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.