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Tim Burton Series: Beetlejuice & Batman

October 22, 2008
My first Tim Burton movie was Batman, way back in 1990. I was just around 20 and watched it in on the screen, and was totally blown away by the dark, brooding atmosphere of the movie, the action pieces and of course Jack Nicholson’s manic performance as The Joker. Couple of days later i again caught another Tim Burton movie Beetlejuice in the theater, and just loved its crazy weird look. And from then on, i have faithfully watched every Tim Burton movie, right up to Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber. He might not exactly be a darling of the critics, and many do feel put off by the dark, violent, surrealistic atmosphere of his movies. But for me i just love the energy in his movies, and also his stylish narration. So am just putting a couple of posts analyzing Tim Burton’s work in greater details. As Tim Burton’s has quite an impressive list of movies, and there is a lot to discuss about i feel, this would be a series of posts.
Beetlejuice, was Tim Burton’s second movie, and it largely established most of his signature style.Beetlejuice was a comic horror movie, starring Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, as Barbara and Adam Maitland, a newly married couple, who die in a road accident and become ghosts. Trouble starts when a New York family, the Detzees, consisting of Charles, an aspiring sculptor, his second wife Delia(Catherine O Hara), and Charles daughter from his first wife, Lydia( Winona Ryder), arrive at their palatial mansion. Under the guidance of an interior designer, Otho(Glenn Shaddix), they start to transform the mansion into a horrifying modern art replica. The Maitlands attempts to scare away the new arrivals, proves ineffective, and they take the help of a bio exorcist Beetlejuice( Michael Keaton). Only the cure proves to be even worse, as Beetlejuice is an obnoxious character, and takes a liking for Lydia.
Most of Burton’s movies have an underlying fable in them, and here too the basic story, reminds one of the famous Panchatantra story about a frog who lets in a snake into his home, to get even with his rivals, and later finds that the snake starts to destroy his own family.
Winona Ryder’s character has a Goth mentality, in that she feels totally alienated from her surroundings. In fact she is the only person who can see the Maitland ghosts and becomes friends with them. I think it was more a reflection of Burton’s school years, where he was the quiet, self absorbed guy, and in fact he would escape the reality, by watching low budget horror and sci fi flicks, especially those of Ed Wood, to whom he made a tribute. Basically most of Burton’s characters happen to be persons who are alienated from the normal world. Lydia is a loner in her family, and her only friends happen to be the Ghosts. As she tells them

Well I read through that handbook for the recently deceased, it says live people ignore the strange and unusual. I myself am strange and unusual.

The Deetzes family, reflects Burton’s disenchantment with urban life. He would provide a more scathing critique of suburban life in Edward Scissorhands later. Charles, is a totally burnt out careerist, who just wants to relax, but in reality he is dominated by his domineering wife Delia. 
Beetlejuice is the movie’s most important character, played by Michael Keaton. With a pretty weird appearance, he wants to have Lydia, so that he could lead a normal life. Not really much is known about him, except the fact that he has lived through the Black Death, and never had a woman in 600 years. In fact this is a kind of Ghostbusters in reverse, where a pair of spirts take the help of another spirit, to scare away humans.
The movie has some fabuluous special effects, another signature of Burton’s movies. In fact the entire budget for Visual Effects was only 1 million $, with Burton stating that he deliberately wanted to achieve a B movie look. Some of the effects like Beetlejuice’s head turning around, and cigarette smoke, comming through the throat of Slyvia Sidney, are really wacky.
After Beetlejuice, Tim Burton’s next major venture was Batman in 1989. Though Burton was never a major comics fan, he neverthless liked The Killing Joke, and that was his main influence for the movie.

Batman was conceptualized by its producer Mike Ulsan, was to make a Batman movie, that reflected the character’s original dark nature, as opposed to the campy TV series. Both Columbia and UA, turned the script down. Burton was hired as director for the movie in 1986 and he totally rewrote the script. His main intention was to provide a faithful adaptation of the original character, and for him The Killing Joke was the best reference. Though Warner was still reluctant to move on, the success of Beetlejuice, itself a kind of dark comedy. The fans though were not impressed, as Burton was still associated with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Michael Keaton was more famous for his comedies.
The movie was released in 1989, and its dark brooding tone, became a major hit with fans and audiences alike. But the show was totally stolen by Jack Nicholson, as The Joker. In fact some critics felt that the movie was more about The Joker than the Batman. Burton however felt that both the Joker and Batman were freaks in their own way. Nicholson’s Joker is far different from Heath Ledger’s in the 2008 version. It is a mixture of comedy and menace. In fact his was more prevalent in the 80’s trend of over the top villians, a kind of Mogambo meets Gabbar Singh. Unlike Ledger’s totally dark version of The Joker, Nicholson’s is a more quirky one, showing his romantic side, when he courts Vicki Vale( Kim Bassinger).
Comming to Gotham City, Burton deliberately came up with a kind of bleak urban metropolis, and Bob Kane, one of the co authors of Batman, said it was just as he envisaged it. Also the Batmobile in the movie was based on the Salt Flat racers of the 30’s. The movie has some great action scenes like the one showing how The Joker gets his visage, and the Joker and his cohorts robbing a museum. Batman was a big departure from the campy TV series, in that it remained totally faithful to the original story, and would later prove to be the basis for Batman Returns and The Dark Knight.
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