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Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas Print E-mail
Monday, 25 August 2008
Tim Burton is probably the most powerful and creative genius in the world of dark and twisted feature films.  What might not be known to some of the readers out there is that Burton began with Disney as an unaccredited animator.  It was at time that Burton created a nightmare-ish holiday poem.  He pitched it to the traditional Disney animators, but was rejected on the grounds that the story was too scary for children.  Putting the rejection aside, Burton went on to success with "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure."  He followed up that success with "Beetlejuice," "Batman," "Edward Scissorhands" and many many others.

With Burton the most in demand writer, producer and director, in 1993 Disney obliged Burton by releasing "The Nightmare Before Christmas."  It was released to critical acclaim, although not so much by the children (Disney was right all along there).

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" is the story of Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, singing voice by Danny Elfman), the Pumpkin King in Halloween Town, and his struggle to find meaning in life beyond that is the redundant Halloween celebration each and every year.  After a journey through the woods one night, Jack arrives at a grove of trees, each with a symbol of a very familiar holiday.  Attracted to the tree with ornaments, Jack approaches and opens the door.  He is sucked into a world that is full of joy and goodness, Christmas Town.  Naturally, this town is much the opposite of Jack's Halloween Town.  After his song and dance, he returns to Halloween Town, where he gathers everyone for a meeting.  He introduces the idea of Christmas to the people, who accept the holiday in its misrepresented form. Jack spends enormous amounts of time trying to figure out the meaning of Christmas and its attraction.  He eventually comes up with a plan to steal the holiday and reform it.  He enlists the help of the entire town.  However, Sally, voiced by Catherine O'Hara, is uneasy about the plan.  She has a vision of the disastrous events that will take place.  Taking no heed of her warning, Jack continues with his plans, which include kidnapping Santa Claus from Christmas Town.  Jack proceeds to take Santa's place on Christmas Eve, delivering ghastly presents to the boys and girls of the real world. 

The entire vision for "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is all Tim Burton.  He wrote the story and developed the characters.  It is obvious that the visual and thematic elements are those of Burton.  Visually the film is dark and depressing.  Thematically, the film deals with the search for meaning and placement in life.  But Tim Burton films would not be what they are if it were not for the musical genius Danny Elfman.  His music and scoring skills is an exact match to Tim Burton's visual elements.

Burton never fails to leave out sly comedic humor from his films.  In the case of this film, it is present in each and every character of the film.  The stop-motion animation holds up well in today's world of digital animation.  Having been shot on 35mm film, this film contains realism that digital animated films just don't come close to.

The film is short in comparison to most, coming in at just over 70 minutes.  A short running time is not necessarily bad, but in the case of this film, the shortened time makes certain scenes seemed rushed.  The Christmas Town song and dance number was especially quick.  Overall, the film is very much along the lines of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."  Instead of one person trying to steal Christmas, it is an entire town.  And also, the characters are a little bit creepier than the Grinch.  But, when you really look at the film, it is not very original.  Not as original as the film's title would have you think.

The film has been released a few times on DVD in the past, each using the same film transfer and a few different special features.  The Blu-ray edition has been a long-awaited release.  It does not disappoint.  The video quality of the transfer is near perfect.  The blacks are incredible.  When you mix that with great shadow delineation, you get a picture that pops right off the screen.  The dark environment of Halloween Town is easy to distinguish from the darkly dressed characters of the film.  While Halloween Town is drab in color, Christmas Town is very colorful.  The colors are accurate and not overly saturated.  Details are terrific.  Previous DVD releases yield a very soft image.  The Blu-ray release shows the viewers details never seen before.  My only complaint I have in regards to the video quality is that there are some minor artifacts present in the moon sequences.  It is seen more as pixelation.  There is also some discrete edge enhancement that is only really visible again around the moon.  Other than that, the picture quality is inspiring.

The audio is presented in both Dolby True HD 7.1 (or Tru HD as labeled on the packaging) and Dolby Digital 5.1.  The Dolby TrueHD track is a bit weak.  The extra two surround channels are manufactured, and offer no real improvement to the soundtrack.  However, it is wonderful to see the studios embracing the format.  Dialogue is clearly audible, however the mix is a bit unbalanced during the song and dance numbers.  The bass is present, but is somewhat shallow.  It would be nice if the mix reached deeper into the LFE channel.  There is also a bunch of compression present, which is almost undoubtedly part of the original soundtrack.  In the case of this compression, it results in a lot of sibilants.  The constant whistle on the "s" consonant becomes easily tiresome.  The music mix is fairly muddy.  All the instruments collide with each other as they lay in the same frequency range.

The disc is loaded with extra features, many of which have been ported over from the previous DVD releases.  Presented in standard definition are Tim Burton's short films, "Frankenweenie" and "Vincent."  There is also a section for deleted scenes.  There are a few deleted storyboards and a few deleted animated sequences.  Other standard special features include, "The Making of Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,'" "The Worlds of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' – Halloween Town, Christmas Town, Real World," Storyboard-To-Film Comparison, and Original Theatrical Posters and Trailers.

There are also several special features new to this Collector's Edition release.  There is an audio commentary by Tim Burton, director Henry Selick, and music producer Danny Elfman.  "What's This? Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour" is promotion for the theme park attraction based on the movie.  This feature is presented in an on-track and off-track version.  The on-track version is abbreviated.  Much more interesting is the off-track version, running at about 40 minutes, which contains interviews.  Christopher Lee reads Tim Burton's original poem, the basis for the film.  The disc sports a d-box motion code.  The Collector's Edition contains a DisneyFile Digital Copy of the film on a separate disc.  And, exclusive to the Blu-ray edition is an extremely brief introduction to the film by Tim Burton, accessible through the Play menu.

Sadly, there are many special features that were not included on this Blu-ray release.  Previous DVD releases contained an audio commentary with Henry Selick and cinematographer Peter Kozachik.  Some of Henry's lines were included in the new commentary, but Peter's commentary disappeared altogether.  Also, there were an extreme number of features that were present on the LaserDisc releases of the film way back in the day.  These extra features have never seen the light of day since.

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" was a major hit for Disney, and has become one of Tim Burton fans' favorite films.  But, in the end the film is not very engaging.  The song and dance numbers are not as attractive as other Disney films and the plot of the film is unoriginal and too simplistic.  It is most definitely a film that should be added to your collection, in terms of video quality and importance to the film genre.  However, for those that don't embrace the storyline and find the concept a bit disturbing, might wish to just take a quick of the film and move on.

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