Beetlejuice (1988)
March 30, 2018 4:00 PM - Subscribe

It's showtime! In Tim Burton's second feature film as a director, the recently deceased Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) find the house they hoped they'd haunt together forever bought and hideously renovated by avant-garde artist Delia Deetz (Catherine O'Hara), her developer husband Charles (Jeffrey Jones), and gothy daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder). Unable to rid themselves of the intruders, they turn to a "bioexorcist"... the obnoxious, outrageous Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton). But once they agree to hire him, things are going out of control fast!
posted by Pope Guilty (24 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Alec Baldwin is so young here....
posted by Chrysostom at 4:36 PM on March 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Alas, poor Otho! Did not make it above the fold.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:26 PM on March 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a perfect movie. I don't say that because I think it makes grand statements or puts forth a philosophy of life; of course it doesn't. But what it does is to create this story and tell it, and it does so perfectly. Here's a close reading of how.

It was a big influence on me as a kid, which is to say that it scared the living shit out of me. Those moving statues in the trailer alone -- ! But of course I loved it. Lydia was the first girl I had seen on a screen that was *~strange and unusual~* about the dead, the way I was. And I had ... well, I couldn't say I had a crush on Beetlejuice, because he was terrifying and disgusting. But I dimly understood that he was scary in the same way that Jareth was scary, which was worse because -- well, I didn't know.

I watched the cartoon because it was on, but I was always vaguely disappointed in it. The Maitlands weren't there, and nobody said why, and nothing was as dangerous or unpredictable as in the movie. Plus -- and even then, I knew this was a big plus -- Beetlejuice and Lydia were supposed to be best friends, but he never once apologized for, you know, that whole thing. Somehow, accepting that Slimer was suddenly best friends with the Ghostbusters was a lot easier than getting my head around that.

The musical could potentially be fantastic. I can't wait.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:36 PM on March 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

I loved this movie when I first saw it, and fell heads over heels in love with Winona Ryder and Geena Davis.

A detail that still pops up in my brain whenever I think of this movie, is Beetlejuice trying to dig up the lego set, while lego sized.

The waiting room scene is one of the all time greats (execution) for visual gags.

1988 - the popularization of "acceptance" , iirc, was still pretty nascent in '88 (?). That message felt like a pretty far outlier, in retrospect.

Michael Keaton's a funnyman at heart, and I think that's what he's been best at - I'd love to hear examples of Keaton being excellent at a non-comedic role. fwiw, he's my favourite Batman but that was when graphic novel adaptations still had to adhere to being a 'comedy' stylings (q.v. Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy and how Ray Stevenson's Punisher (2008) still stuck with the concept and thus failed.

The interface between "comic book primary colours" and "grimdark/urbangritty."
posted by porpoise at 8:30 PM on March 30, 2018

This is an exceptional movie for a number of reasons, the least of which is that it seems to have been a kind of cinematic explosion of things out of Tim Burton's imagination that he's never really equaled before or since. (I think that the only major project that he'd done before that is Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which is great but bound by the parameters of Paul Reubens' shtick; after that, I like the Batman movies (the second much more than the first), and bits of Mars Attacks, and his animated films, although those are mostly collaborations. Much of his latter-day output seems to be deciding which weird wig that Johnny Depp is going to wear; I might have liked Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children if I'd gotten to see it during the twenty minutes that it was in theaters.) Michael Keaton, in particular, seems to have mainlined a shot of extract of Robin Williams, with comedy bits bursting out of him at random like alien embryos hatching.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:32 PM on March 30, 2018

I'd love to hear examples of Keaton being excellent at a non-comedic role


if you haven't seen Birdman, see Birdman

yes, Birdman
posted by kokaku at 10:58 PM on March 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

"Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana.
Daylight come and me wan' go home."

Receptionist: "And that is what happens when they die. It's all very personal. And I'll tell you something: if I knew then what I know now... (shows her slit wrists) ...I wouldn't have had my 'little accident.' "

So... Beetlejuice was a civil servant because he committed suicide? One more weird trivia point.
posted by TrishaU at 1:36 AM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you haven’t read the script for Beetlejuice 2, it is amazing!
posted by snofoam at 3:41 AM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

And remember...I'll eat anything you want me to eat, I'll swallow anything you want me to swallow. So come on down! I'll chew on a dog!
posted by ian1977 at 4:19 AM on March 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

I've loved this movie ever since I first saw it as a kid and it has aged extremely well.

Keaton's Beetlejuice is such a good performance and character.

"I've seen the Exorcist about a 167 times and it keeps getting funnier every single time I see it" is a great line but the delivery and escalation of the whole scene just takes it to another level:

The weird ticks, gestures (how have I missed the jerk-off motion he does all the times I've seen this film?), the way the voice changes within the line reading and just generally how he throws his whole body into the performance.

The entire movie hinges on the titular character being the centre of attention but he doesn't show up until like 30 minutes into the movie (and isn't even in the film that much). Keaton just absolutely nails it and you understand why the film is named after him.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:46 AM on March 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'd love to hear examples of Keaton being excellent at a non-comedic role.

It's a trivial superhero movie, but he was outstanding as the villain of the Spider-Man movie from last year.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:35 AM on March 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also, WRT non-comedic roles that Keaton has excelled in, Clean and Sober and Pacific Heights.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:44 AM on March 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

It tiptoes the line between comedy and drama but Keaton is excellent in The Paper.
posted by guiseroom at 7:41 AM on March 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chris Stangl has a great essay on Beetlejuice's cheerful confounding of spatial relationships called "This Is My Art, and It Is Dangerous."
One of the film's major concerns is the boundaries and shaping of physical space, how it defines us, how we attempt to dominate space, how space may be navigated, and its boundaries negotiated. The main characters, a menagerie of colorful types, personalities, and professions, are all defined by their relationship to and their desire to claim mastery of concrete spaces. Most of the characters actively practice the manipulation of space, through the plastic arts and photography, or careers and hobbies focused on real estate, homes, buildings and geography. Beetlejuice gradually reveals a universe of spheres of reality, but while happy to dip in and out of intersecting planes, never proposes to draw a map of its underworld. Instead, the concrete, familiar world of the living is systematically eroded by ever expanding and contracting, fluxing, strobing dimensions, until it loses primacy and stability...


The interplay of scale, self-contained worlds, and wobbly geography between them, is summated in the opening shot(s). A helicopter-shot flyover of Winter River, Connecticut zips above the trees and quaint houses below, the big black, glowing superimposed credits distracting the spectator from two dissolves between shots. The view comes to rest on the isolated three-story house on a sandy hill on the outskirts of the small town, and for a moment, something subtly uncanny about the building is echoed on the soundtrack as Danny Elfman's oom-pah score belches out a death rattle. A massive brown spider stretches its legs over the peak of the roof, and for a few otherworldly frames, as Harry Belefonte's voice in diegetic music begins wafting over the scene, no one can be positive what we are seeing, whether the spider is supposed to be an outsized creature-feature beast attacking a detailed but quaint miniature effect, or something other. A hand enters the frame, gingerly assists the normal-scale spider from the roof, and draws it up to Alec Baldwin's curious face. He prods the spider, mutters "That’s a big fella. Woah!", carries it to the window, through which we may glimpse the town duplicated in the model, and gently tosses the tiny home-invader to the breeze. This introductory scene serves as an establishing shot of the Beetlejuice multiworld, the town's big map transitioning to the little map of the model, confusion of interior and exterior spaces to arachnid invasion to size-evaluation ("big fella! Woah!") to salvation to portal-crossing to death-plummet. It is in one sense an "establishing shot" of the town and house, but on reveal, occurs contained within the perimeters of the space it pretends to establish.
posted by Iridic at 11:28 AM on March 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

I was so on board as a Tim Burton fanboy after this came out. He seemed to be such a new voice in films, and I couldn't wait to see what he came up with next. I really should go and rewatch this to remind myself how great a filmmaker he was at one time.
posted by octothorpe at 7:44 PM on March 31, 2018

I'd love to hear examples of Keaton being excellent at a non-comedic role.

Don't miss him in the Robocop remake from 2014. He steals the show (as usual).
posted by Servo5678 at 6:23 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I adore this movie. And everytime I hear "Jump in the Line" I still expect to see Lydia floating.
posted by TwoStride at 6:27 AM on April 1, 2018

I'd love to know how much of Keaton's lines were in the script and how much he improvised.
posted by octothorpe at 6:53 AM on April 1, 2018

I love Sylvia Sidney in this. She gives no fucks.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:30 PM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

A fun listicle about the movie claims there was a bunch of ad libbing that Keaton did. The listicle is pretty worthwhile if you want a bunch of fun trivia about the movie.
posted by el io at 1:17 AM on April 2, 2018

See, I think this movie has aged extremely poorly. Pulled it out at Halloween a couple of years ago to show to my son, and regretted it. A lot of comic mileage is attempted from Beetlejuice hitting on women, which really doesn't come off as funny now. I can't figure out its point-of-view, satire-wise, either. Does it hate the art snobs? the yuppies? the townies? everybody? It was certainly antic, but not very funny.
posted by rikschell at 1:30 PM on April 2, 2018

Non-comedic Michael Keaton was pretty good in Jackie Brown, although since the joke was on him, maybe it was comedic?
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:52 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember thinking he was really good in Clean and Sober-he nailed that 80s cokehead vibe- but I haven't watched it in a long time.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:44 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

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