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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Beetlejuice (Blu-ray)
Beetlejuice (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // PG // October 7, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted October 6, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Tim Burton decided to take on Beetlejuice because he felt there wasn't enough originality flowing through Hollywood. He wanted something that was entertainingly bizarre, and unique enough to open a whole new world of filmmaking to the audience of the world. It's probably a bit of an understatement to give Burton kudos and say 'mission accomplished', right? We have a completely fresh take on life after death, social satire, unique and effective atmosphere, and so much more. When all is said and done, nobody's seen a movie like Beetlejuice before Burton brought his vision to life, and fact of the matter is, there hasn't been anything like it since. Even the title Beetlejuice gives you an idea of what to expect from the film, and Warner Brothers wanted to call it House Ghosts. Could you even imagine?

Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) are newlyweds living in a quaint little town that's full of lush greenery, and peace and quiet. They've got a very big house all to themselves, so they're living the American dream. Good love, big house, big yard, and a quiet town. What more could you ask for? That's usually a question that's asked rhetorically, but after a fatal car accident, it becomes much more than that.

The Maitlands are confined to their home. Anytime they try to go outside, they find themselves trapped in a sand filled wasteland that's inhabited by a man-eating, zebra striped sandworm. Things aren't too bad considering, until the Deetz', a family used to big city life, moves in.

Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones) was a heavy hitting business man in New York City, but wanted to move to the country so he could stop and smell the roses. His second wife Delia (Catherine O'Hara) is less than thrilled about the move. She's been living the rich life, courtesy of her husband's income, and is a prime example of the kind of disgusting person money can create. She doesn't lift a finger unless there's a dinner party to throw, and when a finger does need 'lifting', she has her interior designer Ortho (Glenn Shadix) make all the arrangements. It's not long before Charles starts to get a massive headache with all the fancy remodeling his wife wants to make.

The Maitlands don't know what to do. One minute they're alive and free to do as they wish, and the next they're watching their beautiful home getting gutted and reworked to look like a marble spray painted nightmare. They can communicate with Charles' daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder), and try to communicate their frustrations with her. Of course that doesn't go over very well, so the Maitlands make a few attempts to scare the intruders away, which of course is also unsuccessful.

Despite numerous warnings from their afterlife caseworker Juno (Sylvia Sidney), the Maitlands turn to the only ghoul they've heard can successfully perform bio-exorcisms, which is none other than con-ghost extraordinaire, Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton).

Although his tactics are frightening and effective, he's also rude, crude, disgusting, a pervert, and he only cares about 'number one'. The only real interest Betelgeuse has is to find a way to enter the world of the living. Unfortunately the Maitlands don't realize what they've done by turning to their ghostly con-artist, until it's too late.

This film is done masterfully by Tim Burton. At 91 minutes, the movie seems to fly by. This is all thanks to Burton's ability to mix the macabre with humor, and satire. On top of mixing elements that concocted a film that can mostly be described as entertainingly strange, he was able to intentionally make a mainstream film, and have it feel very much like a B movie instead.

This film could have crumbled apart in so many ways. Some of the scenes, the dinner party comes to mind, would have failed miserably if it wasn't for the excellent performance of physical comedy that the actors pulled off splendidly. Beetlejuice could have been an entirely different film for the worse if the effects were crafted to be too realistic, but Tim knew how to keep the 'strange', fun to watch. The most important thing Burton seemed to realize was that he needed to give the audience Betelgeuse as a treat, not as a character that would have a lot of screen time. Burton rose above every obstacle that could have potentially destroyed the film, and executed one of the most unique films to date.

If you haven't seen Beetlejuice yet, you have no idea what you're missing out on. If you've ever seen anything else Tim Burton created and liked what you saw, then you're in for a pleasant treat with the movie many consider his finest achievement to date.


Video


The video Warner Bros. has provided is pretty darn good, and seems like a pretty accurate representation of what this film would have looked like in a movie theater, if not better. It's an older film that was put together on a budget of $13 million dollars, with $1 million of that budget being devoted to the effects. So yes, some of the effects look horrendous in HD, but that's how Burton wanted the film to look.

The print that was used exhibits a minimal amount of specks or dirt, and the film grain is fully intact. The grain is fairly minimal for the most part as there's just enough most of the time to look as if we were watching the movie on actual film. Occasionally the grain can appear heavier than in other instances, but we're talking about a film that's 20 years old. Taking everything into consideration, the print that was used has aged very well.

The black levels are deep most of the time, although there are a few shots that have an almost murky look about them, but I assume that's from the film, not a result of the transfer. Keep in mind those instances are extremely rare. There's excellent contrast here. The whites aren't muted, and the colors really pop off the screen in the instances Burton used them for atmosphere or effect. The heavy usage of green, blue, and to a lesser extent, red and purple, are very impressive. I've been watching Beetlejuice for so many years on TV and standard DVD, to the point where I was used to seeing a less than adequate picture. After seeing all the lush greenery from the quaint town featured in the film, as well as all the colors that are used to convey the afterlife, I really almost felt like I was watching this movie for the first time.

The picture is sharp enough most of the time. Once in a while a shot comes along that looks a little softer than it should; but again, I believe this to be from the source, not the transfer. Also, as far as edge enhancement goes, there are slight touches of it once in a blue moon, but for the most part, there's nothing ugly in the transfer that was done to 'spruce' it up.

All in all, Beetlejuice looks very good on Blu-ray. If you were wondering if spending extra for the Blu-ray over the new DVD was feasible, I think there would be no question about it. The print is very clean for a film that's 20 years old, the color saturation is amazing, and the film grain is intact. The detail in the picture is also very nice. It's detailed enough to be a considerable improvement over the DVD, but not so detailed it takes away from the charm of the film.

This Blu-ray is a VC-1 encode in 1080p, at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.


Audio


This audio is presented in a pretty nice Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. It's not going to be the best track you've ever heard, but after all, this is an older film. The sound mix is represented in a way that much like the video, is better than I ever remembered it being. The scenes that get loud with the music and effects are boastful and proud, and the dialogue is still easy to hear when things quiet down. It's a track that can be dynamic enough to sound like you're at the theater, but without having to compensate ever two minutes by adjusting the volume. The bass never seems to get a workout, but it complements the mix that was trying to sound full, without ever going over the top.

Also available:

Dolby Digital 5.1, French (Parisian 2.0, Dubbed in Quebec 1.0), Spanish (Castilian 2.0, Latin 2S), German 2.0, Italian 2.0, and Japanese 2.0.

Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish. Yeah, I'm totally not kidding. Warner Bros. really delivered on the diversity of audio tracks and subtitles!


Extras


The extras really didn't make me want to grab my cajones and say, 'take me to the underwold baby'!

The first thing to note is the complete lack of a commentary. This film was very important for Burton's career, and for its 20th anniversary there's no commentary from anyone involved? Forget the ball being dropped; the lack of a commentary is an absolute crime. I know Tim Burton isn't usually the most interesting guy to listen to, but throw Baldwin and Keaton in there, or something!

There's an option to watch the film with the musical score as the only thing intact. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. However, it was actually pretty brilliant. It's not something I'm ever going to do again, but it was an experience worth checking out at least once. The score is such an integral piece of the film, that everything that's happening on screen with the music tells the same story. Color me impressed, because I thought this was going to bore me to tears.

In what I can only assume is a shameless effort to get a little more of your money, there's a soundtrack CD sampler that's included. It's only about 14 minutes in length, and gives you some of the most memorable themes that you can hear in the film. It's a nice idea, but I loathe the idea of bonus content that's really more of a shameless self promotion... especially when the extras are minimal at best.

What most of you are going to love, are the three episodes of the animated show that appear on this disc. They're presented in standard definition, and they don't look all that bad. I haven't seen this show since I was a kid, in fact, I pretty much forgot about it. It takes a lot of liberties of course, so it can appeal to kids and so Beetlejuice doesn't become an obnoxious boob. However, all the 'strange' that made the movie so popular is here in the animated show. The episodes includes are A-Ha!, Skeletons in the Closet, and Spooky Boo-Tique. I really hope that these are on this 20th edition release as a way for Warner to test the waters. It would be an absolute tease to think they gave us three episodes just for the sake of it. Come on Warner, I've seen plenty of discussions on the web, release this show in full season sets already! I know I'll buy it!

Also included is the theatrical trailer.

That's it boys and girls. It's not really an impressive list, and is truly a shame for what should have been an explosive 20th birthday celebration in the disc format. At least we have a cool holographic slipcover, and a cool insert that unfolds to show us most of the bizarre characters from within the film. That's like pretty much like 'almost' getting a B-I-N-G-O though.


Overall

I got my first VCR when I was 6 years old. I got 3 VHS tapes with it, and one of them was Beetlejuice. Burton's bizarre vision entertained me as a child, and I gained much more appreciation for everything this film had to offer as I got older. Despite its style that at first glance may seem like it's aimed at a very specific sort of crowd, it's actually entertaining and diverse enough to appeal to almost anyone. I mean, Beetlejuice isn't an action film, and it's not a romantic comedy. So many times my wife and I will have to play the 'who's going to sacrifice their favorite genre tonight' game, but we don't have to do that with this movie. Burton set out to create something original, and he came through on that dream in spades. It was original in its time, and remains so after 20 years.

The extras are a fairly big disappointment, so I'm going to have to give this Blu-ray a recommended rating, despite my desire to bump it up even higher for the film alone. Despite the lack of extras though, the video and audio presentation is the best this film has seen since its theatrical run, without question. If you're a fan of this movie, or even if you're not, you owe it to yourself to put this in your Blu-ray collection. Halloween is just around the corner, and this would be a perfect movie to showcase for this time of year. It's entertaining enough to be seen at any time of the year though, so chances are you won't be putting this one away without wanting to see it again very soon, as it holds up to repeat viewings very well.
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