By Gordon Meyer
Ever since Disney began promoting their line of 3D Blu-ray titles, “Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas” has been one of the titles they’ve been promising. After almost a year of promises, it's finally here and well worth the wait.
While originally produced as a 2D movie, Disney did an early conversion to 3D about six years ago and has been playing the film in 3D as an annual event ever since.
As an aside, here in the Los Angeles area, it’s scheduled to play at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard for a two week run at the end of October in what Disney refers to as a “4D” experience, which will include theme park-like sensory effects, including wind, snow and fog, according to the El Capitan website.
But as I write this, it’s the end of August. And for some strange reason, Disney chose now to release this highly seasonal movie on 3D Blu-ray. It’s been a number of years since I’ve seen “Nightmare” and this was the first time I saw it in 3D. Here’s a great example of a 3D conversion done right. As Oscar winning producer Jon Landau (“Titanic”, “Avatar”) uses as a mantra, the 3D for “Nightmare” was a window on a world, much more so than things coming out of a window. The effect helps make the viewing experience much more immersive, yet sans gimmickry.
As for the film itself, if you haven’t seen it, director Henry Selick was a colleague of Tim Burton’s at Disney in the late 1970s during the transition period between the original “Nine Old Men” who worked directly for Walt in creating the early animated classics, and the new guard of animators that would go on to create modern era classics like “Beauty and the Beast.” While the story and basic visual design came from Tim Burton, Selick and screenwriter Caroline Thompson fleshed it out (no pun intended) and made it the classic that it has become.
Longtime Burton collaborator Danny Elfman provides both the often operatic score as well as the singing voice of Jack Skellington, the leader of a mythical place called Halloween Town where all the scary sights and sounds of Halloween are planned and executed by a ghoulish crew. Jack feels something is missing though. And when he accidentally discovers Christmas Town, led by a large fellow named “Sandy Claws,” he decides to co-opt Christmas for himself with near disastrous results. Selick keeps the story tight, visually striking and riveting.
Although stop motion animation had been around since the 1920s, it was always used as an effect for select sequences. Not only was “Nightmare” the first studio feature to be made almost entirely using this painstaking process, it also pioneered the use of computer-controlled cameras with stop motion so that the kind of cinematic camera moves typical of live action films could be used for “Nightmare.” Because of the painstaking process, up until Mr. Selick and his team made this film, typically stop motion sequences used entirely static camera angles.
As for the Blu-ray, the transfer is stunning. Again, the 3D effect is beautiful. Normally, I like to point out specific sequences that you can use to show off the 3D effect in a film, but frankly with “Nightmare,” the entire film is great to show off. As has been typical of most of Disney’s 3D Blu-rays released to date, the 3D disc contains no special features. All of those are on the 2D Blu-ray and apparently recycled from the earlier Blu-ray release.
Those special features include two early shorts that Burton directed when he was under contract to Disney in the early 1980s – “Vincent” about a little boy who fantasizes about being Vincent Price (Price himself narrated) and a 30 minute live action short called “Frankenweenie” about a boy who uses Frankenstein like technology to bring his dead dog back to life. The latter is in development as a full feature. You’ll also find an interesting treatment of the original poem, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” that became the basis for the movie. This short is narrated by Christopher Lee and is a lot of fun to watch.
As for what I like to call the “Film School” aspects of the bonus section, Disney has included a wealth of material including a better than average “making of” featurette and audio commentary by Selick, Burton and Elfman.
No question, this is one of the better 3D Blu-rays released to date and a great candidate as an early stocking stuffer.