The Nightmare Before Christmas Blu-ray 3D Review with D-BOXSeptember 09, 2011
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas has been making the 3D rounds in limited theatrical runs during the holiday season for five years now. It has always been a top contender to make the jump to Blu-ray 3D considering Disney's bullishness on the format, and now that it's finally here, you'll witness one of the more subtle and cleaner examples of post-production 3D done right.
Most Christmastime viewing staples are straightforward live-action films like A Christmas Story or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, or classic animated television shows like Rudolph or Frosty. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, however, falls into its own unique category. It may share the stop-motion animated techniques used to bring Frosty and Rudolph to life, but any comparisons end right there.
Take the very concept of the Halloween King becoming bored with his monotonous routine and seeking a fresh purpose in life by assuming the Santa Claus duties of Christmas. Young trick-or-treaters kidnap Santa Claus and a jubilant but deadly Boogeyman is ready to dispose of the mighty red-suited one in a most gruesome manner. It takes a special person to not only dream up such an anomalous concoction, but to execute it in an imaginative, fresh way both tasteful and controversial at the same time.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a magical blend of animation, music and creativity. Visually it was revolutionary for its time and still works today despite some animation quirks ironed out years later in The Corpse Bride. The music, in particular, is catchy like a Broadway play. To throw more kudos composer Danny Elfman's direction, he does a bang-up job voicing Jack Skellington as a conflicted leader in dire need of a reality check. One viewing to take everything in is simply not enough.
The successful 3D conversion and remastering of The Nightmare Before Christmas back in 2006 was the first full feature-film shot in 2D to be converted entirely to 3D. Unlike today's 3D post-production conversions that studios throw together in short time, Disney but their best foot forward on this trial run which, in many ways, trumps the rushed modern 3D conversions.
The best way to describe the 3D effect of The Nightmare Before Christmas on Blu-ray 3D is to call it "subtle." There's depth and dimensionality to the picture, but the viewing planes aren't as separated as you'd find in an animated film created specifically for 3D. When Jack is flying his Santa sled the effect is more evident with cloud layering, yet other scenes on the ground are so subtle you forget there's 3D at all.
One scene in particular during the closing song did make me jump, though, a first for the Blu-ray 3D format. I couldn't help but chuckle considering the film wasn't created for 3D and yet it was the first to really catch me off guard.
Videophiles need to take note that this is a new transfer and slightly different than the previously released Blu-ray 2D version. The aspect ratio has been trimmed down from 1.66:1 to 1:78:1, effectively losing a miniscule amount of the top and bottom of the frame. Most people won't even notice this alteration.
What viewers will notice are added 3D effects to the stars and elements around the end credits text. Like most of the film's journey into the third dimension it's a subtle inclusion, but appreciated nonetheless.
I also found a couple scenes involving Jack and Sally to be a little softer and granier than the Blu-ray 2D counterpart, especially whichever character was not entirely in focus. This may have resulted from the 3D transfer process, but it's hard to tell. The Blu-ray 2D disc included in the set is virtually identical to the previously released disc.
The same 7.1 Dolby TrueHD 48 kHz/24-bit treatment on the Blu-ray 2D film is also included on the Blu-ray 3D version. As it was in the previous Blu-ray release, the audio mix is outstanding. Voices are always spot-on accurate and easily heard, even when they're required to travel to the rear soundstage. One such scene involving the mayor speaking as he moves around the camera is translated perfectly through the mix to where it really sounds like the mayor is standing behind you. Other "surround moments" are so convincingly real that it is hard not to turn around.
The only difference in audio between the previously released Blu-ray 2D version and both the new 2D and 3D discs is they now appropriately default to the superior 7.1 mix.
D-BOX Motion Code
Aside from a thump here or a scare there, the rest of the film is relatively calm in terms of movement and action on-screen. This left D-BOX engineers a challenge to insert as much appropriate Motion Code as possible without mudding up the presentation with force movement.
What they did is something I want to see more of in the future: designing the Motion Code to play along with the score. The bass in Elfman's score is reverberated through D-BOX with precise pitch based on the tune and key. This more subtle use of D-BOX scattered between the more obvious flying sequences balances the experience by cutting down what would have been overly long stints of no D-BOX motion into more acceptable outages.
Beyond the Feature
This new version of The Nightmare Before Christmas should be considered the definitive one, at least for many years into the future. In addition to the Blu-ray 3D version is the aforementioned Blu-ray 2D version, as well as the DVD and a digital copy. All the bonus features from the previously released Blu-ray 2D set have ported over.
New Audio Commentary with Tim Burton, Director Henry Selick and Music Composer Danny Elfman Burton opens up about how Nightmare came to be, the influences and putting the daunting film together. It takes awhile for Henry and Danny to get going but they eventually do and offer their own unique take on their contributions to the film. Nightmare's short runtime cements this commentary as one worth visiting.
Tim Burton Movie Introduction (0:18, HD) Tim manages to eek out a single sentence to preface Nightmare Before Christmas on Blu-ray. He can't even come up with 30 seconds of words to offer about the format, which is a shame.
What's This? Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour (7:14, HD) Offered with an optional pop-up trivia track that is a must, this narrated tour of Disney's Haunted Mansion an eye opener for anyone who hasn't been to the park during the holiday months. There are enough renovations made to consider a trip just to check it out in person, amongst everything else Disney has to offer.
Frankenweenie (Uncut) With New Introduction by Burton (30:05) Burton's 33-second intro states the feature film version is in the early stages of production. The actual Frankenweenie is crude but gives a glimpse into what to expect from the new film.
Tim Burton's Original Poem Narrated by Christopher Lee (11:37, HD) Burton intros this haunting reading accompanied by art based on Burton's original concepts. Lees legendary voice negates the needs for any visuals at all. The poem is just as effective with eyes closed or open.
Vincent (5:55) Tim Burton and Henry Heinrich's early short film at Disney presented in full. Some of the stop motion techniques used in Vincent would find their way into Nightmare Before Christmas.
Deleted Storyboard (2:56) Three are offered with a play all option. The Boogeyman dancing bugs song would have been a nice in the final film if completed. The final storyboard reveals a "twist" that would have changed the outcome of two characters fates.
Deleted Animated Sequences (5:06) These four sequences are fully animated but due to time constraints were given the axe. I am surprised any of these sequences were cut given the relatively short runtime.
The Making of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas (24:44) Six chapters viewable individually or via play all touch upon the standard areas of film production. A narrator moves various segments along including interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. What's great about this short documentary is most of what is discussed varies from what Tim, Danny and Henry offer in their commentary.
Halloween Town, Christmas Town, The Real World - Within these three featurettes are nuggets of never-before-seen pre-production artwork that plays like a slideshow. Some of Jack's original designs had him looking much more menacing than the final character.
Storyboard to Film Comparison (3:47) These are standard comparisons with the storyboards on top and running film on bottom. The windows are fairly small, each taking up only about 20% of a widescreen display.
Posters and Trailer - A bevy of original posters are viewable in a slideshow including a great one titled "lock, shock and barrel." Also on display are the original teaser and theatrical trailers which have not been remastered like the feature film and are presented in full-screen.
One of the most obvious inclusions in Disney's Blu-ray 3D library is finally here and it doesn't disappoint. What's this? What's this? It's a Blu-ray 3D title you'll want to check out whether a fan of Burton's work or not.
- Dan Bradley
Shop for The Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector's Edition on Blu-ray 3D for a discounted price at Amazon.com (August 30, 2011 release date).
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