"Beetlejuice" is a living, breathing live-action cartoon and it still stands as one of Burtonís finest efforts.
Beetlejuice (1988, Blu-ray)
Directors: Tim Burton
Producers: Michael Bender
Writers: Michael McDowell
Features: * CD Sampler * Three Episodes of the TV Show * Trailer
Alec Baldwin ... Adam
Geena Davis ... Barbara
Annie McEnroe ... Jane Butterfield
Michael Keaton ... Beetlejuice
Catherine O'Hara ... Delia
Jeffrey Jones ... Charles
Winona Ryder ... Lydia
Glenn Shadix ... Otho
Beetlejuice Blu-ray Review
When I was a kid, you werenít cool if you hadnít seen Tim Burtonís cult opus, "Beetlejuice." It was required viewing for anyone under the age of 16. For one, it was the first film many kids had ever seen that featured Americaís foremost swearword: ĎF**K.í Second, the film was riddled with gruesome imagery, crass characters and grisly macabre in every corner, yet it was a film heavily marketed to children.
Today, like most of Burtonís later work, the film would more than likely be slapped with a hard PG-13, like "Batman" or a light R, like "Sleepy Hollow." Itís odd that Warner felt "Beetlejuice" could be marketed to children--but somehow it worked. Kids felt like they were getting away with something and the parents and teens who took the kiddies to the show, enjoyed the dazzling visuals, goofy characters and dark setting.
When I originally watched the film as a kid, I watched it for Michael Keatonís oddball character, Beetlejuice. His "ghost with most"-attitude, crass demeanor and wacky cartoon-like persona was the main draw. Looking back on the film, Beetlejuice is actually one of the least interesting elements of this original, even compelling story about two country bumpkins, Adam and Barbara, who end up dead and forced to combat the overly artsy, new wave homeowners who stake claim on their lovely picturesque home. Their journey from life to death, and their interaction with the new homeownerís goth daughter, is wholly amusing and stunningly original, with brilliantly designed, darkly comic monsters, ghosts and ghouls invading every scene.
In fact, even with only 17-minutes screen-time, Beetlejuice becomes so intrusive to the rest of the plot that he takes away from the more profound story of what life is like in the afterlife. Keaton delivers a knockout performance, make no mistake, but heís far too invading, often dragging a scene out as he improvises crass bits. Burton paces the film too slow as it is and his inclusion merely slows things down even more. The film even reaches a few dead halts at times.
Beyond the pace, thereís a truly ingenious work of art going on here. Burton stretches his directing muscles, providing a far more visually daring world than his last major effort, "Pee Weeís Big Adventure." Here, Burton lets his imagination run wild. The skyís the limit and his makeup and visual effects team manage to bring life to the dead, so to speak. Itís no wonder Warner sought him out when they decided to adapt "Batman" to the big screen. At the time, he was the single most visually daring filmmaker out there; this film is the hard evidence.
"Beetlejuice" might not sport the best pace, but when it comes to story, this is one zany, original adventure. The characters are hilariously fun, the visuals are jaw-dropping (even today) and the production design is as lavish as they come. This, folks, is a living, breathing live-action cartoon and it still stands as one of Burtonís finest efforts.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: A
Film Value: B-
Warner presents "Beetlejuice" on Blu-ray in 1.85:1 widescreen, encoded in 1080p/VC-1 video on a BD25 disc. For a film thatís twenty years old, and never looked particularly clean in any presentation Iíve ever seen, this print is truly staggering. Immediately noticeable are the crisp, prominent black levels that add a stunning amount of depth and detail to the print. Also strong are colors. The palette of this film fluctuates on a dime, from murky browns and flat country whites to flashy, vibrant neon blues, greens and yellows. The transfer handles each with extraordinary ease. This presentation rarely looks flattened or crushed in any way.
Even better, Warner has seemingly gone through this print with a fine comb, removing any signs of dust or dirt. Some intentional grain is noticeable on the print, a common staple of this eraís film stock, but itís never distracting. No visible DNR has been applied and I noted no digital artifacting, ghosting or edge enhancement. Iím shying away from a flawless A+ rating only because the material isnít entirely a knockout--itís merely a solid presentation of a film that hasnít gotten the best treatment in the past twenty years. Good job Warner for fixing that mistake!
Warner delivers a surprisingly pronounced Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Again, for a twenty year old picture, I didnít expect such an aggressive mix, loaded with fantastically designed front surround effects that truly engage the listener. My only complaint is that this mix is a touch too front heavy, with discrete effects placed only in the right and left front surrounds. Just a few insignificant rear surround effects, and Danny Elfmanís poignant score, pop and zing when necessary. But, given the age of this film, Iím genuinely surprised by this mix.
While this is a 20th Anniversary Edition, donít expect much by way of special features. Whereís the retrospective documentary, the deleted scenes, the gag reel, or even the flat commentary from Tim Burton? No one was interested in talking about this truly original piece of movie-making? What a shame.
ē Music-Only Track -- Again, it seems like these sorts of tracks are making a comeback, which is truly great. Here, you can listen to Danny Elfmanís amazing score, mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1.
ē Beetlejuice: The Animated Series (SD) -- Warner drops three episodes of the original animated TV show for fans to watch. Theyíre pretty abysmal in terms of story and context (they look terrible, too), but the visual style is appealing and mostly consistent with the film.
ē Trailer (SD) -- It is what it is.
ē CD Sampler -- Just like "L.A. Confidential," this set gets a bonus CD with a few tracks from the original soundtrack. Itís nothing special, particularly for hardcore fans who probably already own the score. I would have preferred (dare I say it) a digital copy of the film. For once, this is a film I would have liked to have on my iPhone.
The disc is packed in the usual ĎEliteí Blu-ray case with an outside sleeve that sports a dreadful lenticular that barely works. Design is classy and in keeping with Warnerís other titles. Thereís also a collectible booklet inside the case that features some of the filmís zany monsters.
"Beetlejuice" is a truly fascinating, original look into Tim Burtonís wild imagination. The film itself is a bit unruly, but the dazzling, gothic, cartoon-like experience is well worth the wobbly ride. The Blu-ray disc houses a nearly flawless A/V presentation, but the extras are a bit lighter than I hoped they would be. Still, if you love this film, this disc will be well worth the money.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: D
Recommendation: Fans should buy. Newcomers should definitely rent this classic catalog title.
On Blu-ray Disc: October 7, 2008.
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----R. L. Shaffer