"I'm the ghost with the most, babe."
Beetlejuice, Beetle Juice, Betelgeuse. However you want to spell it, Tim Burton's 1988 haunted house comedy marked the director as a genuine auteur with a unique cinematic voice. Although his first feature film 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' was a box office hit in 1985, that movie was based on an existing comic character from creator and star Paul Reubens. His second film 'Beetlejuice' is a more purely Burtonian creation, with all the signature elements of his filmmaking style fully-formed and brought to life on screen.
Alec Baldwin (almost absurdly young and thin) and Geena Davis star as the Maintlands, a happy married couple living in a picture-perfect small town. Content to spend their vacation at home listening to calypso music, Barbara cleans the house while Adam tinkers with an elaborate scale model of their idyllic village. Yes, the Maintlands are basically nerds, blissfully in love and excited to spend the rest of their lives together. Unfortunately, they have no idea just how short those lives will be. A trip to town for supplies ends in disaster when the couple's car crashes through a bridge and falls into the river below. Both husband and wife are drowned. Despite this, they somehow wind up back home soon after, finding a "Handbook for the Recently Deceased" there waiting for them. No one else can see them now, and any attempt to leave the house plunges them into a surreal nightmare desert with giant freaky sandworms chasing after them. The Maintlands are ghosts, doomed to haunt their own house. It's not exactly what they expected from their vacation, but (aside from the whole death thing) frankly not all that different from what they'd planned.
And then the new owners arrive, obnoxious city folk with horrid taste who want to tear the house apart and remodel it into an art deco catastrophe. No, this just won't do. These people can't stay, not in the Maintlands' quaint and quiet little home. With instructions from the Handbook, Adam and Barbara pay a visit to the netherworld to seek help for their predicament. Thus, they fall into the hands of Betelgeuse, a self-proclaimed "bio-exorcist," who promises to help these ghosts purge their house of the living, primarily by acting like an annoying jackass until neither the new family nor the Maintlands can stand him anymore.
As a film, 'Beetlejuice' is distinguished from other supernatural comedies of the '80s (like 'Ghostbusters' or 'High Spirits') by Burton's incredibly inventive visual sensibilities and warped sense of humor. The movie is loaded with clever sight gags and bizarre production, costume and makeup designs. The crazy underworld, depicted as an absurdist waiting room for an interminable bureaucracy, is still a hilarious highlight. Danny Elfman's circus-themed score is practically a character in itself. The Maintlands are sympathetic leads, and most of the humor holds up pretty well 20 years later. Really, the only thing that just doesn't work for me anymore is Michael Keaton's manic performance in the title role, which comes across as a forced attempt to mimic Robin Williams' schtick. Even so, that's a small complaint. 'Beetlejuice' is still infectious fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Beetlejuice' comes to Blu-ray from Warner Home Video as a 2-disc 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. Disc 1 contains the movie and all video supplements. Disc 2 is a soundtrack CD sampler. The case has a lenticular slipcover with artwork that changes depending on the angle you look at it. A cheesy fold-out booklet called "The Beginner's Guide to Seeing Ghosts" identifies some of the characters in the movie.
Like most Warner releases, the Blu-ray prompts playback of the movie automatically without any trailers, promos, or even a main menu. Annoyingly, the disc also defaults to the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track until manually changed.
As is the studio's standard practice, Warner has slightly opened the mattes from the original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio to fill a 16:9 screen. The difference between the two ratios is negligible. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer looks pretty good for a modestly-budgeted movie from 1988. The film's photography is a little grainy, but not distractingly so. The image has strong colors and a pleasing amount of detail. In fact, the high resolution picture is almost too revealing of the dated blue screen special effects.
Contrasts appear a little tweaked for a movie of the era. There's a bit of black crush in some of the dark parts of the frame, but generally not enough to be concerned about. 'Beetlejuice' may not be the crystal clear eye candy spectacle that some viewers look for in every high-def purchase, but the Blu-ray suits the movie well.
Proving once again that technical specs alone are less important to determining quality than other aspects of a disc's mastering, the Blu-ray's lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is merely adequate. Danny Elfman's musical score has bloated low end, muddy mid range and dulled highs. The same cues on the enclosed soundtrack CD are audibly crisper and have better clarity of individual instruments.
In other respects, dialogue is clear enough, the music has been spread to fill all the speakers in the room, and there are a few fun rear channel effects every now and again. The audio is definitely dated, but seems to improve as the movie goes along (or maybe I just got used to it). Don't get me wrong, this isn't a terrible soundtrack. Just don't go into it assuming that "lossless" encoding means that the audio couldn't be improved.
The Blu-ray carries over all of the bonus features from the comparable Deluxe Edition DVD. Unfortunately, they don't amount to much.
I can hardly believe that 'Beetlejuice' is 20 years old. Tim Burton's breakout movie has held up well two decades later. The Blu-ray has pretty good high-def video, even if the audio is just OK and this "Deluxe Edition" skimps on bonus features. It's worth a recommendation anyway.