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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

 

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]

 

(Henry Selick, 1993)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Touchstone Pictures

Blu-ray: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 76 minutes

Chapters: 20

Size: 50 GB

Case: Locking Amaray Blu-ray case with Slipcover

Release date: August 26th, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC

 

Audio:

Feature Film: English 7.1 Dolby True HD (48 kHz/24-bit); English, French & Spanish 5.1 DD. Bonus Features: English 5.1 or 2.0 DD

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, French & Spanish

 

Extras:

• Disney File Digital Copy (disc two)

• An Introduction by Tim Burton (the only exclusive to Blu-ray)

• Film Commentary: Commentary by producer and writer Tim Burton, director Henry Selick and music designer Danny Elfman.

• Tim Burton's Original Poem narrated by Christopher Lee in 1080p (10:57)

• What's This?: Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour

• Frankenweenie!: an early live action short film, plus a new introduction by Tim Burton (30:00).

• Tim Burton's Short Film

• The Making of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (24:40)

• The Worlds of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas : an art gallery of nearly 500 images of Halloween Town, Christmas Town and the Real World.

• Deleted Scenes (8:00)

• Storyboard to Film Comparison (3:45)

• Original Theatrical Trailers and Posters

 

 

 

The Film: 8
English usage is, as we all know, a very strange business. It permits – yeah, even depends on, for its effect – a certain degree of ambiguity. Case in point: Whenever Criterion advertises one of their releases as "Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky" or "Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca" we understand that Eisenstein and Hitchcock are the directors of those films. And when the title on the cover of the DVD reads "Bram Stoker's Dracula" we somehow know that Bram Stoker, a man who had been dead already for eighty years, wasn't, nor was he available as a creative consultant. We may even be suspicious that the movie might not be as faithful to Stoker's novel as we are led to believe by the claim of the title.

So what are we to make of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" – a film that with the passage of time it has become that much harder to see as not having been directed by Tim Burton? It hasn't helped Victor Fleming to have the name of Selznick's studio three separate times above the title of Gone With the Wind. And will Tobe Hooper really ever get the credit for directing Poltergeist, instead of its producer, Steven Spielberg? Will Henry Selick ever get the credit he deserves or will he become another Tobe Hooper – or worse? And will Disney's new Blu-ray of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas respond to any of this admittedly arcane line of thought, or already has in their 2000 2-disc Special Edition DVD? (And, no, I don't get paid by the word.)

In fact, the question of what part of what we see on the screen is Burton's and what part Selick's has already been vetted on the SE DVD in both that commentary and the Making-Of docu-featurette that has been ported over to the Blu-ray. By now it's probably well known that Burton pitched his idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas to Disney when he was working there as an animator nearly twenty years ago, but the story concept was deemed a bit dark and the basic art design a little too off-beat for what Disney thought of as their audience at that time.

The gist of the story tells of the ennui of Jack Skeffington, the Pumpkin King in a world of monsters, ghouls and lightweight scary creatures. Tired and bored of the same old, same old Halloween frights, for which he has become the undisputed master, he accidentally and fatefully tumbles into the world of fun and good cheer, aptly named Christmas Town – a world hitherto unknown to Jack and his fellow citizens he left behind moments ago. Swept off his skinny legs by all this charm, Jack begins to give some thought to a holiday of his own, in which he himself could stand in for Santa Claus. The citizens of Halloween Town, quite naturally, must needs put their personal stamp on the proceedings with the expected result.

The story line was later developed with the help of Caroline Thompson, who added some romance for Jack in the character of Sally who, in good matinee melodrama fashion, is forever trying to escape from the clutches of her creator, the mad scientist. (All of a sudden the image of Vincent Price, as Edward Scissorhands' much more benign creator, popped into my head. Price is found lurking about in Burton's first short film, also titled "Vincent." There's some fascinating cross-fertilization going on here.

Revisiting The Nightmare Before Christmas tonight, it's hard for me not to think of
Corpse Bride (aka "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride"), made a dozen years after Nightmare. Both are stop-motion animation feature films that make dramatic use of color vs. destaurated color – for not dissimilar reasons: the idea of different worlds, representing life and death (or nearly). Both are musicals, and both are phantastic: with big-eyed humanoids, recognizable, yet amusingly distorted creatures and corpses that seem like L. Frank Baum on acid. Compared technically, it is evident that Nightmare is more primitive, while it is more spontaneous dramatically, less disciplined. We can see the occasional almost anime-like seams in Nightmare, which pretty much have given way to an eerie, unsettling perfection in Corpse Bride.

In
Corpse Bride, our depressed and hapless "live" hero, Victor, finds himself in a more lively world under the graveyard. Jack Skeffington, Nightmare's "Pumpkin King" just as accidentally and fatefully tumbles into a vivid world of the living. Corpse Bride simply turns the idea on its head. .)

Ah! Before I forget, this is not the Disney Digital 3-D version of the movie, released theatrically for the Octobers of 2006, 2007 and scheduled again in two months. I understand from Disney they have no plans at this time, etc. etc. . . . . The simultaneous release of 2-disc and Blu-ray "Collector's Editions" on August 26 marks the third DVD and first high definition release of this movie, with still an earlier version on laserdisc (remember that format?)

 


 

Image: 9/9.5
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVDs, including SD 480i.

I may as well continue with my comparisons to Corpse Bride, which the Beaver has yet to formally review. All the same, I imagine anyone interested in the purchase of The Nightmare Before Christmas will likely have the later movie. The surprise is that TNBC looks and sounds better. Well, it's no surprise that it sounds better, since Warner did not opt for an uncompressed audio track, but for a groundbreaking film, as it were, made a dozen years earlier, the source materials have been well preserved, and Disney's remastering reveals wonders not seen in any previous video incarnation. By comparison, Warner's rendering of Corpse Bride is noticeably softer (and here I am assuming a certain similarity of source elements – indeed, according to the IMDB Corpse Bride was shot on 35 mm Fuji Super F-125T 8532 and TNBC on 35 mm Eastman 100T 5248, so I think they both start off not so different.) Corpse Bride is not just softer, but less dynamic in terms of black levels and color saturation as well. Some of this may have been consistent with the artistic designs of the two films – after all, Corpse Bride is a greyer movie in a number of ways. But even the colorful scenes under the graveyard lack the intensity of color found on Disney new master for TNBC.

Comparing the Blu-ray with the previous SE DVD reveals the truth of the matter at a glance. I have provided comparative screen caps of the entire projected image, including the letterboxing that both videos necessarily produce as a result of the less than 16x9 aspect ratio. A number of things leap off the screen: the SE's left/right cropping of the image, its yellow color cast and general brightening, both of which are more or less consistent throughout the video. In the 100% crops we can readily see the Blu-ray's improved resolution and sharpness, color saturation and relative lack of noise (partly a result of improved resolution.)

There are flashes of less than perfect resolution throughout the movie, but they come and go so quickly that most critical people might not even notice them unless they were looking for them. Not as tight as Cars, this is, all the same, a knockout image.

 

SD - TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

SD - TOP (Cropped segment) vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

(CLICK to ENLARGE)

 

 

SD - TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

More Blu-ray grabs....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 9.5/8
From the start, the 7.1 Dolby True HD mix is an immersive experience. The sound is all around you – and since that sound is music and singing, we know right off that The Nightmare Before Christmas is going to be no ordinary soundtrack. Just as the visuals take us from the first nighttime scenes in desaturated Halloween Town to the brilliant colors of Christmas Town, likewise the audio mix, especially in uncompressed audio, move convincingly from a fully surrounding envelope to distinctive, front directed dialogue. There are a number of moments that will test the balance of your system, as when Jack spins down the tree trunk into Christmas Town: the effects spin with him, whirling gaplessly about the room. It's all exceeding fun.

But more than that, the 7.1 Dolby True is vivid and gnarly, without being grating. This is especially important in the choruses, such as the opening "This is Halloween," where the camera wanders from the outer graveyard into the town proper, catching a critter here and a ghoul there whose voice is just discernable and accurately located in the midst of the din. Danny Elfman's angular music is very catchy; it is to TNBC what Steiner's score is to Gone With the Wind – inseparable. In the case of "What's This?" perhaps a little too catchy – I'm still having trouble getting it out of my head the next day.

 

 

Operations: 10
Walt Disney Studios Blu-rays continue their chapter-skipable previews and promos before the loading of the feature film begins. Extending the menu information offered in recent Blu-rays, Disney's menu for TNBC is now the benchmark, listing not only the length of the various segments along with a brief description, but in the Scene Selection menu (and elsewhere) provides a time line along with a preview of the audio that begins that scene. Don't be surprised if you have to hit "Continue" after clicking on the scene thumbnail if you want to go that scene. Once in Bonus Features, accessing the Top Menu takes you right back to the Bonus Feature page – or you may elect to return to the movie wherever you last left off.

 

 

 

Extras: 8
With the exception of a newly recorded Introduction by Tim Burton, the segment with Christopher Lee reading Tim Burton's original poem, supported by animated drawings based on Burton's original art work, and Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour, all the other features are in 480i and were present on the SE DVD, thus 8 points instead of 10.

The high and low points in these extras are Tim Burton's embarrassing "Exclusive to Blu-ray" Introduction, which turns out not only to be short – like maybe 4 or 5 lines – but it's not about the movie, but the Blu-ray – something like: This is the first time I've seen Nightmare Before Christmas in Blu-ray. . . The colors are gorgeous. . . Hope you enjoy it. It's the sort of thing that Disney would have been better off not mentioning in their ads.

The high point is as high as the "Exclusive" Introduction is low: The inimitable Christopher Lee reading Tim Burton's original poem against a 1080p background of quasi-animated drawings based on Burton's original art work – which, by the way, in the course of its eleven minutes, also helps answer my original question about where Burton leaves off and Selick begins.

Jack's "Haunted Mansion Holiday" Tour, in somewhat fuzzy 1080i, is viewable both as a 7-minute tour - the camera taking the point of view of a park visitor – or a 37-minute behind the scenes tour, discussing and demonstrating how Disneyland designers incorporate the themes and images from the movie into the mansion experience. Having been on this ride at the park, I found this segment to be fascinating.

The commentary is new, with Burton, Selick and Elfman recorded separately, but coherently. It is more lively than the one used for the SE DVD with Selick and his cinematographer. The remaining bonus features are more or less the same as appeared on the 2-disc SE.

The Making-Of documentary persists in the use of the 24-minute version, edited from the 40-minute original on laserdisc.

 

 

Bottom line: 9
Even if Disney were to release a 3D version of Nightmare Before Christmas on Blu-ray, given my impressions of the present technology from the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Concert, this 2D version would be the one to watch at home – unless, of course, you're a kid. This new Blu-ray is recommendable on every score – and it's great family entertainment to boot.

 

Leonard Norwitz
August 24, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 





 

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