The Nightmare Before Christmas (Special Edition) Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 2 release of The Nightmare Before Christmas – Special Edition.

The first ever full-length stop-motion animated movie conceived by the gothic genius Tim Burton. The special edition has an abundance of extras compared to the previously released bare-bones version.

Eight years ago, The Nightmare Before Christmas was the first ever full length stop-motion animated feature film, and was seen as a refreshing change to the overwhelming domination of saccharine animation films in cinemas such as Aladdin or Beauty And The Beast. Conceived by gothic visionary Tim Burton, the animated film was a champion of style over substance; the amazing aesthetic qualities of the film swamped the rather thin storyline.

The plot tells of a strange, alternative little world known as Halloween town, where Jack Skellington lives. Jack, also known as the Pumpkin King of the town, lives solely to organise the ritual of Halloween each year, in which his band of ghouls and goblins terrorise the world. However, Jack has grown disillusioned in his repetitive job, and longs for a new challenge. Freakishly, Jack manages to accidentally discover Christmas Town, and soon becomes determined to give Santa Clause a vacation for a year and do the job himself. The citizens of Halloween town just don’t understand Jack’s new plans, and it isn’t long before the planning of Christmas has deviated from Jack’s well-meaning original intentions.

As the film is eight years old, it has to be said that much of its innovating charm has since been lost. The film relies too heavily on visual impact, and is bound to seem more dated as CGI effects continue to advance in the twenty-first century. The Nightmare Before Christmas at seventy three minutes appears overlong, and there is an uneven balance between songs and dialogue, with songs given too much responsibility to carry the plot along. The humour elements are carefully constructed to appeal to both children and adults, although parents should be warned that although this is a Disney production, the studio decided to release it through its adult distribution outfit Touchstone. Although the idea was conceived by Burton and produced by himself and his long-time collaborator Denise Di Novi, Burton has taken a back seat and allowed Henry Selick to direct. Selick turns in an acceptable effort, if rather obsessed with the aforementioned visual qualities of the film as opposed to developing more of the plot. The visuals do look fantastic, and even though the film is dated it is difficult to not be impressed by the stop-motion animatronics.

Worth mentioning about The Nightmare Before Christmas is the fine songs written by Burton associate Danny Elfman. The songs are melodically filled whilst still retaining the essence of Halloween and Christmas. Elfman also manages to turn in a very good singing voice for Jack, although Jack’s dialogue is spoken by Chris Sarandon. Also, the material for the film is an original idea, and deserves credit for daring to be a differently angled take on the usual route of an animated film.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is an enjoyable and alternative animated tale that has innovative-if-dated stop-motion effects and a rather weak story-line despite the premise’s potential. It certainly should be seen at least once, and children will favour it due to its deviation from the normal dose of animation. There are certainly some funny moments, in particular the bizarre, demonic gifts that kids receive at Jack’s Christmas, yet on the whole, The Nightmare Before Christmas could have been so much more, and should have reached a Shrek-like level of status.

The case incorrectly claims the aspect ratio to be 1.66:1 and doesn’t state whether the film is anamorphic or not. The film IS anamorphic, but is actually framed at 1.85:1. Even so, the picture quality is extremely good with vibrant colours even though the film is a masterpiece on a gothic level, although a few speckles crop up at rare intervals.

The sound department is a touchy note for some fans of the film, as the Region 1 version contained a DTS mix, which sadly is lacking from the Region 2 version. Even so, the 5.1 mix that is provided is very good, and gives a new lease of life to the audio elements which now have greater depth of channels to assault the senses. Sound effects swirl around the channels, and gives an added dimension to the visual qualities of the film.

Be warned that there are more extras on the DVD than are actually mentioned on the casing artwork, such as two short film gems from the early career of Tim Burton. Even so, this is a vast improvement on the previously released bare-bones versions.

Audio Commentary With Henry Selick and Pete Kozachik: A commentary featuring director Selick and director of photography/visual effects supervisor Kozachik, with both recorded separately and concentrating mainly on the technical aspects which were groundbreaking at the time of the film’s release. The commentary would have benefited more with the two men recorded together as opposed to being separate and pasted together. It is fascinating to watch however, if a little dry. It’s just a pity Tim Burton couldn’t have been thrown into the commentary mix.

The Making Of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: The usual making of featurette featuring interviews from the crew and insights into how the technical aspects of the film were produced. An enjoyable and slick featurette, which lasts for twenty four minutes. It’s just a pity that the featurette didn’t plunge into greater depth, as the film was quite innovative in its time and deserved more of a visual explanation as to how the animation processes were achieved.

Storyboard To Film Comparisons: A four minute sequence presented in split-screen, with storyboards at the top and the actual film sequence at the bottom. This is merely a presentation comparing the original storyboards to the final release version, and the sequence used to demonstrate this is the meeting where Jack attempts to convince the inhabitants of Halloween Town that they should embrace Christmas. Although an interesting extra, it is nowhere near long enough nor extensive enough.

Deleted Scenes: Split into two sections – Deleted Storyboards and Deleted Animated Sequences. The deleted storyboards contain three never-animated sequences, all with commentary from the director Henry Selick – ‘Behemoth Singing’, ‘Oogie Boogie with Dancing Bugs’ and ‘Alternate Identity of Oogie Boogie’. The deleted/extended animated sequences are, although exhibiting poor picture quality, mostly interesting, with a bizarre short sequence involving vampires playing ice hockey. The sequences again all contain director’s commentary, and are titled ‘Jack’s Scientific Experiments’, ‘Vampire Hockey Players’, ‘Lock, Shock And Barrel’ and ‘Oogie Boogie Shadow Dance’.

The Worlds Of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: A nicely sectioned extra, with three departments – Halloween Town, Christmas Town and The Real World. Each department contains sketches and designs on the relevant characters, and the Halloween Town section even contains early animation tests with voice-overs from the director. This extra is good considering the fact that each item has its own menu link and isn’t just a segment of one long roll.

Posters And Trailers: A selection of posters, trailers and TV spots. The posters and trailers are the usual fare, and the TV spots are quite long and detailed which is fairly unusual.

Tim Burton’s Early Films: This extra is such a gem and there is hardly a mention of this on the back cover. Fans of Burton will delight in the fact that two early films of his career are included in their entirety. The first film is a black and white stop-motion animated tale entitled Vincent, which is a wonderfully charming yet kooky story of a young boy named Vincent who is obsessed about becoming a sadistic mad scientist. It’s narrated brilliantly by the late, great Vincent Price, and some people may have seen it already as it featured before The Nightmare Before Christmas in its original cinema run. The second Tim Burton film is a twenty-five minute live-action short, again shot in black and white, called Frankenweenie. The story is essentially a rehash of Vincent, but taken a step further as it tells of a boy who tries to scientifically revive his dead dog after a car accident. Frankenweenie is very funny, but loses its impetus towards the end of the film, but even so, these two short films are an absolute delight.

A visually inventive film that made waves when it was released, The Nightmare Before Christmas has managed to steal many excellent extras from the laserdisc version whilst improving over the initial, bare-bones DVD release. It doesn’t contain the DTS audio track that the Region 1 version has, but this is a small detraction, and shouldn’t put customers off buying this disc, as some of the extras are worthy of purchase alone, particularly if you are a fan of Tim Burton.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Nov 02, 2001

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