Throwback Thirty – Beetlejuice (1988)

I have a confession to make before we carry on with out weekly business of reviewing a random film from the year 1988. This wasn’t the film that I originally pulled out of my jar for this week. Yes, I have (kind of) cheated on my Throwback Thirty mission and we’re only 3 weeks in. Last week I pulled Short Circuit 2 out of the jar and was all set to do my usual thing. However, in an act of insanity I decided it was only fair to rewatch Short Circuit before the sequel in order to get the best viewing experience. As such, my week just got away from me and I decided I wouldn’t have time to fit everything in. In an act of utter desperation and reeking with shame, I pulled another name out of the jar. So, I will watch Short Circuit 2 in time for next Thursday. I, bizarrely, feel genuinely quite bad about having to cheat this week. It’s madness because it’s a format that I imposed myself and a series of rules that I, alone, am enforcing. I could do whatever the fuck I wanted and nobody reading this would know. But it means a lot to me for some reason… probably because I have so little going on in my life right now. So, unfortunately, my viewing this week has been a little tainted with my disappointment in myself. An immense shame considering my second pick from my jar of films is one of my favourites in there. It’s also the only time that I can think of that I’ve found myself attracted to Alec Baldwin. There’s something about the combo of those glasses, that hair, and his tan trousers that just gets me… but I digress.


I like Michael Keaton. He’s done some dodgy stuff over the years, most notably Jack Frost; the super depressing film about a deadbeat dad masquerading as a feelgood Christmas film. I hate it. Of course he’s made some shit but which actor hasn’t? He’s also been in some fantastic films. Keaton is my favourite Batman, which I know will be a controversial statement to some. Don’t get me wrong, Adam West is superb but there’s something about the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton partnership that brings something new to Bruce Wayne. I know stupid Christian Bale fans will be outraged at the suggestion that any Batman film not made by Christopher Nolan is the superior film but Christian Bale is awful in the role. Seriously though, Batman is the least memorable and interesting character in all 3 films. But let’s not turn this in a Batman debate again. All I’m trying to say is, I love Michael Keaton.

Though his portrayal of Batman was greeted with critical acclaim, it was in this Tim Burton film that Keaton really found his place. Playing the title character of Betelgeuse, Keaton was praised for his utterly manic and outrageous turn as the ‘bio-exorcist’ spirit who claims to be able to get rid of unwanted human beings. His services are mistakenly employed once a married couple, Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin), die in a tragic accident and discover their house has been taken over by a family of unsavoury characters. Unable to leave their home, the pair are left to share their house with the new residents, the Deetz family, who have recently moved from New York hoping for a stress free life. The Maitland’s decide that they cannot spend their formative haunting years with the Deetz’s and make a few feeble attempts to get rid of them. When these fail, Betelgeuse’s offer starts to look pretty promising. Unfortauntely, his methods leave the conservative Maitland’s worried.

The problem with Beetlejuice is that I always forget just how little Michael Keaton is in the film. The moments where he gets screen time are truly memorable but he is hardly the key player here. That’s not to say the rest of the film isn’t worth watching but you can’t help but get the feeling Keaton could have done so much more. He is on top form as the outrageous spirit who just wants to cause as much trouble as possible. When he is able to let loose with the character there are some great moments. Although, the stand-out moment is one in which his character has nothing to do with what’s happening. I’m sure even people who haven’t seen the film may well be aware of the dinner scene in which the guests find themselves unwillingly lip syncing with Harry Belafonte’s song ‘Banana Boat Song’. It’s an unforgettable cinematic moment.

Beetlejuice is a film of great moments but without having a great deal in between. If you look beyond the exciting visuals and imagination, the narrative is quite thin and the characters aren’t exactly developed. In anyone else’s hands this film would have been a failure but that’s because this film is pure Tim Burton. The imagination, creativity, and film making on show here is everything. It’s a weird and completely original story that captures your attention from the start. It might not be the slickest or greatest film ever made but it does everything it needs to. It’s funny, at times frightening and creepy. It flirts with horror, romance, and comedy without every really deciding what it wants to be. I can see why someone might not like this film but, if you ask me, it’s a straight-up classic.

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