Release Date(s)1993 (August 26, 2008)
Studio(s)Touchstone/Walt Disney Pictures (Buena Vista)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor's Note: The film portions of this review are by Adam Jahnke. The disc comments are by Bill Hunt.]
Halloween is obviously an important holiday to me. I wouldn’t devote an entire month to the subject if it weren’t, now would I? But as much as I love Halloween, Christmas has always been a close second. I realize some people who think October 31 is the best date on the calendar absolutely loathe December 25. Likewise, there are plenty of folks who live for Christmas but wish Halloween would just go away. But I’d like to think they’re outnumbered by people like me who think both holidays are pretty fantastic in their own ways. I know plenty of them personally and they’re some of the finest people I’ve ever met. All things considered, it’s a very grand thing to be a card-carrying member of the Halloweenmas Appreciation Society.
Tim Burton is one of us and The Nightmare Before Christmas is just about as perfect a movie as he’s ever devised. Odds are you already know this movie and you either like it or you don’t. If you don’t, nothing I can say will persuade you otherwise. For the rest of us, it’s a pitch-perfect blend of the macabre and the merry. It’s a dark, twisted but remarkably cheerful and upbeat movie. It hearkens back to beloved childhood favorites like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Mad Monster Party but asserts its own personality and style within minutes.
Burton is an unusual filmmaker for a lot of reasons. But if you subscribe to the auteur theory, he’s even more of an oddity. Almost all of his movies bear his unique stamp. But perhaps more than most filmmakers, his best movies are done in close collaboration with others. Nowhere is that more apparent than in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton deserves his possessive pre-title credit but the movie would be unimaginable without the contributions of Danny Elfman and director Henry Selick. Elfman’s score is as much a part of this movie as its design and animation and it ranks among his best work, if not his all-time best.
As for Selick, Burton at this stage in his career would likely not have been capable of directing a feature-length stop-motion film. He had too many irons in the fire and stop-motion is a medium that requires absolute concentration. Fortunately, Selick understood Burton’s vision completely and did a phenomenal job interpreting it to film. The project needed someone who appreciated not just the design but also the story and the characters. Selick and his team gave this movie heart and soul beyond what a work-for-hire director would have given.
The 1080p video quality is, overall, excellent. The film is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, so you’re going to see thin black bars on the sides of your screen—that’s by design and as it should be, so you’ll hear no complaints about it from us. Color is incredibly vibrant and accurate, with deep, dark blacks and excellent shadow detailing—all very important to this particular film. I should note that the film does appear to have undergone a bit of digital scrubbing to reduce film grain. That said, you needn’t worry that the use of DNR has negatively impacted the quality in this case. Fine detail is still excellent, and the grain hasn’t been completely removed—you can still see it if you look very closely. What you get is a very smooth looking image, with an only very occasional too-digital appearance. Since this is a stop-motion film, without live action, the image never looks unnatural. (If there WERE live actors here, you might notice the lack of skin detailing, for example, but there aren’t... so you don’t.) On the audio front, you get a very lively and musical Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix—one that delivers both a natural soundfield and also an engaging sonic experience. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the video, but it more than does the job.
In terms of bonus material, you get virtually everything that was available on the previous special edition DVD release, with one key exception. The previous DVD included an audio commentary with director Henry Selick and D.P. Pete Kozachik. The new Blu-ray Disc features a completely new commentary, featuring Selick, composer Danny Elfman and producer Tim Burton. The new track is excellent, but some of you might still want to keep your previous DVD to keep the old commentary too. (I just tucked the DVD into the Blu-ray packaging in a paper sleeve.) All of the other video-based extras from the DVD are here, PLUS you get a number of new items. Among them are a new introduction to the film by Burton, a video tour of Disney’s Haunted Mansion (as transformed at Christmas into Jack’s world), a all-new making of documentary, featurettes on Halloween Town and Christmas Town, Burton’s original poem narrated by actor Christopher Lee and more. You also get a ‘Disney File’ digital copy version of the film on a second disc. All in all, this is a great collection of material that should satisfy any fan.
As far as I’m concerned, The Nightmare Before Christmas should be traditional viewing every Halloween night. Nothing else captures the magic of both Halloween and Christmas. For those of us who believe the holiday season officially begins in October and not November, it wonderfully sums up our joy at Halloween and helps build our excitement for the holidays still to come.
Happy Halloween, everyone... and may we be the first to wish you a very Merry Christmas.
– Dr. Adam Jahnke