The Nightmare Before Christmas
September 17th, 2008
Very few modern films are worth watching once, let alone on any kind of regular basis. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of those rare films that truly does get better with every subsequent viewing, with the recent three dimensional remastering giving fans an excuse to go back to the theatre every year.
In lieu of a major theatrical release this year, Disney has released a new three-disc special edition. No, the 3D version is not included here, and that's the largest of the many disappointments that don't compensate for the few pluses this double-dip brings. Originally released on DVD in October 2000, the first "Nightmare" DVD included a commentary by the film's director Henry Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik plus deleted scenes, trailers and posters, two early Burton shorts ("Vincent" and "Frankenweenie") and a 1993 made-for-television infomercial. The new release includes a commentary with Selick, Burton and music designer Danny Elfman and a few additional items of note that were not on that first disc, but like far too many cases of studio double-dipping, the new DVD release shares far too many extras with the previous release to make the new disc only of interest to the hard-core fan.
As evident by the sheer amount of merchandising that the movie has generated in the recent past, "Nightmare" has become the perennial many of us expected the film to be upon its initial release fifteen years ago. I honestly cannot think of a single movie from the past twenty years that flowed so effortlessly and organically. Outside of a bootleg copy of "Star Wars" a friend and I watched every single day after school for an entire year on his then-brand new VCR throughout 1977 and 1978 (and to this day, I still don't know how they were able to get that tape, although I couldn't tell you the name of that friend anymore), there is no movie I have watched more often than this one. Heck, this commentary is weeks late in getting completed simply because I couldn't help but just watch the film when I was supposed to be paying attention to other things. I know every word to every song and I know every camera angle and effect, yet I am still drawn in to its whimsical charm every time, singing along with its hero Jack, and every time I wonder how songs like "What's This?" or "Sally's Song" failed to be recognized by a voting block of a certain awards group who felt compelled to give a nod to something from "Beethoven's 2nd." Did you even remember there was a "Beethoven's 2nd" before you read that? Do you even remember hearing "The Day I Fall In Love," a treacly power-pop ballad by James Ingram and the otherwise-exceptional Dolly Parton? Not that Danny Elfman would have had a chance of winning against Bruce Springsteen, but still, the recognition would have been nice.
The picture and sound quality are still top-notch, with the only major and important difference from the DVD released eight years ago being a transfer enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The film: A+. The transfer: A+.
Commentary with Tim Burton, Henry Selick and Danny Elfman: For many, the so-called "director's commentary" has become a de-facto film school for hundreds of thousands of would-be filmmakers, and the "Nightmare" commentary by the creative collaborators is the kind of informative and reflective oral history one would expect from people fifteen years detached from the production. But would it have been so hard to get all three men, or even two of them, in the same room and the same time? The varying grades of the sound recordings of Burton, Selick and Elfman do become distracting at times, and one could only imagine the discussions would have been more animated (no pun intended) if they had each other's energy to bounce off of. Perhaps when they finally get around to putting that 3D version out on home video... (Commentary: B+)
What's This? Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday (7:14)
A tour of the popular "Nightmare"-enhanced Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland. Watch once with just the ride narration, then enjoy with the "Pop-Up Video"-style trivia facts. But first, be sure to check out the behind-the-scenes look at how the makeover came to be, how it is all put together and how the Disney Imagineers try to mix it up every year to keep it fresh for returning visitors (37:22), as the entire contents of the tour are used and repeated several times over during the course of this behind-the-scenes look. Still, it's quite a treat. (Behind-the Scenes: A. Trivia Track: A-. Narration Track: B.)
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Original Poem (10:57, plus :38 introduction with Tim Burton)
With illustrations based on Burton's original concept art , the legendary Christopher Lee reads the original poem from which the film was born. Lee and his rich baritone voice are about as perfect a match to the poem as one could wish. Truly, the biggest treat of the bonus materials. (Poem: A+)
The Making of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" (24:41)
I don't know about the rest of the country, but certainly in Los Angeles, this type of filler program could regularly be seen on local television stations during the mid-1990s, often in the afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday, while a station had time to kill before a Dodger or Kings game. It's always interesting, at least to me, to watch behind-the-scenes footage, but since this special program was also featured on the original 2000 DVD, the only reason to watch it again is to see a brief moment with the late, great Joe Ranft, who worked on "Nightmare" before helping to make history at Pixar before his untimely passing in 2005. (B-)
If there is one thing you can count on when it comes to a Disney DVD, that is a wealth of self-serving commercials for various Disney-branded merchandising, and a couple of trailers. The trailer pack starts off with "The Secret of the Magic Gourd" (2:12), a Japanese-import about a young boy and his magic cucurbitaceae. Yeah, it looks about as bad as it sounds. There are also the familiar trailers for "Beverly Hills Chihuahua, " "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" and "WALL-E," plus the latest special edition of "Sleeping Beauty," Disney Fairies franchise kick-off "Tinkerbell" and hard sells for Disney Parks, DIsney Movie Rewards and Disney Blu-Ray. (B-)
Frankenweenie (30:02 plus :32 introduction by Burton):
An imaginative re-telling of Mary Shelley's classic story which works the first time around (with bonus points for being able to shoot in black and white and for several great nods to the Frankenstein films) but doesn't hold up well upon repeated viewing. Also seen on the 2000 DVD release. (C+)
Another holdover from the previous "Nightmare" DVD release, this black and white stop-motion animated short is the stylistic big brother to "Nightmare," featuring a young boy (who suspiciously looks like Tim Burton) who dreams of being Vincent Price, who is our fair narrator. It's a gimmick, and it's probable the story would not have worked otherwise with any other film icon, but what a gimmick indeed. Hearing Price's distinct drawl makes one wish Burton would have recorded him reading the original "Nightmare" poem. Now that would have been something special indeed. (A-)
Deleted Scenes (5:04) and Storyboards (2:54)
Still another recurring bonus feature, one that shows some of the unused concepts for the film. The alternate identity for Oogie Boogie is still a hoot. (B+)
The Worlds of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
Broken down into three sections (Halloween Town, Christmas Town and The Real World), here we get to see various concept art and character designs for all the major and some of the minor characters of the film, as well as various locations seen in the film. The sections featuring Jack and Sally also include snippets of animation tests for the characters, which are narrated by director Henry Selick. (Animation tests: A+. Concept art: A-. Character designs: B+)
Storyboard-to-film Comparisons (3:46)
Also previously seen, the viewer gets to see the scene featuring Jack explaining Christmas to the citizens of Halloween Town and how it was storyboarded before filming. (A-)
Original Theatrical Trailers and Posters
The weakest entry on the 2000 DVD, and the weakest here. Where are the digitally remastered trailers sans dirt and other artifacts? Where are the non-American posters for the film? The international trailers? Any acknowledgement of the successful 3D re-releases? And it's still strange to see a final theatrical trailer for a film that is shorter and more effective than the teaser. (C-)
Disney File Digital Copy:
If you are the type of person who prefers to watch movies on the tiny screen of an iPod or other portable handheld unit, this third disc is for you. Enter the unique activation code into iTunes or Windows Media Player and once the download is complete, transfer the file to your unit and enjoy on the road. With the push to equip each household with larger screen HDTV monitors, why anyone would take five technological steps backward just so you can watch a film while taking the bus is something I will never understand. And you don't get any of the extras either! (D+)
Fans of "Nightmare" should go ahead and bite the bullet and get this new release, and gift their old copy to someone less familiar with "Nightmare" they think might enjoy the film. And let's hope the next time Disney re-releases this on home video (most likely towards the end of Blu-Ray's lifespan and the beginning of whatever replaces that format), they will include the 3D version (which appears will only show in a handful of theatres including Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre this October) as well as go deeper into their vaults to find more interesting elements to replace tired old elements and add more value.
My rating: B+