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Feature


Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, is tired of Halloween Town life. Somewhere deep inside of his bones an emptiness has started to grow. One night Jack wonders too far into the forest, and discovers a gateway to Christmas Town, a new and exciting place full of joy and happiness, rather then fear and misery. Jack decides to take Christmas away from Sandy Claus this year, and rallies his Halloween Town brethren to his noble cause.

Nightmare Before Christmas, The
There’s a small list of films somewhere in the back of my mind that, beyond being my favourites, are my personal litmus tests of those around me. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my litmus films, and if you’re one of those frightening people that don’t like it, I’m not quite sure I can trust you. From the concept, to the artistry, the music, even the acting, Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s joint ne plus ultra experiment is simply one of the most magical things ever put to film. I don’t even let those obnoxious emo-goth, Hot Topic shoppers that adopted the film get in the way of my love for it.

In many ways The Nightmare Before Christmas is an unparalleled success. It’s a film that really shouldn’t have been made by a studio, or released on more than maybe three screens. It was made using archaic techniques on the cusp of the digital effects revolution, and it broke into song when even Walt Disney animated productions were having second thoughts about musicals. The film is really too strange on every level to have ever found any kind of monetary success, or longevity behind a tight knit cult following, and yet, here we are, re-buying it on home video for the fourth time.

It almost restores your faith in humanity.

Nightmare Before Christmas, The
The film represents career apexes for all the major players, leading me to believe that this sum is greater then its parts. Henry Selick’s solo efforts have been either passable ( James and the Giant Peach) or dreadful ( Monkey Bone). His co-productions are always stronger (including his work on The Life Aquatic, and hopefully Coraline). Tim Burton’s expressionistic/gothic cartoon environment was apparently the perfect arena for Selick’s specific talents. To the same token, when Burton tried directing stop motion without assistance, the end effect was much less inspired, even with big name actors like Johnny Depp in the cast.

Burton’s career has always followed along the lines of fairy tales. His best work blends traditional folklore and modern storytelling techniques. He revels in worlds that take the fantastic for granted. The eccentrically decorative worlds of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, even the first two Batman films looked like nothing else on film, but were still somehow familiar, as if we’d been read them on our mother’s laps as children. Nightmare is a particularly natural fairy tale, with a specific and original look, and characters that fulfil the moral lessons of traditional folklore. In choosing Halloween and Christmas as the basis for his tale Burton also infuses it with centuries of holiday tradition as well.

Nightmare Before Christmas, The
Comparing Nightmare to The Corpse Bride or James and the Giant Peach is unfair for one reason—the lack of top shelf Danny Elfman. Sure, Corpse Bride has an Elfman score and a few songs, but these mostly just serve to remind us how much more magical Nightmare’s music truly is. I’d favourable compare the songs in Nightmare to every other musical in the history of film musicals. It may not be the very best (who can decide such things), but it stands up admirable to hard hitters like Marry Poppins, Westside Story, even The Wizard of Oz. Add to this the fact that Elfman so memorably sings his own songs, and you’ve got a career best for the former Oingo Boinger.

Video


There are some things you just need to re-buy when an improved version is made available. First I bought Nightmare on VHS, but it wasn’t widescreen, then I bought it on DVD, but it had no extras, so I was forced to buy it again. Needless to say, it wasn’t going to take a perfect transfer for me to get my hands on this Blu-ray version. This is probably as perfect as the film will ever look. It reveals new details that I missed even during the 3D re-release (which I thought was a massive disappointment), like groves in the street of Halloween Town, and sparkling bits of snow in Christmas Town.

Nightmare Before Christmas, The
Besides the heightened details, this new hi-def transfer displays brighter colours and deeper blacks. Sometimes the new bright hues bleed into each other ever so slightly, but the overall effect is that of near perfection, especially during the black light lit Oogie Boogie sequences. The autumn shades of Halloween Town are sometimes display a hint of noise, but the newly represented Christmas Town and real world are very tight, even with the purposefully soft focus camera. I’m a little surprised to see some print damage artefacts (mostly white flecks), but for the most part this is an unsoiled transfer.

Audio


It’s too bad that Disney didn’t go for a DTS-HD Master Audio track, but I don’t foresee many complaints concerning this Dolby Digital TrueHD 7.1 track. Even in theatres during the 3D re-release the mix wasn’t this active. Every channel layers Elfman’s score into a fully immersive atmosphere. So many film scores are mixed into what basically amounts to a Pro Logic track, spanning the stereo speakers and only using the middle and rear channels for slight bleed through and echo effects, but not this track. The mixing of the music into every channel creates the effect of being effectively surrounded by the orchestra. Even the singing moves beyond the centre channel, creating the effective of characters honestly moving from behind the viewer into frame. The subwoofer is very punchy and never over used, as is so often the case on bigger soundtracks. I had to turn the volume up to a higher level then I would’ve with a DTS track, but the dialogue normalisation doesn’t result in any noticeable distortion.

Nightmare Before Christmas, The

Extras


Many of these extras are carried over from the older special edition DVD release. The ‘exclusive’ extras start with a very quick word from Burton on his satisfaction with the new Blu-ray transfer. This is followed by a new audio commentary featuring Burton, Selick, and Danny Elfman. The commentators have all been recorded separately, and it appears that the Selick sections of the track were taken from the special edition release. I usually don’t really like cut-together tracks because of their artificial flow, but editing Burton is always a good idea, even if this is one of his better efforts. Danny Elfman’s contributions are the most thoughtful, but there’s something to learn from all three commentators.

‘What’s This? Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour’ is a virtual tour of the newly revamped Haunted Mansion ‘ride’ at Disneyland. Viewers can watch this odd camera guided tour with or without a trivia track. The new extras (which are all presented in 1080i) come to an end with Christopher Lee’s reading of Burton’s original poem, which was the inspiration behind the film. This is presented visually as a slightly animated storyboard based on Burton’s original sketches.

Nightmare Before Christmas, The
From here it’s nothing but the same old same old. The uncut version of Burton’s original short film Frankenweenie start these out. Frankenweenie, if you haven’t already seen it, is a cute little James Whale inspired short concerning a little boy’s attempts at resurrecting his dead dog, and what invariably goes wrong. The film looks fantastic for its presumed cost; Burton really captures that authentic Whale look, something that must be harder then it looks based on the hundred of failures pressed to film. The cast is also impressive, featuring Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, Paul Bartel, Barrett Oliver, and even a young Sofia Coppola (under the name Domino). The little Tim Burton intro tells us that the weirdo maverick is working on a stop motion, feature film adaptation as we speak. This is followed by one of Burton’s first attempts at stop motion animation, an amusing six minute short called Vincent (which was made using Stephen Chiodo animation).

Next are three deleted scenes in storyboard form, with Danny Elfman’s temp music on the soundtrack. These include deleted sections from ‘Making Christmas’ and ‘Oogies Song’, and an alternate ending where Oogie’s true identity is revealed. Then we have four deleted animation sequences, which are presented with rough music and slightly unfinished animation. The first is an extended version of Jack’s Christmas experiments, the second is an alternate version of Vampire hockey, the third is an extra bit with Lock Shock and Barrel, and the last is a bit of Oogie’s silhouette dancing. Selick says on his commentary that some of these scenes were cut for time, but one has to wonder about this judgment when the final film is only seventy-two minutes long.

Nightmare Before Christmas, The
The behind the scenes featurette is quite fluffy, and it was probably made to advertise the film on the Disney channel or HBO, but still manages to cover all the bases, even if they do it with super speed. The featurette is worth it for the footage of animators working with the puppets, and the actual sculpting of the armature puppets. It runs about twenty-five minutes. Things are completed with five different still galleries, and trailers for other Disney releases. Oh yeah, and that second disc? That’s just a digital copy version of the film.

Overall


If you’ve still got the previous special edition release, and no plans to buy a Blu-ray player any time soon, I say skip this new release. The new extras just aren’t quite worth the new purchase in my eyes. However, if you have a Blu-ray player you have no excuse. The transfer is crisp and colourful, and the TrueHD soundtrack is a standout.


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