Monday, October 18, 2010
Beetlejuice: Death at its Funniest
I hope everyone reading this has already seen this movie. If not, it's a must! This is Tim Burton at the beginning of his feature-directing career. Though he didn't write the original script (or even the rewrites), you can still see those Gothic, dark, Burton-esque qualities that Gen X has come to love and cherish. The film tells the tale of a young married couple living out in the countryside who get into an accident and die. Their ghostly afterlife is confined to the house they once called home, unable to leave. When a city couple and their daughter buy the house and start transforming the home they worked so hard to build, they get the help of a bio-exorcist named Betelgeuse (pronounced "Beetlejuice") to scare the family away. But Betelgeuse proves to be more harmful than helpful, so the newly-dead couple must now save the family they first wanted to scare. It's a hilarious comedic ride through the world of the afterlife, and stars Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Jeffery Jones and Michael Keaton as the titular character.
Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (1985), was such a huge success, he was being bombarded by scripts for his next project. None of them had the imagination and creativity he was looking for, and Burton was becoming disheartened...until producer David Geffen handed him "Beetlejuice" by Michael McDowell. McDowell's original screenplay was much more of a horror film than a comedy though, with Betelgeuse as a hellish winged demon who could transform into many different people. The climax of this version had Betelgeuse raping one daughter (there were two originally) and mutilating the second by transforming himself into a ravenous squirrel. Luckily, Burton and the studio hired writers to lighten up the story...a lot!
High Spirits" (1988). (Furst would later work with Burton to create a whole new look for Gotham City in "Batman" (1989).) Burton hired Bo Welch instead, which started a working partnership that continued with "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) and "Batman Returns" (1992). Welch also managed to start another great partnership during "Beetlejuice." He met Catherine O'Hara and fell in love, marrying in 1992 (and still together today).
Lucas" (1986) and "Square Dance" (1987). It was her performance in "Lucas" that impressed Burton and led to her winning the role of odd, goth teen Lydia. She won it over young actresses like Diane Lane, Jennifer Connolly, Sarah Jessica Parker, even already odd Juliette Lewis. This then led to her next big role, in the teen dark comedy "Heathers" (1989), solidifying her as a role model for alienated teens everywhere. She also made a mark with Burton, who cast her again alongside Johnny Depp in "Edward Scissorhands."
"Beetlejuice" went on to earn $73 million at the box office and an Oscar for Best Makeup. Thanks to his second success, Warner Bros. was more inclined to grant him the large budget he needed for "Batman," which went on to earn $411 million at the box office and proved Burton was (and still is) a solid bet in Hollywood. So, get your Halloween groove on this week and drown yourself in laughter with "Beetlejuice." It's currently an instant streamer on Netflix and is always available on DVD. Have a great week, everyone!
(Post-tidbit: A sequel was written back in 1990 at Burton's request, titled "Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian." However, other commitments kept causing Burton to put the project aside. Many people have been asked over the years to do some rewrites on the script, including Daniel Waters ("Heathers"), Pamela Norris ("Troop Beverly Hills" (1989)), even Kevin Smith. Yet, everyone passed and it still sits untouched at The Geffen Film Company.)
Video treat: Part 1 of Episode 1 of the "Beetlejuice" cartoon series, produced by Burton: