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BUENA VISTA

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Henry Selick
Cast:
Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, Edward Ivory, Susan McBride, Greg Proops
Writing Credits:
Tim Burton (story and characters), Michael McDowell (adaptation), Caroline Thompson

Synopsis:
Enter an extraordinary world filled with magic and wonder - where every holiday has its own special land - and imaginative, one-of-a-kind characters! The Nightmare Before Christmas tells the heartfelt tale of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, and all things that go bump in the night. Bored with the same old tricks and treats, he yearns for something more, and soon stumbles upon the glorious magic of Christmas Town! Jack decides to bring this joyful holiday back to Halloween Town. But as his dream to fill Santa's shoes unravels, it's up to Sally, the rag doll who loves him, to stitch things back together. This critically acclaimed movie milestone captured the heart and imagination of audiences everywhere with its Academy Award(R)-nominated stop-motion effects, engaging Grammy(R)-nominated music, and the genius of Tim Burton. The Nightmare Before Christmas - a delightful treat the whole family will enjoy!

Box Office:
Budget
$18 million.
Opening Weekend
$191.232 thousand on 2 screens.
Domestic Gross
$14.486 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.66:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 75 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 10/3/2000

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Henry Selick and Director of Photography Pete Kozachik
• Deleted Scenes
• “The Making of The Nightmare Before Christmas” Documentary
• Storyboard to Film Comparison
• “The Worlds of The Nightmare Before Christmas” Still Galleries
Vincent and Frankenweenie Short Films
• Posters and Trailers
• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Nightmare Before Christmas: Special Edition (1993)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 20, 2008)

Although it hasn't quite earned a place among holiday classics, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas probably should. The 1993 film provides a fun piece that offers a fairly standard positive message – along the lines of "be happy with who you are" - but wraps it in a nearly perverse package. Despite some potential in that area Nightmare doesn't ever become nasty and it doesn't attempt to offend, so I feel it definitely would be suitable for a pleasant Christmas Eve screening. However, don't mistake it for the usual saccharine holiday fare, for this movie's something altogether different.

And not altogether successful, though it's a pretty solid little film. Actually, Nightmare has grown on me a lot over the years. Initially I found it to be disappointing. My main fault with the film then - and now, actually - stemmed from the fact that I think it tries a little too hard. Danny Elfman writes some interesting lyrics to the film's tunes, but sometimes they seem almost abstractly clever. I appreciated them for their creativity but they seemed more like a mental exercise from a bored English major; I might respect them but I didn't always enjoy them.

I still don't much care for Elfman's songs, but the film works nonetheless. There's enough wit and flair in the characters and the various ways that Christmas rites are misinterpreted to keep me interested. It's quite entertaining to see the way that the residents of Halloween Town mistakenly pervert the holiday tokens and traditions to fit their own world-view. This made me curious to see how the inhabitants of other "holiday towns" – the film makes it clear that each holiday has its own city in which that special occasion is the focal point of the residents' lives - would distort different dates.

The combination of Christmas and Halloween is nearly ideal, though, so it's unlikely other variations will be attempted; really, the most interesting possibilities mix Halloween and something else, so they'd just seem like remakes of this film. Anyway, the ghoulish tone that the Halloween Towners give to Christmas is immensely entertaining and delightful.

Though Nightmare depicts some fairly gruesome and grotesque sights – a zombie with an axe in his head, for example - the stop-motion animation keeps things cartoony and fairly cute. No one should find these characters offensive or upsetting, and although some younger kids might be troubled by various aspects of the story, older children - from eight or so up – will probably be highly amused by the liberties the film takes. Make no mistake - Nightmare is unique.

But not tremendously so, which is actually a positive. Nightmare ultimately stays with the spirit of other holiday films and programs, which will make it more of a perennial in the long run. Something more overtly wicked and nasty would be fun for a while, but it's rare that a Christmas piece that offers a contrarian view can last. A Christmas Story is really the only film that meets those criteria, and it's nothing more than a gentle poke at the season.

One of the reasons why Nightmare succeeds is because it works without much irony. The characters are genuinely confused by but also delighted with the trappings of Christmas and we see that wonder and excitement through our main character, Jack Skellington (spoken by Chris Sarandon, sung by Danny Elfman). The film lacks much of a coherent narrative, as the whole thing essentially just leads up to Jack's inevitable botching of his version of Christmas and his also-inevitable rediscovery of his true self in time to save the day. (Hey, this film is under the Disney banner, after all!) Nonetheless, it provides a lot of fun along the way.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio A-/ Bonus A-

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been not enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the absence of anamorphic enhancement, Nightmare looked pretty good.

The lack of 16X9 coding caused some minor sharpness concerns. Wide shots tended to be just a wee bit soft, and they weren’t quite as distinctive as they should be. Nonetheless, the film usually displayed nice definition and clarity. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement remained minimal. Source flaws were absent, though I thought some light digital artifacting occasionally gave the movie a slightly gauzy look.

Black levels seemed solid and deep, with fine definition and darkness. Shadow detail also appeared clean and appropriately dense, but it lacked any concerns related to excessive opacity; the many dimly-lit sequences came through well.

Those latter areas were of great importance in Halloween Town, where a very limited palette was in place; it's a very monochromatic environment where the orange was the only color we see that's not a variation on black, gray or brown, and even that hue looked subdued. However, bright, shiny colors came into play in the Christmas Town segments. Some of those objects spilled over into the Halloween Town scenes - when Jack brings back tokens from Christmas Town - and they looked pretty nice across the board. At no point did the hues dazzle, but they provided satisfying tones.

Special mention also has to be accorded the scene in which Oogie Boogie tortures Santa Claus. This was shot in a black light motif, and it looked better than the rest of the film. Something about the black light really emphasized details, and the result was a scene that seemed three-dimensional. Overall, the transfer could use an update, but it still earned a satisfactory “B”.

While the original Nightmare DVD offered only the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the special edition release supplemented that with a DTS 5.1 mix. Did I detect any differences between the two tracks? Nope. Both the DTS and the DD mixes seemed very strong.

They offered nicely blended soundfields in which music and ambient effects cozily surrounded the listener. The forward channels spread out the audio nicely and created a fairly involving image. It wasn't a tremendously aggressive mix, but the split surrounds provided some useful embellishment of the forward spectrum and the entire track seemed well balanced and complemented the material.

The quality of the audio also seemed great. All aspects of the mix sounded clear, clean and natural; I detected no signs of distortion, and it showed a nice dynamic range. Dialogue was exceedingly crisp and natural, and the speech blended well with the images. Effects were clean and distinct and seemed appropriately realistic. The music appeared especially strong, which was important since the film's a musical. The audio mixes appeared strong, and both the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks worked equally well.

How did the picture and audio of this “Special Edition” of Nightmare compare to those of the original 1997 DVD? Both seemed virtually identical in all ways. I noticed no changes in the visuals or the sound.

On the other hand, the SE offers scads of extras absent from its predecessor. We start with an audio commentary from director Henry Selick and director of photography Pete Kozachik. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. We find a nice balance between the two participants; Selick probably speaks a little bit more than Kozachik, but I found that their involvement seemed fairly equal.

Unsurprisingly, the focus largely remained on technical issues, and I thought they provided a nice discussion of some of the techniques they used to make the film. Although I'm fairly knowledgeable about cel animation and I also have some decent understanding of computer cartoons, I must admit a lot of ignorance about the complexities of stop-motion work, so I was happy to hear more about the subject here. While I can't call this a great track, it provides enough solid information to merit a listen.

A variety of video materials also appear on the DVD. First we find The Making of The Nightmare Before Christmas, a 24-minute and 41-second program that provides a very nice overview of how the movie was created. Actually, it functions as a pretty solid tutorial in the art of stop-motion animation. While I enjoyed hearing about the various techniques during the audio commentary, it's even more satisfying to see them in action. The show also discusses the creative aspects of the movie and offers a generally entertaining and compelling look at the film.

The Storyboard to Film Comparison provides exactly what the title implies. We see the evolution of one film scene; the boards appear on the top half of the TV image while the movie runs on the bottom segment of your screen during this three-minute and 45-second piece. Interestingly, although some of the art is well-executed, much of it seems quite sketchy - even more so than usual for storyboard work.

The Deleted Scenes area is split into "Deleted Storyboards" and "Deleted Animated Sequences" subdivisions. The storyboards are accompanied by audio introductions from Selick. We see three scenes: "Behemoth Singing", which extends the song "Making Christmas" for an additional 50 seconds; "Oogie Boogie With Dancing Bugs", which adds 35 seconds to "Oogie Boogie's Song"; and "Alternate Identity of Oogie Boogie", a one-minute and 20-second clip that shows a funny way the film's climax could have gone. The musical segments appeared to come from composer Danny Elfman's demo recordings; it doesn't sound like those parts of the tunes ever made it to the studio stage.

As with the "Deleted Storyboards", each segment includes an audio introduction from Selick. "Jack's Scientific Experiments" pads a little more onto the portion of the film in which Jack tries to analyze and dissect Christmas, and it runs for two minutes. "Vampire Hockey Players" only lasts 17 seconds and actually replaces an existing part of the movie; I won't reveal the surprise, but in this version, the vampires use a recognizable head for their puck.

Another brief deleted segment comes from the "Oogie Boogie Shadow Dance" part of the film; here we find an additional 25 seconds of cel animation. Easily the most substantial deleted pieces can be found in "Lock, Shock and Barrel". This clip lasts two minutes and 15 seconds and actually covers a couple of different scenes; the section offers all of the removed footage that involved these characters.

The Worlds of The Nightmare Before Christmas provides a great deal of information about a variety of subjects. The section is divided into three sub-areas: "Halloween Town", "Christmas Town", and "The Real World". Easily the largest is “Halloween Town", which covers a few different subjects. In "Jack Skellington", we start with "Character Designs" which provides 22 stillframe drawings of Jack. "Animation Tests" gives us two minutes and five seconds of early work on Jack's movements; the footage includes commentary from Selick. 15 more frames of planning drawings appear in "Jack's Tower Concept Art".

"Sally" is the next subject, and her area strongly resembles Jack's. We find 15 frames of "Character Designs", while her "Animation Tests" last only 23 seconds and also feature remarks from Selick; the latter is brief but interesting as Selick discusses abandoned notions of how Sally should walk. "Sally's Bedroom and Kitchen Concept Art" gives us an additional 11 frames of drawings.

"Oogie Boogie" arrives next, and features five stills of "Character Designs". 23 more frames appear in "Oogie's Lair Concept Art". For the "Evil Scientist and Igor", they also have 23 "Character Design" images, and we get 14 more shots in "The Laboratory Concept Art".

I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that "Lock, Shock and Barrel" works similarly to these other sections. It includes 10 frames of "Character Designs" plus 15 stills of "Treehouse Concept Art".

The final "Halloween Town" area provides a little more information. Because it covers Zero, the Mayor and a slew of other participants, its "Character Designs" section is the largest with 120 frames of material. More Selick commentary accompanies the 48 seconds of "Zero Animation Tests", and "Halloween Town Concept Art" finishes this area with an additional 88 frames of sketches and designs.

The next section relates to "Christmas Town" and is correspondingly smaller, since the location is much less used. All we find here are "Character Designs" for Santa Claus (seven frames) and Santa's Helpers (nine images) plus 47 stills of "Concept Art".

Lastly, "The Real World" ends the "Worlds of The Nightmare Before Christmas" domain. It's also a modest area. It includes 17 frames of "Character Design" and an additional 26 stills of "Concept Art". All in all, that means we get 515 different images in the "Worlds." section, plus 196 seconds of animation footage.

Posters and Trailers includes a still gallery of printed publicity materials which offers five posters. We also get both a "teaser" trailer - which pushes the groundbreaking nature of the project quite aggressively - and a full theatrical ad for Nightmare. In a separate area on the DVD, we also find the theatrical trailer for James and the Giant Peach.

Tim Burton's Early Films lets us watch two of the shorts Burton made while in the animation department at Disney. We find 1982's Vincent - which runs five minutes and 50 seconds - and 1984's Frankenweenie, a more substantial piece that lasts 29 minutes and 50 seconds. Vincent seems closer to Nightmare just because it's stop-motion animated, but the actual piece mixes Dr. Seuss with Burton's love of the dark side; it's clearly autobiographical as it depicts a boy (who looks an awful lot like Burton) who wishes he were Vincent Price.

Frankenweenie is a live-action piece, but it also sticks to the macabre as it tells the story of young suburban Victor Frankenstein (Barret Oliver), who finds a way to restore life to his dead pooch Sparky. I don't think the piece is a complete success, but it's generally interesting and entertaining.

Finally, the DVD includes a booklet with two pages of text production notes and a few photos. It's not much, but since exceedingly few Disney DVDs offer similar materials, at least it's a step in the right direction.

Although I’m not quite sure it qualifies as a holiday classic, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas holds up well after 15 years. It creates a fun, inventive tale that consistently entertains. The DVD offers perfectly acceptable picture quality along with excellent audio and a terrific roster of extras. I’d like a disc with anamorphic enhancement, but this remains a very pleasing release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5555 Stars Number of Votes: 18
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main