Friday, October 9, 2009

DVD of the Week: The Nightmare Before Christmas: 2-Disc Collector's Edition

When The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) debuted in theaters, it was a modest commercial success but hardly the massive hit Disney had hoped for, especially with the pedigree of Tim Burton’s name above the title. It was well-received by critics who felt that it was too scary for children and the film went on to become a cult classic with its own vast merchandising empire. The film was given an excellent DVD release a few years ago and Disney has gone back to the well, re-mastered it and added some new extras.

Halloween Town is a magical place inhabited by vampires, witches, ghosts and skeletons hanging from talking trees where the Mayor (voiced by Glenn Shadix) gives the vampires an award for most blood drained in a single evening. Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon) is the Pumpkin King and is bored with the same old routine and “weary of the sound of screams.” Sally (voiced by Catherine O’Hara) is a Frankenstein-esque creation, a stitched together rag doll created by mad scientist Dr. Finkelstein (voiced by William Hickey) who can scratch his own brain when he feels like it. She secretly pines for Jack.

Depressed and directionless, Jack wanders through the forest and finds a door leading to Christmas Town. He lands in a place covered in snow with Christmas lights hanging on every house. Jack is revitalized with this colourful new realm which is the complete opposite of the gloomy, dreary Halloween Town. Jack decides to introduce the spirit of Christmas to the denizens of Halloween Town. He also kidnaps Santa Claus and, with help from his friends, takes over his job on Christmas Eve. Sally believes that what Jack is doing is wrong and proceeds to restore order and rescue Santa from the evil ghost Oogie Boogie (voiced by Ken Page).

All of these creatures are lovingly rendered with stop motion animation that evokes the old Rankin and Bass cartoons albeit with an Edward Gorey vibe. The animation in Nightmare Before Christmas is impressive with such care and attention to each and every character. They all have their own distinctive look and personality. There is a personal, handcrafted feel to everything that creates a tangible texture missing from completely computer animated films.

All of the songs in this musical are insanely catchy and part of the film’s enduring appeal. Danny Elfman is the mad genius behind the music which comes as no surprise being a veteran of numerous Tim Burton productions. Thanks to the film’s premise, Nightmare Before Christmas works for either Halloween or the Christmas season. It features a vibrant color scheme and beautifully realized characters created by Burton, top notch direction by Henry Selick, and dialogue written by Caroline Thompson who wrote Edward Scissorhands (1990). This really deserves to be regarded as a modern classic and one of the best things to ever spring out of Burton’s brain.

Special Features:

So, if you already own the previous Special Edition is it worth double dipping for this new version and what is new? The good news is that with the exception of a DTS soundtrack and director Henry Selick’s solo commentary track, everything from the previous edition has been included in this one.

Disc one includes a new audio commentary by producer Tim Burton, director Henry Selick, and music designer Danny Elfman. They were recorded separately and then edited together. Burton talks about the classic animated holiday TV specials that made a huge impression on him. He was always intrigued by the visual combination of his two favorite holidays: Christmas and Halloween. Elfman claims that this is his favorite collaboration with Burton and talks about how he got involved. There is a significant amount of overlap from the numerous featurettes included on this set.

A new extra is “What’s This? Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour,” which takes you through a haunted mansion ride based on the film. The attention to detail and decor is fantastic, done in Gothic fashion. You can also take the tour with a trivia subtitle track imparting all kinds of factoids. Also included is a featurette examining how they added the Nightmare Before Christmas style to the classic Haunted Mansion design.

Also new is “Tim Burton’s Original Poem,” narrated by none other than veteran genre actor Christopher Lee. This provided the original inspiration for the film. Lee’s great voice narrates over evocative concept art.

“The Making of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” takes us through various stages of the production, including the music, storyboards, art direction, and animation. It provides a detailed look at all of the work that went into creating the film and the challenges of stop motion animation.

The second disc starts off with “Frankenweenie,” a short film Burton directed in 1984. He offers a new introduction and mentions that work has begun on a feature-length stop motion animated film. Shot in gorgeous black and white, it’s about a young boy named Vincent (Barret Oliver) who decides to resurrect his dead dog Sparky a la Dr. Frankenstein. Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern play his very Leave It To Beaver-esque parents. Also featured is the late-great Paul Bartel as Vincent’s science teacher.

“Vincent” is an animated short film that Burton made early in his career about a young boy who idolizes Vincent Price, who, incidentally, narrates the story. It has a wonderful, Expressionistic look reminiscent of early silent horror films.

Also included are three deleted storyboards and four animated sequences introduced by Selick. They feature sequences that didn’t make the final cut, some were never animated. Selick explains that they were cut for reasons of time and pacing.

“The World’s of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” explores the characters that inhabit Christmas Town, Halloween Town, and the Real World with all sorts of character designs, animation tests and concept art. It allows you to see the various incarnations of these beloved characters.

“Storyboards-to-Film Comparison” takes a look at a scene from the film and allows you to watch it simultaneously with the corresponding storyboards.

Finally, there are “Posters and Trailers,” a collection of poster art, a teaser trailer and a theatrical trailer.

8 comments:

  1. Caught this when it hit the theatres back in the day. Recall we were treated to Vincent and Frankenweenie, in addition to the main feature. As you say, it works for Halloween and Xmas, with wonderfully catchy songs and a great story to savour. Took my 1st look in a few years via DVD rental the other week, and enjoyed it just as much. Nice to see you cover it here.

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  2. Yeah, I remember seeing it in a packed theater the first weekend it came out and loving every single minute of it. I was really surprised that it wasn't a bigger hit than it was initially but it has since become regarded as something of a classic.

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  3. What-a-pick for DVD of the Week, J.D.! I remember fondly seeing it in its first run. Since the first of my kids weren't born till a couple years after this, I was held back (by my wife) till they were old enough to see and enjoy this. My daughter, at first, was scared by it - but now it's just about her favorite. When this came out in 3-D in theaters not that long along, we all went and and had a absolutely splendid time with it. Great review, J.D. Thanks.

    p.s., Disney really took of this years later with its use at their parks around Halloween and Xmas.

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  4. Hey there. Great post. I love this movie. I don't own it on dvd though. Might have to pick this up. Hope you've enjoyed the weekend. Cheers!

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  5. 'Tis in my DVD player many times b'twixt Halloween and Xmas...

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  6. le0pard13:

    Thank you, my friend! This is such a wonderful film, deserving of its beloved cult film status. I have fond memories seeing it when it first came out and it has since become a film that I watch every October.


    Keith:

    Thanks, Keith! I hope you had a great weekend.

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  7. Hi, nice blog i was searching to download nightmare before christmas movie and i came across your blog , its a nice one, thanks for sharing this

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  8. Not a problem. Thanks for stopping by!

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