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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (Blu-ray)
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (Blu-ray)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG // August 26, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Chris Neilson | posted August 26, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Once upon a time, an animator's apprentice wrote and illustrated a poem about a skeleton named Jack who was bored of yelling boo. Jack was so depressed he didn't know what to do. Then he happened upon Santa Claus preparing for Christmas Eve, and Jack hatched a plot that was quite ill-conceived.

Jack thought Christmas sounded like lots of fun, so he enlisted the aid of everyone. The entire town of Halloween was in on the plot, to put on a Christmas that would not be forgot.

Ghoulish presents were wrapped by mummies with great care, and strapped to a coffin for the flight in midair. Skeletal reindeer were hitched to the casket that night, as Santa was nabbed and kept out of sight.

Jack delivered macabre gifts to unsuspecting girls and boys, who hadn't listed shrunken heads on their list of wanted toys. Fortunately- Christmas was saved just in the nick of time, with an ending that young and old will find most sublime.

The animator's apprentice - Tim Burton - thought his poem would be splendid on the big screen, but his bosses at Disney thought it too grim and obscene. So Tim left Disney to find something new, and he happened to make a successful movie or two.

This prompted the Disney execs to re-think Tim's story, and they decided to make the film in all its gory glory. Although he could produce the film, Tim was far too busy to direct, so he suggested Henry Selick, for whom he holds much respect. Danny Elfman was tapped to write the songs and sing for Jack, which was a very wise decision since these clearly are his knack.

It took three years, 230 sets, 19 soundstages, and 100,000 individual shots to create the illusion of motion, but fortunately these labors garnered a large fan base of great devotion. I'd like to continue the rest of my review writing in rhyme, but since the Blu-ray was released today, I haven't got the time.

The Presentation
This two-disc release consists of a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded Blu-ray disc, and a DVD containing a downloadable standard definition copy for play on an iTunes or Windows media player. The Blu-ray case looks quite nice, but is hidden in a slipcover loaded with text. The Blu-ray disc is slower than usual to load. On some players one or more of the promos and trailers that play upon start up may prohibit skipping directly to the main menu. For example, on the PS3, the top menu command is not available until after the opening Walt Disney Studios promo has finished or been individually skipped.

TNBC is encoded for 1080p/24 play. The original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is maintained. The image looks beautiful with far more detail and richness than can be seen in the old letterboxed DVD released in 2000. The image appears free of noticeable edge enhancement and the film's original grain hasn't been scrubbed away by DNR. That said, there are two reasons that some might be disappointed with the look of this release. First, unlike Corpse Bride which was shot using digital photography, TNBC was shot on 35mm film. Consequently, TNBC has a grainy look that doesn't make the characters stand out from the background in the way they would with digital photography. Second, TNBC is intentionally lit like a live-action romantic musical with soft diffuse lighting that makes Sally look glamorous but that doesn't make the characters pop out the way hard lighting would. The result is that TNBC is not something to wow your friends who like the the sharpness dialed up to eleven with, however, these choices shouldn't be regarded as flaws in the image, but merely as aesthetic choices; choices, which I think work very well.

TNBC has been remastered in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD (48 kHz/24-bit). Additional audio choices include English, French, and Spanish 5.1 DD, and Portugese 2.0 DD. There is no DTS track on this release. Optional subtitles are available in English for the hard of hearing, French or Spanish.

The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD generally sounds above average but not exceptional. There are a couple of questionable calls regarding directionality. For example, in one scene Dr. Finkelstein is positioned just right and forward of the camera yet his voice booms from the right front and right rear speakers. Other than a few quibbles about directionality though, dialogue is always clear, singing sounds warm, and the soundscape is nicely layered. However, the lower end of the audible spectrum sounds underwhelming on the mix, and the orchestral accompaniment sounds slightly muddled.

A downloadable standard-definition digital copy of TNBC for play on an iTunes or Windows media player.

A Blu-ray exclusive introduction by Tim Burton (1080p, >1 min.).

A new commentary track with producer/writer Tim Burton, director Henry Selick, and composer Danny Elfman. Recorded separately and then assembled, this commentary is informative and free of any dead spots.

Tim Burton's original illustrated poem, narrated by Christopher Lee (1080p, 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, 11 min.).

What's This?: Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour (1080i, 5.1 DD, 7 and 37 min. versions). The 7-minute version includes an optional trivia track.

Frankenweenie! (1984) (480i, 2.0 DD, 30 min.), a live-action short by Tim Burton staring Shelly Duvall, Daniel Stern and Barrett Oliver. In the newly shot introduction, Tim Burton notes that a stop-motion animated feature-length remake is presently in pre-production. IMDb states this will be out in December, 2009.

Vincent (1982) (480i, 2.0 DD, 6 min.), a proof-of-concept stop-motion animation for TNBC, narrated by Vincent Price.

The Making of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (480i, 2.0 DD, 25 min.), a thoroughly enjoyable and informative look at how Tim's original poem was transformed into TNBC. Henry Selick, Danny Elfman, and many of the designers participate and a lot of good behind-the-scenes footage is included.

The Worlds of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas - a gallery of nearly 500 images from TNBC.

Deleted Sequences and Storyboards (480i, 2.0 DD, 8 min.).

Storyboard to Film Comparison (480i, 2.0 DD, 4 min.).

Gallery of 5 movie posters and original teaser trailer and theatrical trailer for TNBC.

1080p previews for other Disney Blu-ray releases.

Final Thoughts:
Despite some scenes which may be too scary for very small children (say six and under), most viewers young and old should really enjoy this stop-motion animated musical. The animation is captivating; the songs are top-notch; and, the storyline is simple enough for a child to understand but strong enough for an adult to appreciate.

Disney should be commended for the quality of this release. While there are extras that Disney should have included but didn't (e.g., the 43-minute version of The Making of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the old commentary with director Henry Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik), what they did include is very strong and enhances the enjoyment of the film. Further, I hope most viewers will be as pleased as I am that Disney didn't try to manipulate the image through excessive edge enhancement or digital noise reduction in hopes of making TNBC look more like Corpse Bride than its original aesthetics would allow.

This Blu-ray release of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is highly recommended.

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