‘Maybe We Should Try That Beetle Guy’: Looking Back on 1988’s Beetlejuice (Spoilers Ahead)

I find a sense of freedom in the suburbs. You assume the mask of suburbia for outward appearances, and yet no one knows what you really do. You’re never so close and distant from people at the same time. There’s something about suburbia, it’s really a place to hide. Or people use it as sort of a mask of normalcy.’ – director Tim Burton.

In what may well be a lasting format change, please note the quote above. In what should hopefully start a more director-centric discourse, please note the below.

Director Tim Burton’s 1988 feature film, Beetlejuice – starring Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder as the cast members in our focus – added to his trademarks but focused squarely on suburban living.

That being said, the film’s pivot is towards, as the above quote implies, that suburbia can be asylum-esque (note the sheer quantity of white in the Maitlands’ hometown and its unnervingly-happy populace, à la Jane the realtor).

That public personae often belie people’s true aspirations (Betelgeuse masks his lethal ‘bio-exorcist’ intentions with comedy whilst Lydia does adjust under the Maitlands’ parentage).

And how comedy and colours can mask  (deathly so, as in the case of Juno’s waiting room) life’s terrors.

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(from left to right) Director Tim Burton and star Geena Davis on the set of their 1988 feature film, Beetlejuice (LesHommesModernes.com Photo)

That being said, 1988’s Beetlejuice does nail the restrictive nature of suburbia (as the Maitlands are confined to either their house or the supernatural realm with only Lydia to talk to).

The cast, with emphasis on Michael Keaton’s eccentric Betelgeuse (murderous in nature), Winona Ryder’s seemingly-reclusive Lydia (who did want a different life) and, to a lesser extent, the Maitlands (who wanted children) all masked what they wanted for the duration of the film.

That being said, the film’s attempts to mask its violence and surrealism with comedy sometimes lapse as Betelgeuse’s frightening of Barbara and near-marriage to Lydia prove.

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(from left to right) Michael Keaton’s Betelgeuse and Winona Ryder’s Lydia in a scene from 1988’s Beetlejuice (ScreenRant.com Photo)

Given director Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure-displayed experience with visual contrast and offbeat characters, 1988’s Beetlejuice generally works as a genuinely funny movie that lapses into shocking moments. The film also works as a character-confining means of showing that life and the afterlife, often by virtue of its books – à la the manual for the dead and Charles’s home magazine – is often more than what it appears.

The score, by composer Danny Elfman, changes the film’s mood in keeping with its environment shifts.

The cinematography, courtesy of Director of Photography Thomas E. Ackerman, also shows the enclosed-ness of suburban life with its emphasis on symmetry and the limits of the Maitland residence.

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Director Tim Burton on the set of 1988’s Beetlejuice (Warner Bros Photo and Caption via Cineplex.com)

As always, please feel free to share any directorial trademarks that you find in 1988’s Beetlejuice in the comments below. Thank you.

Director Tim Burton’s Trademarks in 1988’s Beetlejuice:

  1. Starkly-contrasting environments in the same film: note Adam and Barbara’s paint-white hometown compared to the cool blue, glowing red and bottle greens on the supernatural realm.
  2. Eccentric or misunderstood protagonists: the titular Betelgeuse lives alone and shunned by his colleagues and ex-employer, Juno, and his intentions are misunderstood by Adam and Barbara, though just short of it being too late.
  3. Gothic aesthetic: Lydia’s clothes and veil are inspired by a Gothic aesthetic.
  4. Kindly quasi-larental figures: Adam and Barbara decide to stop scaring the Deetz’s, save Lydia from Betelgeuse and eventually act as her parents by film’s end.

(Whilst the opinions and observations cited above are, unless stated otherwise, the author’s own, the following sources were used to acquire information from: AZQuotes.com, BrainyQuote.com, Cinelinx.com, Forbes.com, GoodReads.com, IMDb.com, Telegraph.com)

The Reverse-Screenwriters’ Club (Spoilers Ensue):

Plot: a deceased couple attempt to scare off the family who have moved into their home.

Act 1: Adam and Barbara decide to head into town for supplies; Adam and Barbara decide to head back home but drive off of a cliff.

Act 2: Adam and Barbara decide to return to their home; Adam and Barbara decide to try and figure out why they’re ghosts.

Act 3: Adam and Barbara decide to observe the Deetzes family moving in; Adam and Barbara decide to scare the Deetzes family out of their house.

Act 4: Adam and Barbara decide to shut the Deetzes family out of the attic; Adam decides to open a door to a ghost realm.

Act 5: Adam and Barbara decide to enter the waiting room; Adam and Barbara opt to meet their case officer, Juno.

Act 6: Adam and Barbara decide to return home; Adam and Barbara decide to scare the Deetzes again.

Act 7: Adam and Barbara decide to talk to Lydia after she photographs them; Adam and Barbara decide to ask Lydia to warn her family about them.

Act 8: Adam and Barbara decide to summon Betelgeuse; Adam and Barbara help him out of his coffin.

Act 9: Adam and Barbara choose to return home without Betelgeuse; Adam and Barbara decide to scare the Deetz’ dinner guests.

Act 10: Adam and Barbara opt to refuse Lydia’s request to reveal themselves; Adam and Barbara decide to evade the Deetzes when they invade the attic.

Act 11: Adam and Barbara decide to call off Betelgeuse when he ambushes the Deetzes; Adam and Barbara decide to go see Juno again.

Act 12: Adam and Barbara resolve to scare off the Deetzes again; Adam and Barbara decide to save Lydia from Betelgeuse after choosing to return home.

Act 13: Adam and Barbara decide to hide from the Deetzes and Otho when they return to the attic; Adam and Barbara are forced to appear before them.

Act 14: Lydia decides to summon Betelgeuse to help the weakened Adam and Barbara; Barbara decides and manages to send Betelgeuse away after a struggle.

Act 15: Adam and Barbara decide to receive Lydia at their home; Adam and Barbara decide to cue the music and celebrate Lydia’s test grades.

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