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Movie Reviews

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas

Happy Halloween! Now, we college students must decide the devilish deeds to be done this dark day. Unfortunately, many options seem quite unsuitable. College students who trick-or-treat are really testing ordinary people's patience. A drunken get-together is always a good idea, but it's the height of midterm season and most people have classes tomorrow. Renting a movie and watching it at home just doesn't have the proper atmosphere, unless you unplug the phone and cultivate man-eating bacteria in your bathroom (not that some of us don't). See a flick in a theater? But you already saw "Exorcist," and "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" is a boner dog of a film. Guess it's back to disgruntled muttering in tongues, sharpening your ax collection and casting hexes on professors who require homework for tomorrow.

Touchstone Pictures would like to submit an alternative: the re-release of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas," the finest film ever made in Claymation about a weird skeleton guy named Jack taking over Christmas. It's hard to fathom the purpose of this re-release, since "TNBC" was released a whopping seven years ago, and since it has been sold on video in attractive Disney cases ever since, it's hardly escaped the public consciousness. Nonetheless, it's back in theaters, where the sound and picture are better than they are in your apartment, and it's still a treat of a film.

Although the name Tim Burton is in the title, all he does for the film is be its producer and provide its "story and characters." These are not much when you consider that the bright shining virtues of this film are its songs and visuals, which were handled by composer/songwriter Danny Elfman and director Henry Selick.

Elfman's score is superlative, a constant joy with its driving rhythms, deft orchestration and cheeky riffs on the old Latin plainchant called the "Day of Wrath." His melodies wind pleasingly and serve their lyrics well. Those lyrics are eminently witty, in the finest movie-musical style, and their artful turns of phrase and throwaway allusions cheerfully support the "Simpsons"-esque mile-wide streak of black humor that makes this film so very appropriate a Halloween entertainment. The glee of songs like "Making Christmas" and "Halloween Town" serves both to intensify the humor and defuse the scariness, but the visuals are sufficiently macabre that the aura, if not the fact, of menace is never far away.

Ah yes, those visuals. "TNBC"'s visuals are thorougly and exquisitely imagined, and really must be seen to be believed. Everything has a joke behind it, and most of the jokes are funny. In particular, there is one pop-eyed, obese, green man with an ax in the back of his head who inspires raucous laughter just by his appearance. The finest scene in this film, too, is purely visual: Jack, playing Santa, has just dropped off a gift in a little boy's home. The mom and dad approach. "What did you get for Christmas?" the mom asks. The little boy, with a look on his face made of equal parts curiosity, fear and wonder, pulls out of his box a shrunken, severed head.

Of course, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is a confection, without any Deeper Meaning of any kind. But it's a superlatively crafted confection, 76 minutes of sheer blissful pleasure. And you haven't lived until you've seen a Claymated surface-to-air missile targeting a sleigh drawn by skeleton reindeer and made out of a coffin. So if you're stuck for Halloween ideas, have a look at "The Nightmare Before Christmas" this haunted eve. And try not to smash any pumpkins on the way home.

 

This is called "audience accomodation" Lindemann

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