Ink & Pixel: Beetlejuice
Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, Im always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can discuss it further.
It feels like it was so long ago, but I can remember a time when Tim Burton was the king of every young adult's cinematic world. Although the man dabbled behind the camera as the director of such short films as STALK OF THE CELERY MONSTER, LUAU, and VINCIENT, studios had yet to take notice of Burton's unique approach to filmmaking until he and Paul Reubens joined forces to unleash PEE- WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE upon the world. Reubens' antics as the hyper-imaginative man-child known throughout pop culture as Pee-Wee Herman took both the public and Hollywood by surprise; a shocking success which inadvertently placed Burton on the map as a director of vision and promise.
Much to the astonishment of many, Pee-Wee's wacky search for his stolen bicycle managed to pull in a worldwide total gross of $73,707,461, and has since become a cult classic among Burton and comedy film enthusiasts all across the globe. I bring all of this to your attention because it was due in part to the success of PEE-WEE's BIG ADVENTURE that Warner Bros. decided to tap Burton to direct a rather bizarre property they had floating around about a ghost with the most called BEETLEJUICE.
Unleashed upon audiences in the year 1988 (Wow! I can't believe that I was only seven years of age when first laughed my ass off to Keaton's delivery of the classic line Nice fuckin' model!), this horror comedy fantasy film - produced by The Geffen Film Company and distributed by Warner Bros. - is a prime example of how even the most outlandish idea for a film can secure a warm place in the hearts of millions. That said, BEETLEJUICE is a film that got off to an exceedingly rocky start. In the beginning, Warner Bros. was mailing script upon script to Burton in the hope that his penchant for all things strange would sniff out a unique project for the production house to sink their teeth into. Unfortunately, Burton found many of the scripts he'd been sent to be lacking in originality, and thus, much hope from all parties involved began to wane. It wasn't until David Geffen himself hand-picked a script entitled BEETLEJUICE (written by Michael McDowell) and gave it to Burton, that things took a turn for better.
Burton immediately recognized the project's potential, but felt compelled to bring THE ADDAMS FAMILY alum screenwriter, Larry Wilson, into the fold for the purpose of rewrites. Due to ensuing creative differences, however, Burton requested that BATMAN co-screenwriter Warren Skaaren be brought onto the project to tailor the script into something more Burtonesque. With the script finalized and the cast in place, it was time to make the trek to East Corinth - a little town in Orange County, Vermont, USA - to begin filming the uproarious paranormal adventure that would become Tim Burton's BEETLEJUICE.
The film begins by introducing us to Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin) Maitland. Happily married and enjoying a 2 week long vacation at home, it isn't long before the couple meets their untimely demise and are forced to share their home with the eccentric Deetzes, a family of three hoping to start their new lives outside of the big city. Feeling violated, Barbara and Adam aim to drive Charles (Jeffery Jones), Delia (Cathleen O' Hara), and their daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) from what they feel is still their happy home, and they'll do just about anything to get it done. However, when spooky noises, ruined bed sheets, and cheap parlor tricks prove useless, the Barbara and Adam make the biggest mistake of their afterlives by calling upon the notorious prankster ghost, Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), to help drive the yuppy imposters from the Maitlands' final resting place. Needless to say, things do not go well. Before long, everyone under the one roof - dead AND alive - must work together to put Beetlejuice back in the ground in what quickly becomes a race against time and death.
It blows my mind to think that BEETLEJUICE was created and delivered using only a budget $15 million dollars. Yes, Burton and his team were able to capture a portion of the film while in the quaint Vermont town. However, in addition to this, much of the film needed to be shot using the Culver City Sound Stage in Culver City, California, USA, and lots like that don't come cheap. Think about all of the locations featured throughout the film: The Waiting Area and Offices For the Recently Deceased, the Sandworm Desert, all of the rooms found within the Maitland home, and let's not forget about all of those scenes where we were taken inside of Adam's model of (what I assume to be) his cherished hometown.
Speaking of budgets, would you believe that out of the $15 million allotted for the production of BEETLEJUICE, that just $1 million of it was used to create the films special effects?! I would imagine that the majority of the money was spent on travel, actors salaries, and the building of sets, but damn, Burton and company had to have been pretty crafty to pull off all the different effects methods that were included in this film (for so little a sum!). Let's break this down for a moment, shall we? You've got stop-motion animation happening during the scenes in which the sandworms are featured, as well as when Delia's horrific sculptures are brought to life. Additionally, stop-motion was used in conjunction with intricate model work when filming the Beetlejuice Snake scene.
I'd also like to add that the list of effects methods employed in the filming of BEETLEJUICE wasn't limited to just stop-motion animation. Upon viewing the film once more, you'll also notice a fair amount of puppetry, prosthetic makeup, wire work, blue screen, and replacement animation was used to complete the unique and spooky experience. In fact, all but one of these methods can be viewed during the scenes in which the Maitlands make their first visit to Juno, their afterlife case worker. You've got puppetry happening with the rattler associated with the deceased snake charmer, prosthetic makeup featured upon the cut wrists of the ornery receptionist, wire work attached to the flattened file clerk, and the use of blue screen makes it possible for us to see the floating, tortured souls hidden behind a door inside of that wonky black and white colored hallway. It's one effect after the other, all working together to create an unforgettable underworld, and it's damn near flawless.
Lastly, and because this is primarily an animation column after all, one cannot forget to mention that the Ghost with the Most made his animated debut courtesy of ABC in the year 1989. The show focused on a newly established friendship between the characters of Beetlejuice and the goth teenager Lydia Deetz. Each week, Lydia and Beetlejuice would escape together into the Neitherworld - a place overrun by goblins, witches, ghouls, ghosts, and the dead - where they would solve crimes and uncover the mysteries of life after death. The show quickly gained in popularity and was later absorbed into Fox 5's after school cartoon line up. Truth be told, I used to watch this show every day. My favorite aspect of it was the creative way in which the art and animation staff played with the rules and atmosphere of the Neitherworld. It somehow managed to remain kid safe even though it did often venture into some truly frightening territories for young viewers.
I think that most people would agree that BEETLEJUICE is some of Tim Burton's best early work. I know that in recent times folks have lost faith in his ability to deliver the goods, but I'm of the opinion that his work has simply evolved into something more throughout the years. No one can be expected to keep churning out the same product time and time again, so love him or leave him, Burton remains one of the most sought after and influential filmmakers of his generation. Plus, he gave us films like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, SLEEPY HOLLOW, DARK SHADOWS and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, so back off! You don't want to make me call in the big guns, do you? Alright, you asked for it. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!
|Extra Tidbit:||Are you excited about the prospect of Burton and Keaton getting the band back together for a chance at filming Beetlejuice 2?|