fortunately, the transfer shows minimal print damage or dirt. The opening scene is grainy, but things improve after that opening sequence.
The audio is presented in both 5.1 English Dobly TrueHD and Dolby Digital tracks, and once you manually switch to the TrueHD track (which you once again have to do with a Warner film), the sound is quite robust. Danny Elfman’s musical score really benefits from this treatment, and even the dialog from the front speakers is constantly crisp and never competes with the music.
Considering this is a 20th Anniversary release, it’s surprising to see a relatively scant number of bonus features, particularly considering Beetlejuice’s status as a “cult classic.” The bonus features are led off by Three episodes from the animated Beetlejuice TV series (36:45): A-Ha! , Skeletons in the Closet and Spooky Boo-Tique. Each 1989-1991 cartoon episode lasts 12:15 and is encoded in VC-1, yet it’s still shown in standard-definition resolution with stereo sound. Fans of the series may find these to be interesting, but fans of the movie itself will likely find them compelling in name alone. These shows are definitely for the kiddies.
Because the film was scored by Danny Elfman, the inclusion of a Music Only Audio Track is a wonderful addition. Elfman’s soundtrack soars in Dolby Digital 5.1, but once choosing this option from the Special Features menu, you must begin the movie for the audio to start. Why Warner chose Dolby Digital over TrueHD is puzzling, but the content is still a nice bonus.
The Theatrical Trailer (1:27) for the movie is also presented, in standard definition and stereo sound. The video quality is fairly poor and makes you appreciate what the high-def transfer was able to bring out for the movie.
I would not be inclined to mention this, but a Collectible Booklet is referenced on the front slipcover as a feature. In reality, it’s less a “bonus feature” than it is a foldout with black-and-white pictures of creatures from the film and some “cute” tips about ghosts.
Many critics pan Beetlejuice for exactly the reason that it works for its supporters: a surreal story and zany sense of humor that have garnered it cult classic status over the past 20 years. Fans of Tim Burton who have never experienced this gem should definitely give it a shot, and stalwart Beetlejuice fans need no further inclination from us to go buy this Blu-ray Disc right now. It’s showtime!
Buy Beetlejuice on Blu-ray at Amazon.
- Score: 7.7
- As fun as it was decades ago, but although the audio and video are an improvement over the DVD, they’re not quite up to normal Blu-ray snuff.