Friday, June 19, 2009

Movie Journal: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Over the years, The Nightmare Before Christmas has developed something of a reputation among those who have not seen it. Many will say that it is "weird" and "freaky," and that may be true. But it's also a timeless classic, and a landmark in both musical and animated film.

What an awesome premise, too. Think about it: what if there is a dimension in which there exists a land for each holiday, the inhabitants of which have to work constantly to bring that holiday about? What if the kings of each land have been running and supervising their designated holidays since the beginning of time? In this story, that's exactly the way it is for Jack, the Pumpkin King of the dark and graveyard-infested Halloweentown. Every year he makes Halloween happen. And he's getting tired of of it.

While off on a thoughtful walk through Halloweentown's deep and dark forest, he happens upon a clearing containing a portal to each holiday's land. Drawn to Christmastown's door, Jack enters and is totally amazed by the bright and colorful world of Christmas. Still, as he returns and tries to describe the place to the inhabitants of Halloweentown, he finds that, well, he can't. His explanations are completely lost on his citizens, leaving him questioning whether what he experienced(the emotions, the sights, the sounds, the warmth inside) was truly real. And so, Jack begins to tirelessly conduct tests and experiments, none of which lead to a rational way of defining or explaining Christmas. This prompts him...

Ah, what the heck is wrong with me? Off I go about the exceptionally intriguing plot and premise, yet at the same time I just about abuse one of the greatest things about the film: the music! Not only did Danny Elfman(who needs no introduction) both write and compose the score, but he also performs the powerfully emotional singing voice for the main character, Jack himself.

Elfman's musical score grabs your attention instantly at the very beginning of the story, and doesn't let go until the end. Very few moments pass that are not carried by the emotion of Elfman's music, perfectly transitioning the storyline as it carries us from one scene to the next. There's not a dull moment in the entire plot.

As for the animation, the majority of it is stop-motion, and is shot at 24 frames per second. This may seem a dated approach for an animated film, and it is. But if anything, this film's graphics only lend a more eerie feel to the story, with age. Hence my describing it as timeless.

The Nightmare Before Christmas isn't just a "Christmas movie". It's a deep and fascinating tale that delves into the fact that there are some things in the universe you simply cannot reduce to explanations of scientific logic and reasoning. It's also a somewhat bittersweet story, because while we know that Jack finally gets the message of Christmas, he'll never truly be able to be a part of it, and express it purely; though he can try. Kind of like how us humans try, and yet even in some small way always fail. In a way, we're very much like Jack; dark and tainted, knowing only the world of Halloweentown and barely able to comprehend Christmasland. At the same time, we're given hope in the fact that we may yet someday experience it firsthand, kind of how Jack did.

The result is a controlling idea that reflects meaning, and when it comes to film, that is true depth.

10 out 10

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