Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D/2D Blu-ray Review

More astonishing and spectacular than ever before, Academy Award nominated writer/producer Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is now available for the first time ever to own on Disney Blu-ray 3D and/or 3D Movie Download!  The Nightmare Before Christmas is produced by Academy Award nominated writer and producer Tim Burton (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride) and Denise DiNovi (Edward Scissorhands, James and the Giant Peach), directed by Henry Selick (Coraline, James and the Giant Peach) and written by Michael McDowell (Beetle Juice, Thinner) and Caroline Thompson (Corpse Bride, The Addams Family).  And the spectacular charactersare voiced by  the talents of Chris Sarandon (The Princess Bride, Fright Night) as Jack Skellington’s speaking voice, Danny Elfman (Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Jack Skellington’s singing voice and Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone, Best In Show) as Sally, to name a few.

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

The idea for this film had been germinating in Tim Burton’s mind for years since as a young boy he liked to add Halloween decorations to his Christmas tree.  Since the two holidays were his favorites, he dreamed of how they could cross over and eventually wrote a poem that inspired this film (and is narrated by Christopher Lee in the bonus features).  The Nightmare Before Christmas as dreamed up by Burton, realized by Selick, and given a soul and a score by Elfman, is a new holiday classic with a twist.
In this movie, each of the holidays is visually represented and  separated by individual trees  that serve as portals to their respective lands.  For Halloween, the leader is a skeleton named Jack Skellington who is also known as the Pumpkin King and he’s in charge of the dark and monster-filled Halloween Town.  Every year at Halloween, the citizens band together to throw a scary parade  of sorts with prizes going to the scariest creatures.  While Jack puts on a good show with the rest of them, his heart isn’t in it anymore since he’s grown tired of it all.   He’s tired of being the Pumpkin King and he longs to do and see something new.  During a solitary walk, Jack discovers the other trees that lead to the other holiday themed lands and accidentally falls into the Christmas one.
This new land is so completely alien to Jack that he is overwhelmed by joy at the sights and sounds of it.  With it’s bright cheerly lights, snow, and happy elves, Christmas Town is the antithesis of Halloween Town and Jack craves it all.  He returns home with a bunch of Christmas Town items and spends days trying to understand their significance and what part each plays during the holiday.  Jack’s new obsession worries the denizens of Halloween Town, especially a young girl named Sally who loves Jack.  Sally wants to be supportive to him but she also believes that he’s making a mistake since she had a vision of the future where Jack ruins Christmas.
Jack finally comes up with the idea that he should replace Santa Claus (or as he says Sandy Claws) and take over the holiday as well.  He turns everyone in Halloween Town into his own version of elves, and has them begin to making the toys he plans to deliver to the children.  Of course this being Halloween Town, the toys aren’t the soft and cuddly kind and more along the lines of vampire teddy bears and killer ducks.  Jack even has the professor create some undead reindeer to pull his casket sleigh.  None of it is possible however, until Santa Claus is kidnapped and brought to Jack’s realm where he will remain unharmed and as a guest until Christmas is over.
Needless to say, things go very badly as Halloween and Christmas are two very different holidays and despite Jack’s good intentions, Christmas is indeed ruined as Sally foresaw.  Making matters even worse, Santa Claus is delivered to the evil spirit Oogie-Boogie despite Jack’s instructions against it.  Since Oogie-Boogie’s favorite pastimes include gambling and killing, Santa doesn’t have great odds in his care unless Jack can come to his rescue in time.  Jack has is own issues however, since he has to accept his place in the scheme of things and understand where his strengths and talents lie.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was groundbreaking on several different levels since it brought back stop-motion animation as a viable and gorgeous process, it revived holiday themed animation, and made Disney look more edgy and hip than they really were.  In fact, the film was released under their Touchstone Pictures banner since they were worried that film was too dark and scary for their Disney banner.  Speaking as a parent of a three year old boy, I can vouch that those fears were unfounded since this movie is one of my son’s all time favorites.  I’ve already watched this disc three times already at his insistence!
Not only is the stop motion animation just incredible to watch, but when combined with the amazing score and soundtrack by Danny Elfman, it all gels together into something special.  This is a movie can appeal to the whole family who will enjoy different things about it and on different levels.  For me, I loved the dark humor, the music, and the artistry of the animators while my son loved the creatures (especially the skeletons) and mostly the music which he sings along with.  I always hoped for a sequel to this and Burton later released a movie in the same style and vein called The Corpse Bride and Selick did Coraline, but neither had the magic that this one did despite being technically brilliant.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

Both of the film’s separate versions look absolutely fantastic!  The 2D version has a 1080p (1.66:1) transfer while the the 3D version’s 1080p transfer has a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and both are stunning to see.   I loved how each area visited looked so different and how their different looks made each landit’s very own distinct world.  There’s a big difference between the dark German Expressionism of Halloween Town, to the bright and colorful Christmas town, and our real world in all it’s simple reality at night while Jack delivers the Christmas presents.  For such a dark film, it really benefits from being remastered on Blu-ray and it looks a lot better than the previous DVD version.  Both versions offer brilliant color in the few scenes in Christmas Town that allow it, and their black levels are wonderfully dark and inky.  The 3D version adds some very welcome depth to the film which really works well with the stop motion animation for the most part.  There is some ghosting present but I’m not sure if that is due to the post-conversion process or the because of the style of animation used.  As always, Disney is kind enough to offer both versions of the film so you can watch whichever version you enjoy the most.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

As good as the visual quality of the film is, the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix is even better and it’s one of Disney’s best.  From the opening punch of “This is Halloween” the mix is a powerful delight that washes over you.  Danny Elfman’s amazing music completely evelopes the listeners across all of the channels and several times I could actually feel it!  Dialogue is crystal clear as are the sound effects that pan across all of the channels.  There’s a lot of nice ambiance and the rear speakers get a lot to do as well.  This is a fantastic sounding mix and is without a doubt demo-worthy!

Special Features (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

These are the same special features that were included on the previous Blu-ray release but they are just as good now as they were then.  I especially liked getting the uncut Frankenweenie and Vincent!
  • A Special Introduction by Tim Burton
  • What’s This? Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour – Viewers choose the way they want to tour Disneyland’s Holiday Haunted Mansion.  “On Track” explores a tricked-out version of the Haunted Mansion ride complete with pop-up trivia, while “Off Track” reveals what went into creating all the creepy fun.  This is a great feature for fans of the Disneyland ride and for three year olds that don’t remember seeing it the last time they were at the park.  The off track version is really interesting to see how much work goes into converting the Haunted Mansion to the Haunted Holiday version but seeing the ride interspersed between the interviews was frustrating since I think they should have been two separate things.
  • Frankenweenie Short Film–A un-cut version of the Frankenweenie short with introduction by Tim Burton who also gives us an update on the upcoming stop motion remake that is in production now.
  • Vincent Short Film – Here is Jack Skellington’s debut complete with narration from the one and only Vincent Price.
  • Tim Burton’s Original poem narrated by Christopher Lee Tim Burton’s poem that inspired the creation of the movie. Now, the original verse comes to creepy life as performed by legendary actor Christopher Lee.  Another great performance from Lee who is a perfect choice to narrate the poem now that Price is gone. 
  • Film Commentary  – A track with producer and writer Tim Burton, director Henry Selick and composer Danny Elfman.  I enjoyed this commentary but unfortunately each person was recorded separately which kind of hurts the flow.  I prefer it to have every participant recorded together since it promotes conversation and good stories.  That’s not to say that this wasn’t interesting because it was, but it would have been nice to hear long=time collaborators Burton and Elfman together.  I think Elfman was the most interesting to listen to since he had a lot of good stories and how much he identified with Jack .  As Elfman wanted to leave his band Oingo Boingo to score movies, he understood Jack’s desire for something new too.
  • The Making of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas - A look behind the scenes of the very first full-length stop motion animated movie with the filmmakers that is almost thirty minutes long.  This covers all the major aspects of how the film was made with a look at each aspect of the production including, storyboards, puppets, the music, and more.  This is all very good but I wish it had been longer.
  • The Worlds of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas– Witness the creation of the film’s richly imagined dreamscapes, including Halloween Town, Christmas Town and the Real World and their denizens that populate those worlds.
  • Deleted Scenes – There are three deleted scenes included “Behemoth Singing,” “Oogie Boogie with Dancing Bugs” and “Alternate Identity of Oogie Boogie.”  The first two aren’t really any special but the third one could have changed the ending of the movie so I wish they had talked more about why they went a different direction.
  • Storyboard to Film Comparison – A short comparision between the some storyboards and the finished film.
  • Original Theatrical Trailers and Posters

Final Thoughts (5 out of 5 stars) 

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a perfect blend of traditional Disney animation along with some incredible stop motion animation.  This is a modernized holiday film that is a natural descendent of the old Rankin-Bass specials from long ago.  It is darker, and more scary that those were, but the kids today seem to be able to handle it and even enjoy it.  The film is very original and has a fantastic cast and some amazing songs from Danny Elfman which are so good that you will most likely want to get the soundtrack after watching this.  The new addition of 3D just makes this an even more immersively fun experience!
Order your copy today! 

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