Over the past two days I've had the pleasure of watching two Tim Burton movies on the train and realizing how much I like his directing. Monday I watched childhood favorite Beetlejuice (1988) and yesterday I checked out Mars Attacks (1996) for the first time. I also recently realized that Burton is probably the first director I was a fan of before I even realized what a director did. I remember watching Frankenweenie on the Disney Channel, I liked Batman, but Batman Returns was my favorite superhero movie for years and I have memories of Pee Wee's Big Adventure like anyone else my age, but wasn't too obsessed with it. In fact, Burton was probably the first director whose work I did recognize. And, perusing his credits on IMDb and realizing I've really enjoyed most of what I've seen, I've decided to give him the "... Is Awesome" tag, I'm sure he's super excited.
Before jumping into the movie reviews, I do want to note that I still haven't seen Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, but I have seen all of his other big movies. I didn't really like Sweeney Todd (apparently, I have a fear of razors against throats, who knew?) and I'm not particularly partial to Nightmare Before Christmas (which he didn't direct, but produced) or Corpse Bride, but I think that's because I resented paying full New York prices for a 76 minute movie. Anyway, not liking three movies and not seeing two movies puts him in that rare category of directors with a lot of movies which I have seen and liked. It's easy to say I like Tarantino or Kevin Smith, but they don't have all that many movies.
So, now onto Beetlejuice and Mars Attacks specifically. When I say I was a Beetlejuice fan as a kid, I'm talking full-on. I had the movie on tape of course, watched the cartoon, got as many of the toys as I could (I'll take pictures of what I have and do a separate post soon) and even dressed up as him for Halloween one year (Mom made the suit and we bought the official Beetlejuice toy mask with pop-out snakes!). And, the craziest thing about all this is that I was a fan even though I saw something on TV about Beetlejuice that scared me so much I had nightmares.
I've been searching YouTube and the internet for any reference to this, but can't find it. Around the time the movie came out, I saw this talk show aimed at kids either on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel where they interviewed some of the ghosts and monsters from the movie. I think the shrunken head hunter was on there, but I definitely remember the file clerk who got run over by a truck. There were a few others but I can't remember them. I also don't remember the details, but it scared me so bad I had nightmares for a while. Also note that this was well before I even entertained the idea of watching horror movies. Just the previews scared me. Ah, how far I've come.
It's been probably 10 years since I watched Beetlejuice all the way through (I picked the DVD up on the cheap sometime in the past year, but hadn't watched it). I still really dig this movie. It's got a great mix of comedy, action and horror, plus great performances by everyone involved from Michael Keaton as the Ghost With the Most down to Jane, the annoying real estate woman.
The only part that doesn't hold up is the special effects, which, according to the internet, Burton did on purpose as a reference to older sci-fi and horror movies (hence the stop motion animation of the sculptures and sandworms). But, other effects still look great, and mostly because they're practical. I love the ghastly faces Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin, he looks so young and thin!) put on to scare Lydia (Winona Ryder, also super young).
A couple of funny things I realized while watching this movie before Mars Attacks. First off, this is the second movie in two weeks I've watched where rich New Yorkers move away from the city to a quiet place somewhere north of the city. At least in Beetlejuice, they eventually tell you they're in Connecticut so I wasn't driving around trying to find the school house. Also, I realized while watching that Catherine O'Hara and Jeffrey Jones will always be "the people from Beetlejuice" in my head. I remember when O'Hara lated played the mom in Home Alone, I was psyched. And, while Jones will always be Ed Rooney to most, he's the dad from this movie and the bad guy from Who's Harry Crumb and that's the way it is.
Which brings me to Mars Attacks, which doesn't have single character/actor who I haven't seen in something else. Hell, even Jack Black's in this bad boy and he looks only a little less svelte than he did in Airborne. Heck even the kid from Solarbabies is in it, but to me he's still the whiny kid from that movie (though he's way more awesome and less girly now).
I can't think of a recent movie that has brought together so many famous actors in one flick (check out the full roster here). Sure, you could argue that some people like Sarah Jessica Parker or Lisa Marie weren't really all that famous at the time, but you've got Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Natalie Portman (also probably not super famous at the time) and Pam Grier! For the record, that's also the Joker, Cruella de Vil, James Bond, Penguin, Amidala AND Foxy Brown. That's a pretty epic team-up. (Any artists out there want to draw that up? It'd be rad?) Anyway, what I liked most about this star studded cast is the fact that so many of these big time starts got killed in really great and kind of gruesome ways. You really don't see THAT nowadays.
I know I'm late to the game by 13 years on this one. I'm not sure why I didn't see it when it came out or why it took so long for me to finally see it, but I'm really glad I did. It was very slow going at first and I kept wondering how all these different characters were going to fit together and really just wanted to get to the aliens blowing shit up, but I see why it all works. It's a satire on movies like it, but also society. Parker's character could be taken out of this movie and put on the NYC streets I walk everyday to get to work (I might have seen her last week actually, she just has a Blackberry now). That Burton fella's ahead of the curve methinks. Plus, the effects are cool and it's damn funny.
And dammitall if those aren't the cutest little aliens blasting the crap out of humanity. I loved their "ack ack ACK" dialogue and loved it even more when their heads exploded. Watching the second half of the movie really made me want to play whatever the latest Destroy All Humans game is. It also made me want to check out the original card series that the movie is based on (huh, basing a movie on a card set seems just as crazy as basing one on a board game, no?), which brought me to Zelda's Mars Attacks site, check it out!