Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not truly dazzling, the transfer impressed.
Sharpness was positive, though not as tremendous as I expected. While no soft spots occurred, some wide shots were a little less precise than I anticipated. Nonetheless, much of the definition looked excellent, and the image always remained pretty concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement was absent. Source flaws also failed to pop up during this clean transfer.
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 satisfied.
In terms of audio, we get a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack. It offered a nicely blended soundfield 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 solid, which was great since the movie featured so many songs. The audio appeared strong.
How did the picture and sound of the Blu-ray compare to the 2008 Collector’s Edition DVD? Both showed improvements. I thought the lossless mix boasted a little more oomph, and the visuals showed greater clarity and definition. The DVD still looks good, but the Blu-ray tops it.
Virtually all of the 2008 CE’s extras also appear here. We start with an audio commentary from director Henry Selick, producer Tim Burton, and composer Danny Elfman. All three sit separately for this edited piece. We learn about the story’s origins, influences and development, script issues, cast, characters and performances, stop-motion animation and various technical elements, the collaboration among the primary participants, songs and score, and a few other production elements.
Some will feel disappointed that the three participants don’t sit together for the chat, but I hope that doesn’t lead to too much negativity since the actual commentary proves quite winning. It offers a broad but reasonably complete view of the film’s creation, as it touches on a variety of subjects with just enough detail to satisfy us. You’ll learn plenty about the flick in this very good track.
Next comes 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. We find behind the scenes materials along with comments from Selick, Burton, Elfman, co-producer Kathleen Gavin, storyboard supervisor Joe Ranft, supervising animator Eric Leighton, art director Deane Taylor, set designer Gregg Olsson, director of photography Pete Kozachik, motion control camera operator Dave Hanks, sculptors Greg Dykstra and Mike Belzer, armature engineer Blair Clark, character fabrication supervisor Bonita DeCarlo, animator Anthony Scott, and track reader Dan Mason. They discuss the film’s story and origins, visual design, music, and various technical aspects for the flick.
“Making” functions as a pretty solid tutorial in the art of stop-motion animation. The show also discusses the creative aspects of the movie, but those technical elements take up most of its time. That works well, as we get a very nice hands-on glimpse of how they make stop-motion films.
What’s This? Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour looks at how the folks at the Disney parks give the Haunted Mansion ride a Nightmare twist every holiday season. Two options allow us to experience the attraction itself. We can go through it with the actual ride narration alone or we can do it with the same audio as well as a trivia track. Both last seven minutes, 13 seconds. The ride presentation is a bit choppy, so we don’t really feel like we’re on the attraction. Still, it gives us a decent glimpse of the aspects of the Mansion, and the “trivia track” adds some good information. We learn a fair amount about the attraction through its little tidbits.
We can also go “off track” and get some behind the scenes info about the attraction. This 37-minute and 22-second program features comments from Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment VP Steve Davison, senior art director Brian Sandahl, original Haunted Mansion Imagineering designer Francis X. Attencio, and illustrator Tim Wollweber. They tell us how Disney decided to make a Nightmare adaptation for the Mansion and go into many details of its design and execution. We also find out how the attraction differs from year to year. The program covers virtually every major portion of the attraction, so we get a fine picture of the various elements.
Next comes Tim Burton’s Original Poem Narrated by Christopher Lee. In a 39-second intro, Burton tells us of the piece’s origins, and we then hear Lee read the poem. It’s an interesting piece, and it becomes especially fun to compare Burton’s original work with the film that it spawned.
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 46-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 53 seconds; "Oogie Boogie With Dancing Bugs", which adds 38 seconds to "Oogie Boogie's Song"; and "Alternate Identity of Oogie Boogie", a one-minute and 23-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 two seconds. "Vampire Hockey Players" only lasts 18seconds 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 26 seconds of cel animation. Easily the most substantial deleted pieces can be found in "Lock, Shock and Barrel". This clip lasts two minutes and 17 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.
We can watch two of the shorts Burton made while in the animation department at Disney. We find 1982's Vincent - which runs five minutes and 52 seconds - and 1984's Frankenweenie, a more substantial piece that lasts 30 minutes. 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.
Note that Frankenweenie comes with a new *introduction by Tim Burton. In this brief clip, Burton tells us they’re making a fresh animated version of the film, and we see some concept art for it. He doesn’t tell us much, but it’s a painless little clip.
The disc opens with some ads. We get clips for Disney Blu-Ray discs, Sleeping Beauty, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, WALL-E and Disney Movie Rewards. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with promos for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, TinkerBell and Disney Parks.
Although I’m not quite sure it qualifies as a holiday classic, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas holds up well after 17 years. It creates a fun, inventive tale that consistently entertains. The Blu-ray offers very good picture and audio plus a terrific roster of extras. The movie keeps us engaged, and the Blu-ray brings it home well.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS