Back Catalog in 1080

     October 30, 2008

Written by Andre Dellamorte

It’s been twenty years since Beetlejuice came out, and we didn’t know a lot back then. We didn’t know that Michael Keaton would essentially retire after Batman. We didn’t know that Alec Baldwin would blossom, fade, and be reborn anew as a comic icon. We didn’t know if Winona Ryder was going to succeed with the studio system. We didn’t know about Jeffery Jones’s sexual predilections and we weren’t sure if Tim Burton could keep up his winning streak.

Such is life; but Beetlejuice has aged well. Bladwin and Geena Davis star as Adam and Barbara, a happily married couple who enjoy their time at their perfect Norman Rockwell home. Which is good for them as they die accidentally and are stuck in their home. Such is death. They get a book telling them how to deal with their passing, but it reads like stereo instructions.

A family, the Deetzes moves in, headed by Charles (Jones) and Delia (Catherine O’Hara), with his daughter Lydia (Ryder) in tow. Lydia is a goth girl offended by everything and on the verge of pulling a Harold (ala Harold and Maude). Delia, with the help of her designer friend Otho (Glen Shaddix), wants to remodel the place into something modern, and Adam and Barbara have no idea how to handle the new family. So they consult the book and try to get some advice. They’re told to scare the new family, but they’re too white-bread and nice. Enter Beetlejuice (Keaton) who offers to do it for them, but he’s promised to be more than they can bargain for.

What is amazing about the film is how brilliantly it mixes tone. The mash-up of Rockwell with Gothic is more fitting than one would expect, while Burton’s imagination and sensibilities merge out more specifically from Keaton’s animated character. The odd angles and shapes are entirely fitting with his worldview, while it’s fun to see Baldwin play so bland and square. But the superstar here is the late Warren Skaaren, who gives a real heart to both Barbara and Lydia, and guaranteed Burton’s following with the girl Hot Topic set for generations to come. There’s also a real daft sense of humor. When Beetlejuice has to humiliate the very gay Otho, he turns his clothes into a leisure suit. That’s one fashion faux-pass that meant nothing to me when I first saw the film theatrically twenty years ago. But now it sings as a great joke.

Alas, other than the great 1080p transfer, there’s not much here to recommend the film. Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 and in a TrueHD track. Extras are limited to the film’s theatrical trailer and three cartoons from the Beetlejuice Animated series. I made it through one, and though playful, it’s not really a good companion piece to the film.

Body Heat was Lawrence Kasdan’s first film, and though he gets the mood and look right, it never quite sings. William Hurt plays Ned Racine, a lawyer in Florida who’s dead ended. He meets Kathleen Turner’s Matty Walker, and – especially at the time – Turner could not have embodied the femme fatale any more than she did. Puffing on cigarettes, she has the sexual charisma to stun and shame most men. And so it’s not hard to blame Racine for falling hard for her. It’s just that she has one little problem: she’s married. Married to Edmund Walker, a rich older man. The trap is set, and so Ned kills the man in hopes of being with his ladylove. But she is something of a black widow, and nothing goes as planned.

On top of the trio, you’ve got a strong supporting performance by Ted Danson, and a star turn by Mickey Rourke as an expert pyromaniac. But the film – like a lot of neo-noirs, falls into the trap of not being clever enough. We know how these things go, so you keep waiting for the machinations to be a little more elaborate or involving. But if the film falters in plot, Kasdan was always an ace writer, and so the film has a number of great lines (“You’re not very bright, I like that in a man” being the classic).

Though I was also not a great fan of it, The Last Seduction does this sort of thing better, but the way it succeeds may be more as female empowerment experiment in genre. Body Heat is from the male’s perspective, and that works too, but in the supplements Kasdan references films like Out of the Past. Sadly, you can’t improve on perfection.

Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and in TrueHD. The transfer here is that much better than the DVD, and the sweat, heat and mist are palpable figures, which was always what was intended. The extras are a carbon copy, though. There’s a three-part making of, with sections entitled “The Plan,” “The Production” and “The Post-Production” (44 min.) with interviews with Kasdan, Hurt, Turner, Danson, composer John Barry, editor Carol Littleton and cinematographer Richard Kline. It’s a fairly informative piece, though fans who’ve always enjoyed the film’s erotic kick may be less than pleased to see Turner as a middle-aged woman who’s settled into herself. She still gives a fun interview though. There’s also a 1981 interview with Turner and Hurt (12 minutes) that may kick that interest back up, and the two are fun there. There are five “lifted” scenes (10 min.) that mostly extend what was previously seen, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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