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How Beetlejuice Became an Iconic Character Despite His Screen Time


How Beetlejuice Became an Iconic Character Despite His Screen Time


Summary

  • Beetlejuice
    mixed tones and genres perfectly in 1988, proving audiences love Tim Burton’s weird style.
  • Michael Keaton’s Betelgeuse was iconic, with less than 20 minutes of screen time.
  • Keaton’s return in
    Beetlejuice Beetlejuice
    is crucial, alongside the new faces joining the sequel to the terrific film.



In 1988, Tim Burton released Beetlejuice. The fantasy horror comedy mixed all kinds of tones for what eventually would become one of Burton’s best films. The reception was more than ideal: critics loved it, and the box-office return proved audiences were intrigued by the odd look and feel of Burton’s big Hollywood movie for adults. It won an Academy Award for Best Makeup and established itself as an important piece of pop culture.


The clever mix of raunchy comedy and unnerving horror was also Michael Keaton’s most outlandish role up to that point. Playing Betelgeuse, the bio-exorcist with the ability to torment the dead, Keaton brought a unique kind of villain to life. One that, with just a couple of minutes, reformulated the idea of how much, as an audience, we could sacrifice a broken scale of ethics if it just meant seeing more of his shenanigans. Let’s find out how Betelgeuse, or Beetlejuice, became iconic despite having less than 20 minutes of screen time.


Who Is Betelgeuse, and How Is He Summoned Beetlejuice?

beetlejuice

Beetlejuice

Release Date
March 30, 1988

Director
Tim Burton

Studio
Warner Bros. Pictures


Beetlejuice tells the story of Adam and Barbara Maitland, husband, and wife, living in their beautiful home in Winter River, Connecticut. The Maitlands suffer a horrible accident and drown. Unable to accept their deaths, probably because they seem to live and breathe but regularly bend the rules of the land of the living, the Maitlands try their best to accept the fact that they’re “stuck.” They can’t leave the house because if they open the door, they land in a ghostly desert where a giant worm eats the undead. However, when the Deetz family arrives and basically invades the home of the Maitlands, they resort to non-traditional ways in order to keep the new owners out.


That’s where Betelgeuse comes in. Even though everyone in the afterlife advises against calling for Betelgeuse (who even has the most hilarious TV commercials in the realm of the dead), the Maitlands summon the bio-exorcism specialist. Though he offers his services, they reject his help. Betelgeuse is an obnoxious and rotting character who claims to “have seen The Exorcist 167 times, and it keeps getting funnier.” He offers them a chance to terrorize the Deetz family, but given how “unethical” he seems, Adam and “Babs” say no. Right then and there, they realized their caseworker, Juno, was right. Betelgeuse was her assistant who fell from grace and now works on his own to scare people to death.

But the Deetz family is too nosy and invasive, and the daughter Lydia starts showing signs of her connection with the afterlife. She’s the only one who can see the Maitlands because she’s read the Handbook for the Recently Deceased and contacts Betelgeuse “seeking answers.” Unfortunately, Lydia can’t stop her parents from trying to exploit the Maitlands. The undead decide to ask for Betelgeuse’s help, and the ghost with the most comes knocking with a few demands, including getting engaged to Lydia and taking her for eternity.


Michael Keaton’s Performance and the Script Led to the Icon

Keaton’s execution of the character is memorable in every scene Betelgeuse is in. Luckily, the script and Burton’s sharp direction help restrict the character from being overexposed in substance. However, this doesn’t mean you don’t feel his presence throughout the movie. Everything in Beetlejuice revolves around Betelgeuse and his ability to disrupt everything in the realms of the living and the dead.

In the film, only a handful of scenes feature the character. The best ones are:

  • The greatest fictional commercial you will ever see.
  • Betelgeuse’s introduction to the Maitlands lasts about five minutes and ends on a graciously profane note by the bio-exorcist.
  • Betelgeuse meets Lydia and tries to convince Lydia to get him out of the miniature model where he lives (roach-munching included).
  • The final sequence where Betelgeuse shows his power to bend the world to his own will in a Burton-esque extravaganza of “Bugs Bunny meets William Castle.”


In the film’s final sequence, we glimpse his power and how far he will go to achieve his goal. It’s a matter of balance, and Burton uses the third act to provide audiences with a memorable character that, up to that point, had stayed behind. It’s also not a coincidence that Keaton gives his all in every second of the performance, which cemented the character in popular culture.

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His performance as the iconic character adds up to about 17 minutes of footage in a 92-minute film. You would think that’s short, but Keaton’s work is loud and terrific, including dirty jokes every second but never drifting too far away from the horror genre. It was a matter of good characterization, writing, and the restraints of a film that always leave you wanting more. It’s ironic that, given this was his most important film and would remain so for a long time, he shows up for less than 20 minutes. Also, his others didn’t feature Keaton’s explosive performance bursts (only comparable to Bruce Wayne’s “let’s get nuts!” moment in Batman).


A sequel to Beetlejuice always sounded like a good idea. Yes, even that absurd idea of “Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian” concept that never materialized. Since 1990, Warner Bros. has tried to do something with the character, but nothing has made them and Burton click. The ’90s went by, and while it seemed impossible from the creative point of view, there was another factor. Keaton’s work as Betelgeuse was so unique that it prevented anyone from playing the character again for decades. That was until 2024, when all stars aligned together, and audiences got a glimpse of the return of Beetlejuice.

Beetlejuice 2 Should Be a Hit With Michael Keaton’s Return


The upcoming sequel to Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, is set to be released next September. Burton sits in the director’s chair once again with new writers. The film will also bring back Winona Ryder in the role of Lydia and, of course, Michael Keaton as the title character. They will join more newcomers to the franchise: Jenna Ortega, Justin Theroux, Monica Bellucci, and Willem Dafoe, among others.

Considering how important Ortega is for the current generation of moviegoers, her addition to the movie is crucial. Keaton had this to say about the young actor in an interview with ET: “Oh man, she’s good, she’s just got it, you know? She’s got the tone. She showed up and just immediately knew what the tone was and just slipped in like she does every day.” However, we’ve yet to see how she does as Astrid, Lydia’s daughter. In the sequel, Dafoe is playing a detective in the afterlife, and Belluci will play the bio-exorcist’s wife.


Regarding the production of Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, the biggest question was whether Keaton would return to play the iconic character. Not even Burton’s involvement was as crucial as Keaton’s, given the director’s distancing from the bizarre style that always made him a singular director. However, Keaton returns and plays the character he can never get away from. Without his involvement, the upcoming sequel would have likely been a box-office failure. Beetlejuice is available to rent on Apple TV or stream on Sling, and Beetlejuice Beetlejuice is set to release in theaters on Sept. 6, 2024.

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