Films that deserve a more dignified home video release: Beetlejuice

*This column is one in which we look at different films that we feel should get better treatment regarding release to the public, based on their content and behind-the-scenes material*

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I’m sure all of us have seen at least one film by Tim Burton. A young boy who grew up in the strange suburban world of Burbank, CA, young Tim’s sensibilities were entranced by monster movies, which soon made their way into his sketches of saucer-eyed, spindly creations.

Parlaying his love of art into a career, Tim was accepted into the California Institute of the Arts, and worked briefly for the Walt Disney Studios. While dabbling in hand-drawn animation, he soon created the stop-motion shot Vincent, and a live-action short based on a story called Frankenweenie, about a young boy who reanimates his dead dog back to life. But soon, Tim wanted to branch out and explore new frontiers, and left ‘The Mouse House’ behind.

He then went on to Warner Brothers, where along with Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens, crafted the film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, about a man-child who goes on a bizarre road trip to recover his beloved bike (and given the way that bike looks, wouldn’t you?). After Pee-Wee, Burton got ahold of the script for Beetlejuice, which became a surprise hit as well.

Concerning the Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), an incident on the town bridge causes them to die, trapping them in their house as ghosts, unable to leave. If they do, they find themselves on a strange desert landscape, inhabited by giant striped sandworms.

Of course, all is not well, as their home has been sold to a family of New York subrubanites. Though their afterlife caseworker named Juno says they should scare the living inhabitants out themselves, the Maitlands get conned into unleashing Beetlejuice, a pasty-faced, freelance bio-exorcist.

With numerous films of Tim Burton’s released on DVD, it’s rather odd that given the films from the first 10 years of his directing career, Beetlejuice has been sidelined for so long regarding extras, and other making-of goodies.

In 2008, Warner Brothers released a 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the film on DVD and Blu-Ray. So, what made this release ‘deluxe?’ The inclusion of three episodes from the Beetlejuice animated series. Yes, THAT was enough to justify the release as ‘deluxe.’

Given that this year is the silver anniversary of the film, one can dream of bigger, and better release for this little favorite from Warner Brothers. Though nothing has been mentioned as the film’s anniversary draws near (March 30th). Here are a few things that would definitely make me consider purchasing the film if they were included:

1) Audio Commentary – Burton is one of the few directors who has given in and done commentary tracks for the majority of his feature film releases. However, even when he does commentaries, it works best if he has another person in the room to speak with. Lone commentaries (like the one he did for Edward Scissorhands), can be a little ‘bland.’ The one he did for Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure had him trading words with Paul Reubens, and one could imagine him doing a Beetlejuice commentary with Michael Keaton.

2) Interview/retrospective with the cast and crew – 25 years later, almost all the main cast of the film are known for other works, and a few of them even went on to work in other Burton-related productions (such as Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, and Winona Ryder).

3) Deleted Scenes –  I once browsed through an old issue of the special effects magazine Cinefex during my college days, and recall seeing information about several scenes that were filmed, but have not been seen in full-motion by the general public. These include:

– a scene of the Maitlands clinging to a windowpane while on the Sandworm planet. This was most likely an exterior view of when the two were clinging outside the upstairs window when the Deetzes discover the miniature model of the town in the attic.

– After he and Barbara return to the house after dying, Adam’s plan to ‘retrace their steps’ was supposed to send him to a world of large gears tearing up the landscape. Early test audiences didn’t ‘get’ this sequence, and scenes of Adam and Barbara encountering Sandworms was used.

– The scene where the Deetzes are menaced by Beetlejuice as a snake was also different from the final product, which featured a spiky-toothed Beetlejuice head on a snake body. Originally, the snake had no trace of Beetlejuice in its appearance, but the decision was made to not use the footage that had been shot. It’s possible that the design was changed, because some people may have been confused that the snake was actually Beetlejuice in disguise.

– After test audiences responded favorably to the afterlife waiting room sequences, one of the final sequences would have had the elderly barber named Harry (whom Adam encountered early in the film when he and Barbara went to town), be in the waiting room. In the end, the scene we know had a witch doctor sitting in Harry’s place.

4) Visual Effects Retrospective – There are plenty of memorable effects in this film, from stop-motion puppets, to makeup effects. It would be nice to see if any effects tests or film exists regarding these items, and maybe some of the artisans talking about being allowed to dabble within Burton’s imagination.

5) Isolated Score – Several Tim Burton/Danny Elfman collaborations on DVD have included an isolated score of Danny Elfman’s score. It would be nice to include this little extra, wherein we can hear Elfman’s orchestrations minus dialogue and other sound.

I will admit that when I first saw previews for Beetlejuice when I was 8, it looked really neat and exciting. However, it was one of several films I saw in 1988 where my eagerness turned to uneasiness. This was my first introduction to the works of Tim Burton, let alone alot of the tropes regarding dead people, skeletons, and strange transformations. Needless to say, I had the same reaction to Beetlejuice as I did with Poltergeist.

Of course, the next year when Batman was released, I got through that one pretty well, though it wouldn’t be until high school that I’d grow to like and understand Tim Burton’s films more, thanks to our Band Director creating several marching shows consisting of Danny Elfman’s music (one of which had us marching to the Beetlejuice theme!).

I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love a new release of this film with the items I’ve mentioned above. As it stands, Beetlejuice isn’t the last Burton film to get extras. There’s also Tim’s 1997 film Mars Attacks, which has plenty of room for special features material. There’s more then enough material in that film that would make for an interesting discussion, including Burton’s decision to use computer animation for the martians, instead of the original plan for stop-motion.

The top image shows several effects men working with a cable-oprated puppet of the original snake.
The lower image is a black-and-white image from the original sequence, showing Delia Deetz (Catherine O’Hara) in the clutches of the menacing creature.

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About MWH1980

Growing up in the state of Iowa, one would assume I'd be enamored with pigs and corn. Well, I wasn't. Instead, I grew fascinated by many things that were entertainment-related. Things like movies, animation, toys, books, and many more kept my attention. This blog I hope to use to express myself regarding my varied obsessions. (P.S. There's no Photoshop involved in that Gravatar-I really am holding an Oscar)

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