Although it has been more than a decade since its theatrical release, there are still ads on television for the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). As the name implies, its about the monsters of Halloween. Their leader, Jack Skellington, tries to hijack Santa’s holiday. Naturally, chaos ensues. It is an animated dark fantasy/musical film known thoughout the world for its radical and striking appearance, and a sound track that is both haunting and enchanting. It was also a stop-motion claymation movie, which is always fun. Unfortunately, it seems that its unique qualities scared off some viewers, particularly parents. Is it still worth watching any more? Is it outdated?

Well, we cannot off-handedly dismiss it as outdated, because Corpse Bride (2005) was so successful. The Nightmare Before Christmas was also re-released a couple years ago in theaters, so surely at least someone thinks it is worth seeing. And why not? The fimmakers behind it managed to integrate german expressionism, claymation, and the musical genre and got it to sell. There’s something to be said for presenting something new and different, even if its really just a combination of things that have been around a while.

Although this movie is a musical, I believe that few would deny that the visuals are its strongest asset. Tim Burton has an artist touch to his movies that viewers either love or hate. His setting and characters tend to look like they came from a gloomy children’s book (mind you, Tim Burton didn’t actually direct this film, but he did produce it).

 This film was also HEAVILY influenced by the 1920’s European art movement called German Expressionism. The creatures and objects are all distorted and have skewed, nightmarish angles. The mayor and Jack even looks like Dr. Calgari and Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Calgari (1920), a prominent film of that trend. Nothing is made to look realistic, and why should it? Seriously, we’re talking about a cartoon. The stop-motion animation also remininscent of the older Christmas movies like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), but with a strange otherworldly twist. Being inspired by other movies is always a good thing, but I was a little turned off when I noticed how alike Jack Skellington was to Jack Pumkinhead from Return to Oz. In fact, he wears a Pumkinhead costume in the opening sequence.

The drawback to stop-motion is that by the 1993, it was a bit archaic and primitive (keep in mind that Jurrassic Park came out the same year).  Every once in a while there is a distracting flaw, such as visible wires and such. Regardless, the cinematographer and the crew clearly were masters of the visual language. Every transition is flawless or damn close, and the characters are beautifully photographed. This is the only musical I have ever seen where the viewer can turn off the volume, and still know what’s going on. That is truly a sign of great filmmaking, as film is a primarily visual medium. Of course, as a musical, it would be nothing without great music, wouldn’t it?

Who could be a more appropiate choice for this film’s music than Danny Elfman? The man has produced some of the best movie music for decades, and the music for the the Nightmare Before Christmas may be his best work. He even sang some parts. All of the songs are memorable- perhaps excessively so. I had the saddest song stuck in my head for days.

The plot isn’t as impressive, however. Jack decides to take a break from Halloween and try Christmas, but does so carelessly and without asking Santa Claus. His admirer knows its a bad idea, but Jack is oblivious. He has Santa captured, and takes over the fat man’s job, and obviously discovers he isn’t too great at it. There is also a boogieman with a gambling addiction that tries to eat Santa. Its a simple, predictable story. The magic of the actual storytelling compensates for this wonderfully, but the boogieman villian could have been fleshed out much more. He is interesting, but his role is so small it is almost unneccessary.

Overall the movie is very gloomy, and it’s easy to see why the emo and goth crowds identify with it so much. The freaky monsters fail to find their place in the outside world. Jack’s admirer and romantic interest, Sally, feels perpetually overlooked (guess who sang that depressing song). It is easy to see the film as a tragedy, promoting conformity within one’s own group. In this case, the monsters would stay with Halloween. I would challenge that. In the end, Jack and his admirer get what they really wanted in the end. Even so, the movie is still pretty dark. Some of the characters might creep out kids too, but then again some kids were scared of the California Raisins.

This is a must see for Tim Burton fans and Halloween fanatics. That’s a given. For everyone else, it depends on where you stand with musicals, or strange characters. Just don’t dismiss this as a mere children’s film, because young adults tend to be most attracted to this film. I recommend it, especially if you have Netflix.

8.5 out 10.0

Since we are talking older films, I think I’ll start with the ones I remember as a kid.  No, not the Disney sappy cartoon movies.  I’m talking about the darker fairytale movies that arose in the 1980’s and early 90’s, most of which were either forgotten or forever idolized as cult hits.

Certain titles immediately come to mind; Labrynth (1986), the Dark Crystal (1982), the Secret of NIMH (1982) and of course, the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).  There were tons of others as well, and all of them loosely shared a mystical and sometimes haunting aura that directly challenged the model used by Disney.  Ironically, Disney tried to capitalize on the dark fantasy movement, but only had one extrordinary success.

There is little question as to the visual esthetic and mastery of puppeteering that complemented some of these films. After all, these are the masterpieces of Jim Hensen and Tim Burton. Don Bluth even managed to give Disney a little competition in the animation field.  One even features David Bowie in excessively tight pants.

But looking back, were these films all that dark? Sometimes they were. Consider the film Return to Oz (1985):

It starts off with Dorothy being taken to a shrink who wants to subject her to electro-shock therapy to cure her “obsession” with Oz.  After Dorothy narrowly escapes down a river, she finds herself in a post-apocalypse version of Oz, where the buildings are in ruins and the people turn to stone (and therefore, dead). The land is terrorized by insane mostrosities and ruled by an evil  old queen, who cuts off pretty young women’s heads so she can wear them. 

Wow. Now thats different.

Obviously, not all of these movies were so extreme, and even Return to Oz had a happy ending. Movies like these generally were intended for somewhat older audiences, hence the PG ratings.  What you have to understand is that “fairy” tales weren’t always cheery Disney stories. These films harken back to the old days when children were told “faerie” tales to scare them so they wouldn’t wander into the woods. 

Faeries used to be conceived as fallen angles that Didn’t quite make it to hell. They generally weren’t good or evil, but they were chaotic and not to be trusted. They could be beautiful winged women, or goblins and trolls that dwelled under bridges. Alot of these stories have sad endings and sometimes involve small children being stolen. Although these movies don’t go that far, they do tend to blur the lines between black and white. Inevitably, mainstream audiences became uncomfortable with this style, and opted for traditional Hollywood movies.

Why talk about all this? Tommorrow, I will do my review of the Nightmare Before Christmas.I haven’t seen it in nearly a decade and I am a fan of the German Expressionist aesthetic. Seeing as how this is the first review, why not give it and its predecessors a proper introduction

By the Way…

August 25, 2008

Please note the the new blogroll. My blog might still be in its early stages, but my sister’s is full of interesting material!

My Rating Method Lowdown

August 23, 2008

I rate films and games in a similar way many online review sites do. I use a 10.0 scale. My ratings are much more subjective and nonspecific than others, but I will always be as specific as possible in my actual review. 

For movies, I look for several different aspects of films. They are:

  • Competence of Direction and Editing- Basically how well the story/content is presented. Yes, screenwriting is also a factor here, but the final product is ultimately decided by the head of the production.
  • Competence of Acting and Crew-This is also pretty self explanatory…the actors obviously are the face of a film. I group the actors with the crew because a great performance hard to appreciate if the quality of sound or lighting is off.
  • Art Direction-Look and/or style of the film.
  • Originality-Because seeing the same shit over and over again is just plain annoying. 
  • Artistic Appeal-The high brow, theoretical stuff.
  •  Entertainment Value- Will the average joe like it?

 To me, it is equally important that a film have an artistic side while still being accessible to a gerneral audience. If you have a great concept behind your flick, why not let everyone in on it?

My First Shot at Disc Golf

August 23, 2008

My father and I went to a local recreational park to try out a new hobby…disc golf.  It appears that the sport is much more popular than I would have believed, and there are many disc golf courses around. The promise of playing a relatively accessible game with friends in a convenient location was too good to pass up, especially since I’ve been without an outdoor hobby. My father lives near a course, so he was curious about trying it too.

We anxiously ventured off onto disc golf course, and almost immediately were daunted by the distance and obstacles. Some of the tees were nearly 400 feet in length. There are many large trees the dotted the area. Not too many, but enough to sufficiently hid many of the baskets. The terrain itself was quite hilly, which was quite a contrast from the course near my dad’s house.  And of course, there was that damned wind.

Obviously, our first throws weren’t quite up to par.  The later tees were obviously becoming more and more challenging, but we noticed after a while that our skills were getting better, too. Soon we were making par and sometimes doing even better.  I felt more comfortable once I realised I didn’t have to go the whole distance in one throw.  Most tees were made in about three to five throws.

My only complain was the occaisional presence of poison ivy, since I am susceptible to it. It was out of the way, but that’s also where newbie disc golfers tend to end up.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience. We will meet again to try it at the course by my father’s house next weekend…perhaps this time we’ll even keep score!  :)

OoOo boy.

August 22, 2008

Welcome to my weblog. Bare with me. Its my first one.