Movie Night: Beetlejuice

Year: 1988

Director: Tim Burton

Production Company: Geffen Company

Leads: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetle—

No! Ahh!

What is there to say about this immensely enjoyable Tim Burton classic that hasn’t already been done to death? Heh heh. This tale of a very-much-in-love couple who plunge to their demise off a New England covered bridge, only to be resurrected as hosts in their own house, is such a staple of the Tim Burton canon that its only surprise is not featuring Johnny Depp. At least there’s the magnificent Danny Elfman score, setting the stage for many a musical-of-the-dead to come.

It wasn't the smoking that killed me …

It wasn’t the smoking that killed me …

This was, of course, the first time Little Satis had seen Beetlejuice, and I think that some of the humor escaped him slightly. After all, the whole movie concept is a just a touch on the dark side, and much of it relies on understanding the many ways there are to die. I actually found myself holding myself in check at points and deliberately not pointing things out – such as Sylvia Sidney‘s breathing smoke from her slit throat – just to avoid disturbing a ten-year-old. I’ll admit – it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film myself, and I forgot a few parts.

One part I most definitely did not forget, however, is Winona Ryder‘s ultra-goth Lydia Deetz, which, along with her portrayal of Mina Murray in Dracula a few years later, firmly cemented my lifelong crush for her. The funny thing is that, looking back on it, she really wasn’t all that miserable; apart from an obsession with all things weird and strange, it wasn’t until she met the deceased Maitlands that she uttered that favorite phrase of goth kids everyhere: “I wish I were dead.” And at the end—what’s with the dancing?

Ah, Winona …

Ah, Winona …

Still, there’s enough inexplicable shenanigans in the movie to let that one slide, and this is perhaps the film’s only fault: not everything makes 100% sense. Of course, it could be argued that’s part of its charm, and I wouldn’t disagree – but why on earth do dead people end up on an outer space sand planet when they leave their house? Why did they end up confined to their house in the first place? And why, oh why, couldn’t Beetlejuice tell Lydia his own name? He freaking broadcasts it on dead-TV! And why did he need to marry Lydia? Hm … Beetlejuice, Corpse Bride … it seems Tim Burton has himself a little obsession with marrying the dead, no?

Anyway, Beetlejuice is an ineffably enjoyable movie (I’m not sure that even makes sense), and if you haven’t seen it, you don’t deserve to be alive!

 

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Satis Logo 2014

Movie Night: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Year: 1993

Director: Henry Selick

Production Company: Skellington Productions

Leads: Danny Elfman/Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara

Tim Burton Movie BundleThis may come as a surprise for an ex-goth like me, but I had actually never seen The Nightmare Before Christmas until now. How I got through my teens without this is beyond me, but if finally got to the point where I simply couldn’t go another Christmas without trying it out.

And I’m very glad I did. It was a brave decision for Selick to make a feature-length stop-motion film; at the time, this technique had mostly been reserved for TV shorts, advertisements and special effects. The production of such a work must have required a fearsome single-mindedness and determination, requiring over 100,000 individual frames to be taken. Selick’s background as a Disney animator gave him a measure of experience in this, however, and the result became a now beloved cult classic.

Having come to The Nightmare Before Christmas after films such as Coraline and Corpse Bride, the marvel of the film’s technical aspects became more intellectual; the animation quality is noticeably lower than these other films. In such a regard, the real impressiveness of it was in the seamlessness of something that had really never been attempted before. However, the charm of the film lies ultimately not in the animation, but in the story it tells.

Made long before the formulaic Burton/Depp amalgamations that eventually came to follow this, there is a novelty and purity to the idea of a skeleton from Halloween wanting to bring Christmas back to his fellow ghouls. Far from being dark, the film in fact possesses a comforting and warm light-heartedness, a sort of innocence that so many films now greatly lack. The humor is subtle and witty; rarely drawing out-loud laughs, I instead found myself smiling throughout entire scenes, without even being aware of it. Images such as Jack Skellington looking in wonder as he first glimpses Christmastown, unaware of what snow is; the hopelessly pathetic appearance of the dismal Christmas lights strung about his home in Halloweentown; even the unexpected appearance of the Easter Bunny; these stick in the mind as much for their humor as for their emotional detail. The thought that every movement, every minute item and detail was deliberately created – even those that pass unnoticed – is simply wondrous.

There were a few bizarre problems during our screening, such as French subtitles popping up every so often, a feature that no amount of fiddling with settings was able to resolve. The film (at least the version we were able to find) was also a shade off widescreen, which always leaves me feeling that there’s a little bit of the movie I’m missing – even if it’s only half an inch from the left and right.

Altogether, this was a charming and magical evening, and I am only sorry that I waited so long to introduce this into my life. I can see this becoming a staple of our Christmas canon in years to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Why Isn’t The Phantom Tollbooth a Movie?

One of the great joys in my life is reading to my son before bed. I know there will only be so many years that this can continue, and I still have to get through Bridge to Terabitha, Great Expectations, all of the Harry Potters, and so many more. But of all the great books of my (and others’) youth, The Phantom Tollbooth (to my knowledge) has never been made into a live-action film.

Yes – there was the semi-live/animated version from 1970, and indeed I watched this endlessly growing up. But it was abridged, and the animation was second-rate.

What I’m talking about is a genuine, live-action epic that traces Milo’s adventures through the lands beyond. I read Lord of the Rings with Miles, and we then watched the superb movies. We read Treasure Island, and then watched (okay, I’ll admit it) Muppet Treasure Island (surprisingly accurate, actually). But why not The Phantom Tollbooth?

Should such an endeavor be attempted, here’s what it would need to be.

  1. A Tim Burton movie. There really is no discussion here.
  2. Live. This doesn’t mean no CGI, but certainly no cartoons.
  3. The complete story. Don’t chicken out at Dictionopolis and miss the whole point of the book. We need to see the Mountains of Ignorance, complete with Demons, and even some great flashback battles as the Prince of Wisdom first arrives in the Land of Null.
  4. Featuring a new child actor.
  5. Faithful to the dialogue of the book. Nearly every idiom in the English language appears somewhere in this book, and are the source of one of the main joys I got out of it. Only now, as an adult, do I understand the whimsical humor of Milo eating his own words.

It’s quite likely that if and when The Phantom Tollbooth is made into a movie, it will not be a good one. It will probably not be directed by Tim Burton, and it will probably not be faithful to the book. The trailer for Bridge to Terabitha looked so damningly awful I never went to see it. I would hate to see another of my childhood favorites butchered, but the sad truth is that it’s more than likely. Nonetheless, I will probably go to see it, and Miles and I at least will enjoy it.

Update: It turns out The Phantom Tollbooth may be made into a movie after all. Wikipedia says it will come out in 2013, though I can’t say I’ll be thrilled to see Gary Ross direct it. Eh.