Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Beetlejuice

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, May 24, 1999

This thing reads like stereo instructions.

Special features

Cast Information3
Isolated Score6
Production Notes3

Adam and Barbara Maitland die and haunt their house, only to discover that they aren’t very good at haunting and need to call in an expert: the “ghost with the most”, Beetlejuice.

DirectorTim Burton
Movie Rating6
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating7
  • Enhanced Widescreen
  • Pan and Scan

This is one of my favorite movies, not least because of the significant Harry Belafonte presence in the soundtrack. The story’s pretty simple: two people die, someone else moves into their house, they try to scare the newcomers away. Hilarious visions of the afterlife (most of the afterlife is apparently spent in a waiting room run by suicide “victims”) combined with a sardonic view of the foredeath make this a movie worth seeing over and over.

You’ll need to like Harry Belafonte, but who doesn’t?

Basic idea: Adam and Barbara Maitland die and return as ghosts. Someone else moves into their house, and they decide to “haunt” the place to force the new tenants out.

This is the best performance I’ve seen from either Alec Baldwin or Geena Davis. They just aren’t normally my cup of tea. Jeffrey Jones, as Charles Deitz, the father of the new family moving in, did a near-perfect performance. You may remember him as the principal in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder put in fine performances as his “eccentric” wife and daughter—each crazy, each at odds with each other.

But it was Michael Keaton who was the star, as the “bio-exorcist” who “does not work well with others”. He is at his zany, zagnut best.

The afterlife is fascinating, with just the right “special effects”. Most of the “special effects” for the afterlife were simply good interior design choices—something the director uses in the movie with the Dietz’s interior designer. Odd angles, strange corners, and a bit of smoke and makeup are all you really need for a very haunting limbo.

The set design is beautiful, and not just in limbo. The Maitlands may not like Otho’s interior design, but I think whoever they got to make his designs in the movie did a great job. I want a house like that!

The movie’s transfer is fairly good. I thought at first that the transfer was from a poor original at the beginning, but I think that’s just that I can see the graininess the director deliberately put into that part of the movie, and I just never saw it on VHS because VHS didn’t have the quality to show it. In any case, things clear up later on. Speaking of which, I have never seen this movie in the theater, I’ve only seen it on VHS in pan & scan, but now after seeing it in widescreen the VHS version seems claustrophobic! This is especially apparent in the opening scene, the moving aerial shot of the Maitlands’ home town. I’m not even sure it’s because things are being chopped off the ends; the disc contains both the widescreen and the pan & scan version, and I think there may be more unmatting than chopping to make the pan & scan. But it still just plain looks more wide open in widescreen, a much better opening.

There are pretty much no extras on this disc, just some production notes and cast information that could just as well have been included on paper. There is an isolated score, but I’m not sure what use it is, as it includes the “white space” where there was no music over the movie.

Bottom line, if you like the movie, you’ll almost certainly want to buy this disc for your collection. If you haven’t seen it yet, at the very least you need to rent it.

Recommendation: Purchase

DirectorTim Burton
ActorsWinona Ryder, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones
Spoken languagesEnglish, French, Spanish
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
Special FeaturesCast Information, Isolated Score, Production Notes, Trailer
More links

If you enjoyed Beetlejuice…

If you enjoy Geena Davis, you might also be interested in Thelma & Louise.

If you enjoy goth, you might also be interested in Amadeus and Edward Scissorhands.

If you enjoy Jeffrey Jones, you might also be interested in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

If you enjoy Tim Burton, you might also be interested in Edward Scissorhands.

If you enjoy Winona Ryder, you might also be interested in Edward Scissorhands.