Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Nightmare Before Christmas - GUEST REVIEW

My friend Scott Marks has been gracious to lend me several of his Christmas movie reviews from his amazing website Emulsion Compulsion.

If you haven't visited his site for some thoroughly honest movie reviews, commentary, and image vaults to die for (including a bunch of Christmas related stuff), take a moment to head over this his site and surf - you'll be there for at least 20 minutes max.

For his final review, Scott chose a movie that was being shown in 3-D at the time and is one of my personal... umm... let me just post the review and let my opinion fall by the wayside:

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Directed by: Henry Selick
Written by: Tim Burton & Michael McDowell
Cast: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, Edward Ivory, Susan McBride, Debi Durst, Greg Proops, Kerry Katz, Randy Crenshaw, Sherwood Ball, Carmen Twillie
Aspect Ratio: 1.66 : 1
Running Time: 76 min.


Rod Serling didn't known it at the time, but when he spoke about finding another dimension by turning a key and unlocking the door of imagination he was directly addressing the current state of film exhibition.

I have seen the future of movies and it is 3-D... I hope.

The depth expanding novelty process, which has been around since the twenties, saw it's greatest rise in popularity during the Fifties when it was dusted off as a means to combat the onslaught of television. With the exception of Hitchcock's "Dial 'M' for Murder", no other stereoscopic film bothered to utilize depth as a means of storytelling. Everybody just wanted to test the limits of those uncomfortable cardboard glasses.

Arguably, the single greatest exponents of 3-D gimmickry were the Three Stooges. With all the pies and fingers aimed at the lenses there was little time left to stop and savor narrative and textural nuance.

Cost and public indifference brought a quick end to the vogue. Originally it took two interlocked projectors rigged with polarized lenses that were offset by approximately three-inches to bring 3-D to the screen. Theaters had to be refitted with expensive silver screens and doubling the prints meant doubling the shipping costs.

Barely on life support in the Sixties, 3-D experienced a minor revival over the next two decades. By now polarized lenses had all but vanquished their blue and red predecessors. The new single-strip process looked better than ever and, positioned at the dawn of sequelitis, found steady employment in third-part installments of horror films. ("Jaws 3-D", "Friday the 13th Part III" and "Amityville 3-D".)

(CAPT'S NOTE: Don't forget "Comin' At Ya!" from 1981 - first 3-D movie I ever saw)

Ultimately, 70mm killed 3-D as well as Cinerama. Audiences didn't have to endure tri-panel seams, nose-creasing glasses or higher ticket prices. Oddly enough, the sharper image resolution wasn't what gave the film stock its celebrity, but the fuller range of stereophonic sound.

Too costly to shoot in the wide-gauge process, for a period Hollywood was ordering 70mm blow-ups on every fifth picture slated for release. As much as I adore "Gremlins 2", even I was stunned to see it in the grandeur of 70mm. With the advent of digital sound, 70mm was put on the disabled list.

Not until IMAX combined 70mm and stereoscopic cinematography had the potential for worldwide acceptance shown such promise. Glasses were now replaced by helmets equipped with polarized visors and tiny speakers that sat behind your ears assuring optimum stereophonic separation.

Attempts to incorporate narrative into the otherwise flaccid Disney-esque nature documentaries proved fruitless. The domed dinosaur that sits in Balboa Park is a far cry from what came to be known as the IMAX Experience. The closest San Diego comes to true IMAX exhibition is up the road a piece in Irvine.

The IMAX thrill quickly came and went, until now. The brainiacs at Industrial Light and Magic devised a way in which any 2-D film can be digitally catapulted into the third-dimension. It is expensive and time consuming, but the results are staggering.

The original 2-D negative is scanned into a computer and digitally spruced up. Coming up with the second strip was a laborious process as Nightmare producer Don Hahn explained in an interview with "If you want to see the original version, you just look with your left eye. But then we have to create a whole right eye version... and that's done by rebuilding the whole movie as a digital picture. In other words, if you have a shot of Jack Skellington, you have to build Jack, and you have to build the background behind him, his house and the snow, or whatever is behind him in a digital world. And then we project a movie on to that digital geometry and then move the digital camera over to the right and re-photograph that for the right eye version."

You still have to wear glasses, but Disney has thankfully devised lightweight and comfortable, if not aggressively unfashionable, lenses.

With its surplus of musical numbers and paucity of plot, I confess to not being a fan of the original Goth-approved Nightmare. In 3-D it's a revelation. The studio promises at least one film a year will be converted to 3-D. I vote for a deep-focus enhancement of "Bambi's" Multiplane Camera pyrotechnics. If not a Disney feature, why not one that influenced Uncle Walt like "Triumph of the Will"?

- - Merry Christmas to everyone and Happy Hannukah to all my Jewish friends. Scott Marks

Thanks Scott for this fantastic review! I hate this film and I think Tim Burton is a totally overrated director who can't tell a good story because the dark themes or special effects backing him up get in the way ("Ed Wood" was the lone exception).



Thanatos said...

I hate this film and I think Tim Burton is a totally overrated director who can't tell a good story because the dark themes or special effects backing him up get in the way ("Ed Wood" was the lone exception)....

Do I win a prize for finding this?

CaptainOT said...

Thanatos - No, just my opinion on Tim Burton. I didn't want to detract from Scott's review.

If it did, so be it.