Judge Erich Asperschlager! Judge Erich Asperschlager! Judge Erich Asperschlager!
The release of Beetlejuice: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition might be six months too late for its actual anniversary, but it's just in time for Halloween. Though director Tim Burton's early-career classic doesn't fit in with the splatter-fest discs that line Walmart shelves this time of year, if you want to get in the Halloween mood without losing your lunch, Beetlejuice is a real treat.
Facts of the Case
For married couple Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock, and Geena Davis, Tootsie), life was going great…until they died. As if adjusting to an afterlife as ghosts wasn't hard enough, their house is sold to an unpleasant couple (Catherine O'Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Jeffrey Jones, Ed Wood) from New York, who sweep into the sleepy Connecticut town with their goth daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands), and big city renovation plans in tow. When Adam and Barbara's attempts to scare away the family fail, they turn to a sleazy freelance "bio-exorcist" by the name of Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton, Batman) to get the job done—and soon wish they hadn't.
One of my clearest childhood memories is buying a movie magazine when I was 10. I bought the issue for a multi-page article about Willow, but 20 years later I don't remember that spread as well as I do a single page of tantalizing pictures from Beetlejuice. The two photos I recall (heck, there may only have been two) were of Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis standing next to the tire-flattened netherworld bureaucrat, and of the Maitland's putty-stretched faces from the end of the movie. It looked creepy. It looked cool. I was hooked.
I didn't see many movies in the theater back then, so I'm guessing my first experience with Beetlejuice was renting the video. Fitting, then, that my first trip back to Winter River, Connecticut, in more than a decade would be on the small screen (though not as small as it was back then).
I'm sure my ten-year-old self would be thrilled to hear that two decades on, Beetlejuice is still awesome. Falling in the middle of a string of classic Tim Burton films (including Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Batman, and Edward Scissorhands), Beetlejuice runs circle around the director's later projects in terms of twisted invention and pure fun. Perhaps the best thing about the movie is Burton's unapologetic use of lo-fi special effects, from the stop-motion animated sand worm and Beetlejuice snake to the scale model town that acts as metaphor for both film and filmmaker. Adam's dogged fight to keep his handcrafted model away from those who'd destroy it in the name of, ugh, progress mirrors Burton's own fight to keep the traditions of movie special effects greats like Ray Harryhausen alive. In that way, Beetlejuice was made at the right time. It's tough to imagine even Tim Burton winning the argument for cheap effects in the computer-generated era.
Beetlejuice looks great, but anyone familiar with Burton's movies knows it takes more than style to make a great film. The director's best movies rely on outstanding performances to bring them to life, and this one is no exception. In fact, with the possible exception of Batman and its sheer star power, Beetlejuice has the most talent per square inch of any Burton film.
No matter what the title card says, Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin are the stars of the movie. What's most impressive about the pair is their ability to sell "normal" in a cast of crazy people like the nasty Charles and Delia Deetz, played by veteran comic actors Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O'Hara, and Glenn Shadix as the ruthless interior designer, Otho. Lydia may have been one of Winona Ryder's first film roles, but her goth queen portrayal is the image most fans still carry. And though their time on screen be brief, it's hard to imagine anyone other than Dick Cavett (as Delia's agent), Robert Goulet (as Charles' former boss), and Sylvia Sidney (as the Maitland's ghostly caseworker) in those roles.
As good as all those actors are, though, they can't hold a candle to the man whose performance elevates the movie from good to fan-friggin'-tastic whenever he's on screen—I'm talkin' about the title character, the "ghost with the most," the one the ladies who run screaming know as…Beetlejuice! Or is that "Betelgeuse"? Either way, Keaton's portrayal of the afterlife's most charismatic pervert absolutely makes this movie. He's a sleaze-ball of energy who steals every scene he's in. He's also a reminder that if you're ever allowed to use an F-word in a PG-rated movie, you'd better make it count.
But enough about the movie. How's the DVD? Well, if you haven't bought it yet and you're dying to own it (yes, pun intended), the good news is that it looks and sounds great. The bad news is that there's precious little about this "deluxe" edition to warrant the title.
Considering the previous release had barely any extras, it would be hard for this 20th Anniversary set to do a worse job. Even so, it disappoints. The two repeat bonus features are a theatrical trailer (meh) and a 5.1 surround music-only track. The isolated track is awesome. Composer Danny Elfman's collaborations with Tim Burton are always fantastic—often better than the movies themselves. Having the chance to hear Elfman's full Beetlejuice score, unencumbered by little things like dialogue and sound effects, is a wonderful experience—much better than not being able to hear what people are saying sounds like it would be.
The disc's only new bonus feature is a collection of three 11-minute episodes from the Beetlejuice animated television series. I loved the show when I was a kid, and the mix of goofy puns and sight gags still makes me laugh, but as the only new extra on a set 20 years in the making…well, it's a let down. Besides the fact that the cartoon has barely anything to do with the movie (instead of Lydia trying to avoid Beetlejuice's lecherous advances, for example, in the show they're best friends) there are better extras they could have chosen. How about a making-of featurette about the stop-motion animation, or a commentary track? I, for one, would love to know why the character is named "Beetlejuice" in the credits, but "Betelgeuse" throughout the film. Did the studio think the audience wouldn't be able to pronounce the name of the star in the vicinity of Ford Prefect's home planet? I guess we'll never know.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a few things about Beetlejuice that keep it from reaching an Edward Scissorhands-like level of Burtonian greatness. The biggest problem is also the hardest to solve: although the Maitlands are the main characters, nearly everyone else in the cast is more interesting. That goes doubly for Keaton's Beetlejuice, and that's the other problem. Beetlejuice doesn't get nearly enough screamtime…er, screentime. I could see where 90 full minutes of The Juice might be too much, but would an extra ten have broken the bank?
As for this release, besides the disappointing lack of additional extras, not everything from the original release made it onto this one. I rarely complain about lack of full screen on DVDs, but for people who want the option, it's going to take more than half an hour of cartoons to make up for taking that away.
I'm conflicted. On one hand, Beetlejuice is a fantastic movie, and the perfect addition to any Halloween video playlist. On the other, this is about as disappointing an "anniversary" or "deluxe" release as I can imagine. Maybe it's the fact they decided to put both adjectives in the DVD title. I don't know. You could do a lot worse than picking up Beetlejuice: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, but Warner could also have done a lot more.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• 3 Episodes from the Animated Beetlejuice TV Series
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