A Color Story: Beetlejuice

Title: Beetlejuice
Year: 1988
Director: Tim Burton
Writer(s): Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren (screenplay), Michael McDowell, Larry Wilson (story)
Producer(s): Michael Bender, Larry Wilson, Richard Hashimoto
Costume(s): Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Cinematography: Thomas E. Ackerman

Starring: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, and Michael Keaton.*


It’s a Tim Burton film, you know a Burton film from two things: music (this was Danny Elfman, a frequent collaborator) and color scheme/visual. He is one of the few directors that I can immediately see their work if no one told me. The others on that list are Craven, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Spielberg and Nolan.

Beetlejuice is a great example of what happens when you let an already very creative person just be creative. There’s no limitations. It’s a wild but fun narrative, the environment enhances the story and if you haven’t seen Beetlejuice, you have been living under a rock.

A story of an early deceased couple (Baldwin, Davis) being stuck in some kind of limbo while a new family, The Deetz’ (O’Hara, Jones and Ryder), arrive and shake up their world so to speak. They look to Beetlejuice (Keaton), to get rid of the new family. The film is whimsical, kooky, dark, comical and a deep dive into Burton’s color scheme.

The color scheme is so… cool.

It’s practically every color that can exist in this film. And I think because it’s such a fantasy based film, anything is possible. Any color imagined is possible. Green, white, red, blue, purple, yellow, black, it’s there and bright. There might be a “dullness” around certain colors but it’s clear that these are in your face, bold, neon and Burton doesn’t shy away from these colors.

The fact that Beetlejuice, the character himself, is in the colors of black and white is more purposeful. Black and yellow are used more frequently for warnings. Think of many signs that you drive by for crossing or one ways, but also police tape, bees, etc. It is one of the few things I remember from art school, that color combination because everyone would initially pick black and white. As for Beetlejuice, those colors represent life and death. How ironic. Again, nothing is by coincidence in this film.

Beetlejuice is a film about life and death and what happens after death. You have a main villain, who wears the colors representing life and death AND his “job”. And I like that the film doesn’t make the afterlife or limbo or anything like that look drab. Thank you, Beetlejuice for not making it look completely sad.

Check out other Burton collaborations where this kind of creativity is front and center (James & the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Alice in Wonderland, Big Fish, Mars Attack) and the colors and vibes are very, very similar. He has a signature film making style. 

*Yes, one name is missing. I’m aware. And it is on purpose.

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