THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Voices: Chris Sarandon,
Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Ken Page
Director: Henry Selick
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 76 Minutes
Release Date: August 26, 2008
“Haven’t you heard of peace on earth? Good will towards men?”
So the story goes that Tim Burton once saw a department store window being changed out…the Halloween decorations were coming down, and the Christmas ones were going up. This juxtaposition of the darkest holiday against the brightest one gave him an idea, which he turned into a poem.
Then, some years later, the poem became a film that was both groundbreaking and throwback. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a whimsical, musical, eye candied delight of a film, filled with imagination and wonder, yet in our modern age of CGI, was told in a very old-fashioned way; namely, stop-motion animation.
Though don’t get the wrong idea…this isn’t your father’s stop-motion. The quality of the animation maintains the surreal quality and slightly unreal effect of the classic style, but modern technologies allowed it to flow much more cleanly. Movement wasn’t so herky-jerky, the camera and animated figures could flow smoothly together, and the characters weren’t always rippling the way King Kong used to do.
The story is simple enough…each holiday has its own town and its own people who prepare for their annual event. In Halloween Town, that responsibility largely falls to the Pumpkin King Jack Skellington (Sarandon, singing voice by Elfman). But he’s grown weary of the same old frights and freakishness year after year. He needs some new inspiration, and not even his ghost dog Zero or the Frankensteinian woman Sally (O’Hara) who loves him from afar can provide it.
But when he gets lost and finds himself in Christmas Town, it’s like a whole new world. Bright colors, lights, presents, and good cheer…all are promising! And so, Jack returns to Halloween Town with a new idea and a new purpose. After all, shouldn’t Christmas belong to everyone? Then why shouldn’t the Halloween folks have a go at it?
It won’t be quite so easy…first off is to give Santa Claus…ah, a little forced vacation. Then, Jack and friends will take over the operation and give the world a new kind of Christmas. But alas, those Halloween folks don’t quite know how to break beyond the bonds of screams and scares. It’s going to be a long night.
This whole movie feels like a throwback to the television specials of old that still run every Christmas. In fact, the one complaint is that even at a short running time, this film feels a little long. The songs, which are lively, are a little overdone from time to time, and the plot is a little too succinct to sustain a full length feature. It might have been better served as one of those half hour specials for TV.
But what am I really complaining about? Too much of a good thing? Tim Burton’s imagination and his team of talented artists worked for three years to bring about a vision that was instantly classic and at the same time revolutionary. The Nightmare Before Christmas became a fast holiday staple, with the added benefit of being available for two major holidays. Despite a few disturbing images, kids have embraced it as much as their parents have.
For my own part, I always enjoy seeing it again, and always find it was worth the time, even if I do glance at my watch once or twice. 76 minutes in a world of limitless imagination is always a joyful time, especially with an imagination as twisted and fertile as that of Tim Burton.
BONUS TRIVIA: This movie was nominated for a special effects Oscar, but lost to some little picture about dinosaurs.
One of the best aspects of Blu-ray is when you can watch a movie you’ve seen numerous times before and have it feel like a completely new experience. The Nightmare Before Christmas is absolutely eye-popping. It’s so crisp and vividly detailed that it almost seems 3-D, and given the nature of the animation, almost looks like you’re in a giant play set come to life. The colors are striking, the contrast level in all shots but especially the darker ones is extraordinary, and there is so much detail shining through that you’ll notice plenty of tidbits you may never have seen before. Exemplary!
What an incredible mastering job…the 7.1 audio is one of the best I’ve heard. Those who handled the high definition transfer knew what they were doing; the crossovers are constant and smooth, as when someone talks off camera and steps on screen in the middle of a sentence. Dynamic range is stronger than ever, and there is more detail in the audio. Best of all is Danny Elfman’s music, which, orchestrated for uncompressed sound, is vivid and lifelike. Even harmonies are distinctly blended across the listening range for a more enveloping experience.
This Blu-ray disc comes fully loaded with fun extras, beginning with an exclusive (and very short) Blu-ray introduction from Tim Burton. There is a new commentary track featuring Burton, Danny Elfman and director Henry Selick. You can tour Disney’s Haunted Mansion as decorated for Halloween/Christmas with inspiration from this movie, and you can do it with or without a pop-up trivia track. There are deleted scenes, storyboard comparisons, a gallery of trailers and posters, and a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the movie. Or, for more detail, you can see how designs were created for Halloween Town, Christmas Town and the real world.
But that isn’t all…two Tim Burton short films are included, both cult favorites. Frankenweenie is here, with a new Tim Burton introduction (as he is making it into a full-length feature), and Vincent as well. Fun stuff. Completing the package is a reading of Tim Burton’s original poem by Christopher Lee, complete with concept drawings. There is also a digital copy of the movie.
Blu-ray at its best opens up a whole new experience for well-known films, and The Nightmare Before Christmas is Blu-ray at its best. The modern classic movie combined with a stunning new audio and video transfer and a ton of fun extras make for one of the year’s best overall releases.