Tim Burton used to direct wonderfully bizarre films. His work couldn’t be pinned down beyond the categorical marker of the man himself: you always knew when you were stepping into a Tim Burton world. The Burton touch was undeniable. From Pee Wee to Ed Wood to Edward Scissorhands to Sleepy Hollow, you knew Burton by the humor, the characters, the costumes, even the set-design and the trees that lined his streets.
During the 1980s and 90s, the imagination of Tim Burton shaped a generation of movie-loving odd-balls. Several of his films from those years are among my favorites.
Then, after Sleepy Hollow, the wonderful mystique of nightmare fairy-tales and darkly comic oddities that made Burton’s films special started to fade away. In their place we were left with Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Dark Shadows.
When Johnny Depp donned the pale-face of Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Ichabod Crane, he embodied frailty and tenderness in a manner that was rare of men on the big screen. Hollywood’s leading men in the 90s didn’t behave like Depp in these strange movies. They were Bruce Willis-esque men of the decade’s characteristic action movies, or Presidential Leading Men in the decade’s very serious dramas. Yet here were Burton and Depp, working with big-budgets in successful science-fiction and fantasy films, telling stories about soft-spoken and bashful leading men.
Burton and Depp helped to re-shape the masculine movie-man. No small feat, either, from the director of Batman and Batman Returns. The mild-mannered stoicism of the middle-aged Bruce Wayne played by Mr. Mom Michael Keaton in 1989’s Batman tends to hide the fact that Tim Burton’s version of Batman is a darker vision than any that has ever been made (The Dark Knight’s version of the Joker may be darker, but not it’s vision of Batman).
Before any of this, though, before the marriage of Depp and Burton and before the massive success of Batman, came the most visionary haunted-house horror comedy of all-time: Beetlejuice.
Rare it is to find a film that truly stands alone in the history of the movies. But Beetlejuice is such a film.
Beethlejuice is so weird, it tells such a bizarre story, Michael Keaton’s performance is so remarkably bonkers, that it cannot be captured in a few short sentences. You’ll just have to go watch it.
Beetlejuice was Burton’s second feature film after Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Though Pee-Wee is wonderful, it’s Beetlejuice that really introduces Tim Burton the director. It is quite possible that Beetlejuice contains everything that would ever find it’s way into Tim Burton’s ouvre. The pale-faced male at the center of the story–who is quite possibly insane, the potentially catastrophic consequences of the spiritual/magical/supernatural world finding its way into the real world, a romantic worldview that is unbreakable, the weirdest houses you could ever imagine in the most gothic settings, it’s all here in Beetlejuice.
Beetlejuice is a film made by a director who cannot contain the strange wonders of a truly unique imagination. And for 10 years, that imagination produced marvel after marvel at the movies.
Until it didn’t.
Those of us who grew up on and hold very dear to the decade of great films directed by Tim Burton keep waiting for a return to the inspired days of yore. Things turned around a little with Burton’s last picture, Frankenweenie–a return for Burton to stop-motion animation and horror. And now, perhaps that world of pure imagination (as Wonka said in the watchable version of that story) can come back by returning once more to the source. According to The Wrap, Tim Burton is in talks with Warner Bros. to direct Beetlejuice 2.
Call that character back once more, Mr. Burton, and let’s get all this sorted out and return again to the strange days.
Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice.