"Nightmare Before Christmas" Blu-ray Review
October 08, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Few films carry the history that Nightmare Before Christmas has. With an original opening of only two theaters in 1993, the film eventually went wide to rake in over fifty million dollars. By the time the film hit the home video format, people were eager to relive the wonder that the film gave them. Within a few years of the advent of the DVD format, the film eventually saw release there, twice, on the format before finally going out of print. Now, Disney’s re-released the film for its fifteenth anniversary in an all-new collector’s edition on both DVD and for the first time on the Blu-ray format.
Bored with the same holiday over and over again, Jack Skellington wanders off into the forest where he stumbles upon a curious array of trees. Taking a trip into Christmastown, Jack returns to his home of Halloweentown and tells all about the joys of Christmas and how he wants to celebrate that holiday instead of preparing for another year of Halloween. With only a few months to prepare, the town goes into overdrive as Jack employs the help of everyone to turn Jack into the new Santa Clause. What Jack doesn’t foresee, however, is that his brand of joy is not what the residents of Christmas town are used to.
Simply due to the morbidity of Tim Burton, I was never really interested in his films when growing up. For Christmas one year I received the film on DVD after putting it down on one of my wish lists and I settled in for what I would immediately call a strange experience. It’s certainly not what I expected from the film, but honestly at that point I wasn’t entirely sure what I should have expected from the film. Despite the rather disturbing visuals, the soundtrack stuck with me and before long I had the CD on my PC and was listening to it for weeks on end. By the time I watched the film a year later for the second time, I became so accustomed to the soundtrack that it was almost a whole new experience watching the film. I actually mourned the loss of Patrick Stewart’s voice-over on the soundtrack versus the one done in the film (who I can’t seem to find a credit for…strange), but soon became used to the change in style for the short time it changed.
While I still wouldn’t recommend the film to younger views the same way I would recommend other Disney classics, it’s hard to deny that Nightmare Before Christmas is anything but a classic in the stop-motion genre. I was delighted to see Corpse Bride come to light simply because of Burton’s love of the stop-motion format and when I saw that film I was more impressed by the animation and clarity of it all I didn’t care too much about the weaker plot or songs. Once I saw this film again on Blu-ray, however, I once again became impressed by just how much effort was put into Nightmare. I’ve only seen this film three times (twice on DVD, once on Blu-ray) and each time I felt like I was watching it in a whole new light. It’s quite refreshing to be able to do that with a film, especially one that is fifteen years old now.
What make the film so enjoyable to watch to this day are the songs. While Burton’s vision and director Henry Selick definitely make the film what it is, it’s the songs by Danny Elfman that kept my attention rapt throughout my three viewings. I’ve gotten to the point where I know the lyrics to all of the songs by heart and hearing them with excessive clarity with each go-around only makes the film that more engrossing to watch. I can still laugh and anticipate my favorite scenes and songs and overall the film just really makes you feel quite alive when watching it.
While I have a hard time nailing down just what holiday to watch the film on, I think I’ll end up going for both Halloween and Christmas holiday’s this year. I’d been without the release for about a year as I’d expected Disney to release this one last year and in anticipation of that I sold my original special edition DVD release (back when it first went out of print and had rather high prices going for it).
Although this new edition looks great, it was put through a couple new “edits.” Before you freak out and proclaim that it was Lucasified, the changes done here aren’t nearly as drastic. The Touchstone logo is no longer at the start of the film, some fonts were changed in colors in the intro and stray puppet strings were removed. Nothing that harmed the integrity of the film, but those who enjoyed the little flaws in the original prints may want to hang onto those release for posterity—but for me, whatever looks and sounds the best (and is OK with those involved in its production), is the one I’ll go with. There’s also word that the new audio mix on the DVD edition tosses too many pieces of the songs to rear channels, making those with stereo setups hear less of the songs, but it seems to vary depending on one’s setup.
All in all Nightmare Before Christmas holds up no matter which edition or release you’re watching, although as you’re about to decipher from my inevitable gush fest below about the video and audio department, this new edition is definitely the way to go if you want the best in terms of visuals and audio. In the rare event you haven’t already seen the film and have avoided it due to its recent Hot Topic influx of interest from the emo youth, don’t let that put you off—this film was awesome when they were still in diapers. Highly Recommended.
After seeing how the DVD edition of this film was treated, I feel slightly jipped with this Blu-ray release, but after viewing the video and audio of the release, my envy quickly dissipated. While the DVD edition comes in a handsome deluxe casing for its three-disc set, the two-disc Blu-ray edition (the second disc is just the digital copy) is slightly less extravagant in a standard two-disc Blu-ray case. Inserts include an advertisement of the Blu-ray format as well as the activation code for the digital copy, with the only other packaging “frills” being an embossed/foil reflective slip case that mimics the same art as the insert below it.
Arriving in an AVC encoded 1.66:1 1080p transfer, Nightmare Before Christmas looks absolutely stunning. The level of detail given in this transfer is simply breathtaking and you are almost guaranteed to pick up on things you didn’t previously see before. Puppet detail is quite possibly the coolest detail of all to see, as you really get to see the fabric texture and little lines on the faces. I will say the slightly pillar boxed image to accommodate the 1.66:1 image is kind of strange, but it keeps the original aspect ratio intact, so who am I to complain.
The audio is even more important in this film and what we get from the Dolby TrueHD (which is listed as “TruHD” on the back of the Blu-ray case) track here is nothing short of impressive. While there is an alternative 5.1 track in English (as well as French and Spanish), the big star of the set is the 7.1 track (48kHz/24-bit) that brings to life the soundtrack in ways you’d never have thought possible. The use of surrounds in the film during the songs as well as the standard portion of the film is absolutely amazing and something I won’t soon forget—it’s honestly the best I’ve ever heard the film sound and if ever there was a film to make one believe in the benefits and clarity of the high-definition format, it’s the soundtrack for Nightmare Before Christmas fully coming alive in 7.1 glory.
The first extra is an exclusive introduction for the Blu-ray release by Tim Burton. Don’t get too excited as this extra clocks in at an astonishing eighteen seconds, where Burton essentially just says that the film looks great in high-definition. Those who are only able to view the DVD edition needn’t worry about this particular Blu-ray “exclusive”, as it’s hardly worth noting. Next up are the other extras new to this release which includes "What's This? Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour" (7:14, 1080i, optional trivia track), a tour of the haunted mansion theme park attraction and "Tim Burton Original Poem narrated by Christopher Lee" (11:37, 1080p). The only other extra in high-definition is the intro to “Frankenweenie” by Tim Burton (0:33, 1080p), where he talks briefly about the short film and how he’s working on a new adaption of it.
Also new to this release is a commentary with Tim Burton, Director Henry Selick and Music Designer Danny Elfman. Before fans get overly excited it should be noted that they’re all recorded separately and that Selick’s comments are torn straight from the 2000 special edition release of the film, so don’t expect to hear anything new from Selick. Still, the addition of comments by Burton and Elfman make for an interesting track and one that is never without something being said. I don’t really like mixed tracks as much as ones recorded with everyone in the room, but this was still a nice track overall.
The remainders of the extras here are repeated from the previous DVD release and are all presented in standard definition. "Frankenweenie" (30:05, 480p) and "Vincent" (5:55, 480p) are the two non-Nightmare related extras here, with "Deleted Storyboards" (2:56, 480p), "Deleted Animated Sequences" (5:06, 480p), and "Behind the Scenes Making of" (24:44, 480p) making up the backstage material for the release. Also included down a ways on the extras menu is a "Storyboard to Film Comparison" (3:47, 480p). The menu navigation for this release follows all other Buena Vista Blu-ray releases, which makes for a very awkward-to-navigate extras menu, especially when there are so many different extras crammed onto this release…too much scrolling and too easy to forget what you’ve already watched for my tastes.
Up next we have “The Worlds of Nightmare Before Christmas, a series of slide shows that cover “Halloween Town”, “Christmas Town” and “The Real World.” Finally there are posters and trailers to flip through if you’re so inclined.
Technically speaking there isn’t a whole lot of “new” content on this release over the previous DVD releases, but the new audio and video transfer is a definite upgrade and well worth the price alone. Overall a fantastic release and one that comes Highly Recommended.
The Nightmare Before Christmas – Collector’s Edition is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.