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Landscape design in movies: Beetlejuice!

I realize that I probably pick up on design details in movies that “normal” people don’t really care about, but one movie where design played an important role is Beetlejuice. From time to time I’d love to talk about landscape design in film and television, and what better place to start than with one of my favorites?


For those who haven’t seen Beetlejuice, a synopsis: sweet dowdy couple Adam and Barbara live in an old house in New England until they perish in a covered bridge crash (I grew up in New England and can swear that these are not as common as Hollywood would lead you to believe). They’re prepared to settle into eternity haunting the house they love when urban yuppies the Deetzes move in. Hijinks ensue, including the appearance of Michael Keaton as the titular ghost Beetlejuice. Now come on, go rent it and come back. We’ll wait.

FYI, I love clients like this
FYI, I love clients like this

When we first meet the doomed couple the house is in need of an update. Believe me, I can sympathize with the plight of a young couple working to rehab an older home in a rural town. When the Deetzes move in they enlist the services of offbeat designer Otho to… well… see for yourself:


It’s very ’80s, no doubt about it. Set designer Bo Welch (who also worked on all three MiB films and Edward Scissorhands) clearly wanted to make sure we all got the joke, that this unholy nightmare was what you got when you turned over the top Manhattanites loose in rural Vermont. I appreciate the non-existent landscaping because it’s appropriate for both contexts of the home, the house-as-contemporary-art and the old-farmhouse-on-a-hill. I’ve seen Loudoun County landscape design projects that play with this idea, no doubt about it.

The vast majority of the action in Beetlejuice takes place inside, but the scene filmed on the deck really shows the way the Deetzes have separated themselves from the beautiful setting they’ve acquired. Rolling New England farmland is best enjoyed through a window.


While there may not be a lot that happens outside the house in Beetlejuice, the house itself is important to the main characters and therefore the movie. What movies do you love where the landscape design plays an important role?


    July 25, 2013 REPLY

    Dave. Dave. Dave!! Terrific choice of a favorite movie, lol. I hate admitting to my Anti-Cultural biases so readily, but I thought Beetlejuice ranked up there with the iconic films Blazing Saddles, Up In Smoke and the Detective Frank Durbin Mystery Series as challenging intellectual feasts. 😉

    I once hitchhiked as a youngster up the British Columbia Coast and caught a ride with a geologist. His all time favorite movie for sheer landscape love was Lawrence of Arabia. Naturally enough, he was talking about an expansive natural world, but isn’t that what you do as well? I’d be surprised if Nature’s Best were not on a landscape designer’s list of ideal mimicry.

      July 29, 2013 REPLY

      Steve ok, maybe intellectually challenging is not what I would say, but… awesome all the same!

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