Tim Burton is one of those directors whose work truly stands out from the crowd. His singular style—at once macabre, earnest, comic, dark, and heartfelt—has become his signature. He is known for his inventiveness in telling fantastical stories, in bringing to life the unimaginable. Burton’s expertise is clearly on display in his second full-length feature, Beetlejuice, a movie which catapulted him to another level of success. His deft depiction of the complex and tonally variable story of the Maitlands and Beetlejuice is vivid and unforgettable.
Burton’s background in animation is clearly on display in Beetlejuice. The visual world of the film is undeniably specific, yet never predictable, and there are several instances in which he gets to utilize his background in animation through his stop-motion rendering of the sandworms and the ambiguous interplay between the normal world and the miniaturized world of Adam’s model. Burton plays with the perception of the viewer in visually ingenious ways and depicts both life and afterlife in unexpected and distorted ways. At times, the lines between the supernatural and the normal are blurred to delightful ends. The world of the afterlife is darker than the world of the living, an underground network punctuated by neon lights and fantastical inhabitants with shrunken heads, colorful skin, and misshapen bodies. Tim Burton skillfully creates a cohesive and uncanny filmic world.
In addition, Burton achieves a great deal of humor in a very dark movie. The performances that he garnered from the actors—most notably Michael Keaton’s mile-a-minute manic comic performance as the titular character—make the film all the more delightfully weird. The cast he assembled and his abilities as a storyteller elevate the film beyond the visual and into the narrative. The result is a movie unlike any other, a truly singular work of fantasy filmmaking.