Burton’s ‘Beetle Juice’ still dead, loving it

On March 30, 1988 Tim Burton came out with a hit in which the main characters died in the first 20 minutes of the movie and from there the plot really livened up. From that day on “Beetle Juice” (a title that will never be uttered just once by a group of people) found its place in pop culture.

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By Erin Tobin

By Erin Tobin

On March 30, 1988 Tim Burton came out with a hit in which the main characters died in the first 20 minutes of the movie and from there the plot really livened up. From that day on “Beetle Juice” (a title that will never be uttered just once by a group of people) found its place in pop culture. In fact the title of this pop culture classic conjures up images of what will always be a unique look at the afterlife. The ill-fated couple, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, is the charming, newly-wedded Adam and Barbara Maitland. They didn’t like the idea of selling their simple country abode when they were alive and now seem to be spending the rest of eternity in it. So a professional is called in and everything is changed for the funnier with the introduction of Michael Keaton’s infamous “Betelgeuse” (which is pronounced, at least in the movie as “Beetlejuice”). Keaton’s character probably greatly helped the movie win the 1988 Academy Award for make-up. With wild hair, a white face and a rotting smile, Betelgeuse is so beautifully grotesque that sometimes he’s hard to look at, but it’s impossible to look away from the movie because some nuance would be missed. The make-up job is just the final touch for the character, its Keaton’s acting that makes this one-of-a-kind boogieman so memorable. In short, Betegeuse is akin to “Batman’s” Joker on some kind of drug that should stay illegal. “Beetle Juice” is a movie of polar opposites and there is nothing better to counter the lively dead the painfully dull living, which appears through the exquisite acting used to portray the Deetz. Led by Catherine O’Hara (who just released “Limeny Snickett’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events) as Delia Deetz, the family is so painfully dull and self-absorbed that they are fantastic. Framing all these eccentrics is Bo Welch’s hauntingly unique set. Each surreal scene fills the screen like a child’s perverse picture book of a nightmarish story. The use of frames and a miniature model that is part of the plot keeps the movie unfolding seamlessly. Then there is the irreplaceable look at the afterlife. “Beetle Juice” presents a netherworld that is complete with dead pageant queens, paper and bureaucrats with the color scheme of a smoky bar. “Beetle Juice” is at the top of most people fondest memories for a reason. The movie’s humor and unique point of view sticks in the mind and refuses to die.

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