Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 2-disc Collector’s Edition DVD Review

     September 20, 2008

Reviewed by Bob Lydecker

Housed in a glossy box topped with a relief of Jack Skellington’s cadaverous visage, Buena Vista Home Entertainment’s 2-disc re-release of Tim Burton’s beloved stop-motion spectacle, The Nightmare Before Christmas, delivers all the treats from the original edition plus new goodies and an unbelievably beautiful transfer of the movie itself.

Suffering a bout of ennui after a successful Halloween, Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon and sung by Danny Elfman), the king of Halloweentown, sets off in search of new challenges. In his wanderings, Jack happens upon Christmastown and becomes enamored with the Yuletide celebration. After arranging the kidnapping of Santa Clause (v. Edward Ivory), Jack re-tools his kingdom for macabre merriment and launches a less than successful bid to usurp Saint Nick’s gig.

Conceived by director Tim Burton while he was an animator at Disney during the mid-1980s, The Nightmare Before Christmas is surprisingly grim. Filled with gags that would secure an NC-17 for a live action film, the movie’s sense of playfulness and absolute commitment to its intricately-designed environs are a tribute to the ingenuity of director Harry Selick, writers Michael McDowell and Caroline Thompson and the talented craftspeople who brought their amazing vision to life. Despite the onscreen brilliance, the aspect of the production that elevates Nightmare to its esteemed position as a modern classic must be Danny Elfman’s beautiful songs, which, in the finest Disney tradition, harness the characters’ emotions and propel the tale forward.

Originally issued on a single disc back in 2000, Nightmare has returned to the format with an extra DVD to contain the supplements allowing the feature bandwidth to breathe. The 1.66:1 image is a revelation. This could be the single best image I’ve ever seen from a DVD and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is nothing to shake a bone at either.

Returning from previous editions are two of Tim Burton’s earlier efforts. 1984’s Frankenweenie, which could do with a bit of remastering given its noisy image, is a black and white short that chronicles young Victor Frankenstein’s (Barret Oliver) attempt to resurrect his bull terrier and the Mary Shelley-inspired chaos that ensues. A suburban take on the classic gothic tale, Frankenweenie boasts an exemplary cast featuring Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, and even future Academy Award-winning writer Sofia Coppola. Better preserved is 1982’s Vincent Price narrated stop-motion masterpiece Vincent. An obvious harbinger of Nightmare, it’s a beautiful tale of hero worship. Christopher Lee’s sepulchral tones lend a sense of gravitas to Burton’s original Nightmare poem as the actor reads the piece alongside artwork by the director. Contrasting the much simpler poem with the finished film highlights additions like the rag doll Sally (v. Catherine O’Hara) as Jack’s love interest. Burton, Selick, and Elfman offer an insightful all-new commentary that adds substantially to one’s appreciation of the movie. There are behind the scenes featurettes, art work detailing the story’s settings and characters, deleted scenes, storyboard to film comparisons and even a lengthy documentary on Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and its annual conversion to a Nightmare Before Christmas-themed attraction. Released with plenty of time to buy before October 31st, the new edition of The Nightmare Before Christmas is as suitable a trick-or-treat prize as it is a stocking stuffer.

On a scale where “A” indicates the pinnacle of the medium, “B” stands for an extraordinary example, “C” represents 90-percent of what’s out there, “D” indicates a sub-standard effort, and “F” means an abomination that should at least result in the sterilization of those responsible…

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and its 2-disc collector’s edition presentation score an A-. The film has also been released on Disney Blu-ray.

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