Chief Justice Michael Stailey still has nightmares about that damned animated Zuni doll in Trilogy of Terror.
Our reviews of The Nightmare Before Christmas (published May 23rd, 2000), The Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector's Edition (published August 26th, 2008), and The Nightmare Before Christmas: Special Edition (published October 3rd, 2000) are also available.
Eureka! This year, Christmas will be OURS!!!
The giddy childlike innocence so prevalent within me on opening night—Oct 29, 1993—is still very much alive today, 15 years later. A visit to Walt Disney World in November '93 gave me the opportunity to spend more than an hour exploring the film's many puppets and sets on display in the backlot of the then Disney/MGM studios. And just last year, during a tour of Disney's Animation Research Library in Glendale, CA, I came face to face once again with many of the original puppets and maquettes carefully stored in the Disney vaults. So, as you can imagine, the anticipation I had for this Blu-ray release was just as great as the Special Edition DVD, which coincidentally was the first film I ever saw on the format…and neither of them have disappointed.
With each subsequent evolution, The Nightmare Before Christmas becomes more and more entrenched as one of the greatest animated musicals of all time. And while the official title remains "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas," this film owes as much, if not more to Danny Elfman and Henry Selick, as it does Tim's creative genius. While Tim's attention was divided between two or three other projects, the heart and soul of Nightmare belonged to Danny's passionately introspective songs and Henry's oh so green foray into the most ambitious stop-motion animation project ever conceived. In their own way, both of these men are Jack Skellington; exceptionally gifted artists in their own right (Danny with Boingo, Henry as an animator), each went looking for something more from life and ended up blazing new trails for themselves, opening doors they didn't even know were there.
But I digress. The history of the film and analysis of its many production nuances have been covered exceptionally well by my former business partner and predecessor Chief Justice Mike Jackson, in his reviews of the two original DVD releases. So let's focus on the many new wrinkles revealed in this highly anticipated BD release.
As you know, two years ago, Nightmare was given the Disney Digital 3-D treatment. Sure retrofit multi-dimensional enhancement was interesting, but it was the clarity of the image and depth of detail that made this presentation shine. For the first time, we could almost feel the Edward Gorey-inspired textures of Deane Taylor, Barry Jackson, and Gregg Olsson's magically delicious sets. And while impressive on the big screen, having that level of detail up close and personal in your living room, juices the film's already intense emotional imagery. From the water marks on the windows of Jack's tower laboratory to the frayed threads on Sally's dress, from the Seussical Christmas Town to Oogie's whacked out torture chamber, every scene oozes with new discoveries and I don't think I'll ever get bored letting my eyes roam around the frame.
Beyond the picture, Nightmare benefits tremendously from a 7.1 Dolby mix that will rock your home theatre with more Danny Elfman/Steve Bartek goodness ever thought possible. In group numbers like "This is Halloween" and "Making Christmas," the ensemble envelopes you like theatre in the round. In most cases, a surround mix leverages the ambient environmental effects, but here it's the vocals that make all the difference in the world. When many of these characters are offscreen, their presence remains; so much so, that their absence is palpable during Jack's pondering monologues and other quiet two or three-character interactions. Kudos to the audio team for painting an even broader landscape.
The other important facet of this release are the bonus materials. There are no BD-exclusives, but Disney and Nightmare fans have several reasons to cheer. First and foremost is a tri-level commentary track, and while I generally despise commentaries hacked together from different sources, having Henry, Tim, and Danny all sharing their thoughts and insights is a very welcome addition. Danny's is the closest to a true audio commentary, right down to the many cases of him saying "Wait, here it comes…" and then singing along or recalling truly personal memories. It's a joy to listen to, deserving of an isolated track all its own. Tim and Henry are a bit drier, but like parents at their child's high school graduation, both share deep personal feelings for the film and its birthing process. All three have had 15 years to ruminate on their respective experiences and do so by wearing their hearts on their sleeves throughout. Completists will be distressed by the absence of Henry's and cinematographer Pete Kozachik's audio commentary for the Special Edition DVD, but you had to expect that something would get left out along the way. It is Disney, after all.
The other two new additions are an animated version of Tim's original poem, "The Nightmare Before Christmas," envisioned through his original sketches and narrated by the one and only Christopher Lee; and the greatest treat a Disney theme park geek could ask for—a full walk through and an exceptional 38-minute behind the scenes making of Disneyland's "Haunted Mansion Holiday." For those who have never had the pleasure of experiencing this holiday treat, the unique walk through perspective gives you a chance to see a bit more than riders normally would from their Doom Buggy. Yes, I could have done without some of the wacky handheld camera movements, but listening to that wonderful holiday soundtrack and Corey Burton's narrative homage to great Paul Frees makes me look even more forward to the attraction's late September debut at the Magic Kingdom. An optional trivia track distills even more info about the Mansion's history, with some info even I didn't know, like the holiday pyramid in the load area serves as an advent calendar in which a new box is opened during each week of the Holiday Mansion's 13 week run, and that more than 10 million people travel through the attraction each year.
Okay, easing out of geek mode, the remainder of the bonus features are ported over from the Special Edition release. Tim does provide brief intros for each of his short films: Vincent (1982)—a tribute to the late Vincent Price, as narrated by the legend himself; and Frankenweenie (1984), in which Tim provides a quick update on pre-production and character sketches for his full-length stop motion adaptation. What I never realized is that Sofia Coppola played Victor's exercise-loving and freakishly tall neighbor Anne Chambers, credited as Domino in the film. That must have been her stripper name. I kid. More Nightmare ports include a making of documentary (in which Pixar's Joe Ranft appears), deleted animation sequences, storyboards, production design galleries, a storyboard to film comparison, lobby posters, and original theatrical trailers. And, last but not least, the much heralded digital copy of the film, which is quickly becoming the industry anti-piracy standard for new releases.
Save for the one sole omission, there's little complaint to be had with The Nightmare Before Christmas [Blu-ray]. Its attention to detail has earned the film a proud place alongside Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition [Blu-ray] and Transformers [HD DVD] as three of the finest examples of what high definition has to offer the collector's market.
Not guilty by any stretch of the imagination.
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• Audio Commentary with Tim Burton, Henry Selick, and Danny Elfman
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