Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector's Edition (The) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum & Noor Razzak (29th September 2008).
The Film

Hooray for Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, and the under-appreciated third member of their triumvirate, director Henry Selick. The creative chemistry and hard work of these three men has resulted in one of the great modern-day stop-motion features, "The Nightmare Before Christmas". The film is a classic destined to age just as well as anything by Harryhausen, Rankin-Bass, or the Brothers Quay - and in reality, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" shares attributes with all of these other productions. Certainly, Tim Burton is a kindred spirit of the Brothers Quay, with their dark and dusty sensibility, with their ability to find beauty in decay, and with their endless exploration of the heart within the macabre and melancholy. And certainly, Danny Elfman is more than familiar with the perennial musical holiday specials that Rankin-Bass produced. These holiday classics still entertain kids and parents every single year, four decades after their creation. Elfman's songs for "The Nightmare Before Christmas" are a few decades more contemporary than the songs of Father Christmas or Baby New Year, but Elfman's tunes still evoke the same sentiments. And there's no doubt that Henry Selick has seen the films of Ray Harryhausen - perhaps the first and most notable special effects man to overshadow any actor or director on the films he worked on. The tedious work of stop-motion animation can only truly be learned in the schools of "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958) or of "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963).

All of this history and all of this talent was stirred around in a boiling witch's cauldron to produce a marvel of production design, of music, of stop-motion animation, and of endless merchandising to goths all over the world.

This latest marketing effort comes in the form of a double-dip DVD which expands the previous Special Edition DVD to two discs, plus a third disc containing a "digital copy" of the film in two formats. The term"digital copy" - which is becoming an industry standard - is unfortunate, since the original DVD is indeed also digital. But then again the term "digital download" is also kind of silly, since there are no other types of download possible. Never underestimate the media's ability to underestimate the consumer's intelligence!

Anyway, the new set also comes in an unwieldy box, most of which is devoted to a thin plastic bust of lead character Jack Skellington, in bas-relief. The box is needlessly huge, it isn't particularly cool, and it is therefore a complete waste of shelf space. Gimmicky packaging is always a negative in my world; time and space are precious things, and I don't like having either of them wasted.

Packaging issues aside, the film itself is as great as it was the last few times it was released: Jack Skellington (voiced by Elfman), the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, has discovered Christmastown, and decides to make it his own. He kidnaps Santa Claus (Edward Ivory), and tries to teach the ghouls and ghosts and vampires and spiders of Halloweentown the meaning of Christmas. Unfortunately, Jack himself has no understanding of what he teaches. Meanwhile, the rag-doll zombie Sally (Catherine O'Hara) persues Jack as a love interest even as she flees her mad scientist creator.

A simple enough story, but the wonder here is in the animation, the songs, the designs, and the characters, all of which are amazing. This film is easing gracefully into the status of 'classic', and rightfully so. If you haven't added it to your collection yet, now is the time.

Video

The film is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 1.66:1 and Buena Vista made a great effort to retain the film's original ratio for this release (there have been other DVD releases in other regions which present the film at 1.85:1), but kudos to Buena Vista for maintaining the original ratio. Further the image is presented in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been mastered using AVC MPRG-4 compression. This new transfers is a rather excellent effort and presents the film with incredible detail, color saturation and depth. To begin with the image is crystal clear without any dirt, specks or other artefacts. There's no compression issues, no edge enhancement of any kind. The detail is stunning, right down to the intricate production design elements and the finer qualities of the characters and their look. I was impressed with the deep and bold black levels which really add to the film's dark and brooding tone. For years there's only been a non-anamorphic DVD, although retaining the ratio it was a flawed transfer and now for the first time we are treated to a stunning presentation of an equally stunning film.

Audio

There are four audio tracks available for this film in English Dolby Digital TrueHD 7.1 as well as standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Usually Buena Vista add incredible uncompressed PCM tracks, and I was looking forward to the same treatment, however I was a little surprised to find no PCM track but instead a TrueHD 7.1 mix. The mix not lossless which means the richness of the score and audio mix may not reach a deep as an uncompressed PCM track does but in saying that it was an impressive audio mix. The dialogue was clear and distortion free, the film's music soars through the sound space and the subtle environmental and ambient sounds add to the overall depth of the world in which these characters populate and all directional sounds felt natural and correct.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Extras

There is a nice collection of extras on this set, but the discs are horribly unbalanced. The first disc has the 77-minute film, plus about 81 minutes of bonus features, whereas the second disc - which contains more bonus features - is less than an hour in total length. Odd. It would have made a lot more sense to put most of the bonus features on disc two and thereby allow the main feature to be compressed a whole lot less, no?

As for the included bonus materials, only the poetry reading and the theme park ride tour are completely new, although a new audio commentary replaces the old one (as heard on the previous Special Edition DVD), which featured Selick solo. The extensive image gallery (also from the older SE DVD) is gone from this edition. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

All new audio commentary by Tim Burton, Henry Selick, and Danny Elfman. It's an interesting commentary, but it sounds like all three men were interviewed separately, and their comments were edited into appropriate places in the film. Nevertheless, a worthwhile listen. Elfman gets to (mostly) take over during the songs, while Burton and Selick split the rest.

There's also a video introduction by Tim Burton which runs for 18 seconds, this is exclusive to the Blu-ray release only and the filmmaker basically welcomes fans to this new HD edition of the film.

"What's This - Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour" featurette runs for 7 minutes 13 seconds is a guided tour of the Disney theme park ride based on the film, you can watch this feature with actual ride narration in English (subtitles available) or with with a trivia track (ride narration in English and subtitles for trivia) and is followed by a documentary "Off Track" on how the ride was put together which runs for 37 minutes 21 seconds.

"Tim Burton's original poem narrated by Christopher Lee" featurette runs for 10 minutes 56 seconds is accompanied by some very simple animation, and is introduced by Tim Burton which runs for 38 seconds.

"The Making of Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'" featurette runs for a total of 24 minutes 41 seconds is an identical featurette to the previous DVD edition. If you do not appreciate how much work went into this movie, you will after watching this. It's broken down into 6 chapters: "The Beginning", "Music", "Storyboards", "Art Direction", "Puppets" and "Animation".

"Frankenweenie" (uncut version) runs for 30 minutes 1 seconds, is a live action short film that Tim Burton directed in 1984. The story regards a young boy who resurrects his dead dog, Frankenstein-style, and contains elements that later became themes in Burton's feature films, such homage to old horror films, and a love for mid-century Americana. Now contains a new introduction by Tim Burton which runs for 32 seconds.

"Vincent" short film runs for 5 minutes 52 seconds is a stop motion feature in a style very similar to "The Nightmare Before Christmas". Vincent Price reads a poem inspired equally by Edward Gorey and Edgar Allan Poe as animated puppets act out the creepy tale.

"The Worlds of The Nightmare Before Christmas" is an interactive feature containing storyboards, stills, and production art from the film organized into sections for Halloweentown, Christmastown, and The Real World. Here is the breakdown for this feature:

- Halloween Town: this features Jack Skellington character designs, animation tests (with audio commentary with director Henry Selick) and Jack's tower concept art.
Then we explore Sally: which includes character designs, animation tests (with audio commentary with director Henry Selick) and Sally's bedroom and kitchen concept art. Oogie Boogie: features character designs and oogie's lair concept art, Evil Scientist and Igor: includes character designs and the laboratory concept art. Lock, Shock, and Barrel: also features character designs and the treehouse concept art finally there's a section for the Citizens: and that features character designs, zero animation tests and Halloween Town concept art.

- Christmas Town: includes Santa Claus character designs, Santa's Helpers character designs and also concept art.

- The Real World: only includes character designs and concept art.

Deleted scenes consist of a collection of "storyboard sequences" that runs for 2 minutes 53 seconds in a reel with each one featuring audio introduction by director Henry Selick and then four fully animated scenes:

- "Jack's Scientific Experiments" runs for 2 minutes 2 seconds; and is a longer version of the scene where Jack tries to find the meaning of Christmas.
- "Vampire Hockey Players" runs for 17 seconds; and is brief clip as titled.
- "Lock, Shock, and Barrel" runs for 2 minutes 17 seconds; the three mischievous trick-or-treaters get trapped in a cage.
- "Oogie Boogie Shadow Dance" runs for 17 seconds; a small clipped section of the dance scene.

Storyboard to film comparison runs for 3 minutes 46 seconds; and are various scenes presented as a montage.

Original theatrical teaser runs for 1 minute 41 seconds and a theatrical trailer runs for 1 minute 24 seconds and a poster gallery round out the extras on this disc.

There's also bonus trailers for:

- "Disney" spot which runs for 51 seconds.
- "Disney Blu-ray" spot which runs for 1 minute 50 seconds.
- "Sleeping Beauty" which runs for 1 minute 56 seconds.
- "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" which runs for 1 minute 33 seconds.
- "WALL-E" which runs for 2 minute 33 seconds.
- "Disney Movie Rewards" spot which runs for 20 seconds.
- "The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian" which runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds.
- "Disney Theme Parks" which runs for 31 seconds.
- "Tinker Bell" which runs for 1 minute 38 seconds.

This is a D-Box enabled disc for those that have the equipment.

DISC TWO:

The third disc is digital copies of the film in iTunes and WMV formats.

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case housed on cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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