Additional Nightmare notes
My post from a few days ago on the new Blu-ray release of The Nightmare Before Christmas attracted some negative attention from a small number of people, including a fellow Blu-ray reviewer who accused me of “irresponsible sensationalism designed to stir up controversy”. I’d like to take the opportunity to address some of the issues relating to both the disc itself and my post.
First of all, the reviewer in question feels that my post “blows any small issues with the disc way out of proportion” and “makes almost no mention at all that the disc actually looks pretty damn terrific”. To some extent, I agree in principle with the latter point. The disc certainly does not look “pretty damn terrific” (then again, on certain occasions I have found this reviewer’s impressions to be so far off the mark as to be laughable), but it does look pretty good for the most part, with a high level of detail in most scenes, solid compression and rich, deep colours. Admittedly, I neglected to stress these positives in my review, but here’s the thing: I expect high detail, a lack of compression artefacts and an accurate colour palette in my HD transfers. So sue me, I’m an optimist and like to think, when I pop in a shiny new disc, that I’ll get gold. Despite the number of times the studios have let their customers down, I still hope for the best.
As a result, when I notice flaws, I have a tendency to make them the focal point of my posts and reviews. That, to me, is not unreasonable. Of course it’s important to accentuate the positive so that the studios can see that we appreciate a job well done, but it’s even more important to call them on the boners they pull so they can take steps to ensure that the same things don’t happen again. If you look through the various Blu-ray and HD DVD image quality reviews I’ve written on this site, I think you’ll find that, if a disc looks particularly good, I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops. I take the opportunity to point out problematic discs, but equally well, if a disc is flawless (or nearly flawless), I have a feeling that I’ll be among the most vocal in my praise of it.
I can appreciate the need for balance in reviews, so let me take the opportunity to fill in the gaps in my previous post by summarising the situation.
The Nightmare Before Christmas on Blu-ray is:
- Well encoded
- Detailed in around 90% of shots
- Still the best film Tim Burton attached his name to
- When all said and done, the best representation of the film on optical disc
It is not:
- An accurate representation of its source materials
- Free of DVNR artefacts
Overall, it works out at around a high 7/10 in my book. No, it’s not a “pretty damn terrific” transfer, but it’s not exactly shameful either.
Posted: Thursday, September 04, 2008 at 10:28 AM
| Comments: 14
keep up the good work
in no way have any of your posts ever given the impression of being sensationalist, but merely an accurate and insightful analysis of the material in question
Posted by: Dom, September 4, 2008 12:07 PM
I agree with everything you said. I don't know what Josh is on about. Maybe "another DVNR victim" was too strong a phrase especially right after the Dark City disaster. A few scenes in NBC approach that level of processing though.
Posted by: Kram Sacul, September 4, 2008 3:25 PM
I just discovered your blog and your post about 'Nightmare before Christmas' with DNR...
Film lovers need people like you who are passionate about image quality, especially since true 1080p HD is still new for many of us... not everybody is used to detecting flawed transferts yet...
Keep up your good work!! :)
Posted by: Parotaku, September 4, 2008 6:29 PM
I only have to question how can you be sure and know that this is not as accurate representation of its source material as it can be? You have to consider that the source material is 15 years old now, and could be degraded, micro-scratched or damaged by aging or abrasion. What looks like DNR processing could be a necessary result of corrections performed to prevent a much worse looking result. Comparing it to releases from the same period doesn't work either, as you can never know for sure in what state this particular film has been.
Also, it is true that you commented how this release is the best looking home release of this movie, but you really didn't communicate just by how much this is so - and it is by a very large margin compared to any DVD.
Posted by: The Poster, September 5, 2008 2:58 AM
Another thing to consider is that some of the shots of the original movie could have simply been slightly out of focus. It's not such an uncommon thing to happen, and it's much easier to notice on HDM than it was on a DVD. Looking at the screens posted here, that actually seems like a more likely explanation for some of the softer looking screens, than an over-applied DNR.
Posted by: The Poster, September 5, 2008 4:48 AM
Dom, Kram Sacul and Parotaku:
Thanks for the kind words, guys. I appreciate it. :)
All reasonable questions, and ones which I’ll attempt to answer. This is probably the most detailed comment I’ve ever posted on this site, so apologies in advance for the length.
“I only have to question how can you be sure and know that this is not as accurate representation of its source material as it can be? You have to consider that the source material is 15 years old now, and could be degraded, micro-scratched or damaged by aging or abrasion.”
I can be sure because I know from experience what film looks like, and I also know what a transfer that has been over-processed using digital tools looks like. All the tell-tale signs are there, from the static or eroded grain patterns to the smudgy/oily/waxy textures to the disappearing limbs on Jack Skellington during his jaunt through the snowy hills in Christmas Town.
Could it be that the source materials were in such a terrible state that the only way to get them looking half-watchable was to run them through an intrusive process of digital manipulation? Well, yes, but then you have to consider what the previous DVD releases looked like. While the resolution was obviously much lower, I think it’s safe to assume that, if the source materials were in such a severe state of disrepair, it would have been obvious back then (and I hasten to point out that the flaws in the Blu-ray transfer were not present in any of the previous DVDs I have seen). Is it conceivable that the material degenerated in the decade or so between the release of the original DVDs and the current Blu-ray release? Again, yes, but I find it hard to believe that this would be the case. This is a major studio release (by a company that prides itself on its state of the art storage and archival systems) that is only fifteen years old, not an unheard-of independent that has been left rotting in someone’s garage for half a century.
“What looks like DNR processing could be a necessary result of corrections performed to prevent a much worse looking result.”
Erm, in other words DNR processing?
I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that any of what was done to the film for this Blu-ray release was necessary. The vast majority of the visible problems are the result of the removal of grain, and, if you suggest that grain is somehow a bigger “problem” than the artefacts that result from its removal… well, you’re on the slippery slope to releases like the Patton and Dark City Blu-ray Discs, or the Cat People HD DVD, all absolute travesties that should never have made it through quality control, becoming the accepted norm. I for one don’t want to see that happen, and as a result I think it’s extremely important to publicise the problems created by digital tampering, whether it’s severe (like Dark City), moderate (like The Nightmare Before Christmas) or mild (the bulk of Warner’s output). I may not be a professional encoder or restorer but I’ve seen the process first hand and have watched material being worked on that is far older, more obscure and in a much worse state than Nightmare is likely to have been. The end result doesn’t have to look like this, not by any stretch of the imagination.
“Also, it is true that you commented how this release is the best looking home release of this movie, but you really didn’t communicate just by how much this is so - and it is by a very large margin compared to any DVD.”
In terms of overall detail, it looks better by a large margin, but that margin is lessened somewhat by the distracting digital manipulations that have been applied. What we have is a situation where the best-looking DVD release (I’m assuming you’ve seen the anamorphic Region 2 DVD released in Scandinavian countries, which is an excellent standard definition release and a lot better than the non-anamorphic US version) actually looks more film-like than its high definition counterpart. Which one would I choose to watch if presented with both? The Blu-ray release, undoubtedly, given that I tend to crave detail above all else. However, the fact that my second key criterion after detail is a natural, unmolested, film-like image, there’s that little part of me that will always find itself thinking “Should I have chosen the DVD instead?”
And, with respect, the benchmark for a high definition release should not be how much better it looks than its standard definition counterpart - it should be how it compares to other high definition releases.
“Another thing to consider is that some of the shots of the original movie could have simply been slightly out of focus. It’s not such an uncommon thing to happen, and it’s much easier to notice on HDM than it was on a DVD. Looking at the screens posted here, that actually seems like a more likely explanation for some of the softer looking screens, than an over-applied DNR.”
I don’t dispute that there are instances where focus problems exist. However, let’s consider the most problematic screen captures posted here, #8 and #13.
In the case of #8, I honestly don’t see how there is any disputing what has happened here. It’s likely that this shot was grainier than most, and as a result the noise reduction machine went into overtime, sucking it all out Dark City style. The result is a completely synthetic image that looks more like a watercolour painting than a still frame of plasticine puppets. The noise reduction is so heavy that the contours of the sets have actually started to warp and smear, looking a bit like when you spill ink on wet paper. This is a horrible-looking shot and probably the worst in the film. I included it as an example of just how bad it can (occasionally) look.
#13 is tougher. Taken in isolation, I admit that the smudgy look could easily be assumed to simply be the look of the puppet itself. However, take a look at this capture, which is a later frame from the same shot. The look is noticeably different: see, for example, how much more defined the white cuff of his left sleeve is (his left, not our left), or the sudden disappearance of the smudgy feathering around the bags under his eyes. In this case, it seems pretty clear that the beginning of the shot has suffered more degradation as a result of the digital manipulation than this later section of it. Perhaps the grain was more pronounced early in the shot, and as a result the DNR system was “forced” (I’m using quotes, because I’m convinced that, in the case of this film and these source materials, there was no obligation to do any digital manipulation) to apply more processing to the image.
As a final example, take a look at #7. This is largely a very nice-looking shot, but even here you can see the digital manipulation wreaking havoc, albeit on a smaller scale. Look at Jack’s bow-tie and right shoulder (again, his right, not our right). You can see that, where the black of Jack’s clothing connects with the purple of the snow-covered roof behind him, a minor amount of smudging is taking place, the result of the processing algorithm discarding visual information, and therefore having to create new information to replace it, and getting it wrong. This, and the disappearing limbs in Lyris’ post, are the sort of problems you see all too often when a careless technician applies automated digital tampering without paying close enough attention to what it is actually doing to the image. Animation fans have long had to contend with artefacts far worse than these, and the result is that we have become particularly sensitive to these problems. It’s especially problematic because some people still insist that Disney doesn’t use automated DNR at all, a myth no doubt partly created by the documentaries they have released in which technicians are pictured manually cleaning one frame at a time. What they neglect to mention is that this stage usually comes after a completely automated dirt and scratch removal pass, at which point the chances of things going wrong are incredibly high if not rigorously policed. In comparison with some of the examples of destructive DNR that I’ve seen, The Nightmare Before Christmas is comparatively minor, but as far as I’m concerned no amount of DNR artefacts should be considered acceptable. I think this is an especially emotive topic for me because The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favourite films. I wanted it to be perfect, and am extremely disappointed to find that it suffers from obvious problems which could easily have been avoided.
You may wish to read this article if you’re interested in the subject. It provides some excellent examples of just how bad things can get.
Posted by: Whiggles
, September 5, 2008 1:08 PM
Excellent detailed post above.
I'd really like to know if the DNR and scratch removal artifacts are on the pseudo 3-D version or the broadcast HD versions.
Posted by: Kram Sacul, September 5, 2008 4:17 PM
I’m actually trying to get my hands on a copy of an HD broadcast of the film to see how it measures up.
Posted by: Whiggles
, September 5, 2008 5:05 PM
"Still the best film Tim Burton attached his name to"
That would be Ed Wood. ;)
Posted by: Anon, September 8, 2008 4:24 AM
after paying attention at some more screenshots posted by you and Lyris, it's clear that the dust and scratches filter went unchecked in some scenes so his arms and legs got faded-in. That clearly should not have went without manual correction. I do still think that one scene you've complained about could have just as easily been out of focus. Keep in mind that for stop motion shots like this, focus could have been readjusted even on per-frame basis so that could explain some of the discrepancy you've pointed out.
Otherwise it could be that some scenes had grain more exaggerated than others due to film damage or whatever else, and grain got removed more from there. But then again, if it wasn't removed, you'd still have an uneven looking graininess across the scenes, only there would be more instead of less, and for only some brief moments like in those scenes. I don't know if it would change things much either way.
I understand what you mean that applying these filters can lead to a slippery slope, but as a general rule, I have to say I do not think movies should be 'left as they are' during transfers to digital media, as that would mean a number of issues most people just don't want to see - from frame jitter, to splotches of discoloration to dust and hair particles - it's just that all this needs careful manual control (For what it's worth, I do think this movie had it, but not as careful as it could have been).
Posted by: The Poster, September 8, 2008 6:02 AM
Oh, I love Ed Wood too. Either it or Edward Scissorhands would be my pick for the best film Burton directed. Of the ones he didn’t direct but attached his name to, however, Nightmare is my absolute favourite. That said, I also happen to like it more than any of the Burton-directed films. I’ve probably said this before, but I don’t think Henry Selick gets the credit he deserves for the film. The number of sources that list Burton as the film’s director is ample proof of this. Anyone know what Selick is up to these days?
Posted by: Whiggles
, September 8, 2008 9:45 PM
I think after Monkeybone he took a break. IMDB lists Coraline as his next production. The synopsis for it is really derivitive though.
Posted by: Kram Sacul, September 8, 2008 10:20 PM
Coraline is in production, being worked on and edited since, as we all know, films with a lot of animation take a lot of time to finish. A ton of work, seemingly, as principal photography started in 2006!
Monkeybone was such a hellish production other directors would have left the business over it. Started with a truly outstanding script by Sam Hamm, slowly got destroyed, rewritten, suffered from major budget cuts, until it turned into, well, the lame "comedy" no one hopefully saw.
From AICN in one of Harry's lucid moments at that time:
"I hate MONKEYBONE.
I hate the film in a profoundly upsetting way. It is the film I dislike most this year, the film I’m angriest at. Is it worse than HEAD OVER HEELS or VALENTINE? Well, here’s the thing… Did either of those films ever even have the chance to be anything better than forgettable? I don’t think so. I think straight out of the gate… the second the script was approved their fate was sealed into the 9th level of Hell.
What makes MONKEYBONE unbearable is the sheer enormity of talent wasted on this non-working whoopee cushion. This broken joy-buzzer. This dribbling water-spouting flower. It is that cheap broken gag you buy from the back of BOY’S LIFE… that half assed attempt at something wonderful.
How responsible are Henry Selick, Sam Hamm and Chris Columbus?
Well, Sam wrote a great initial script with Henry. A dark surreal adult humored story that was basically a descent into a stunningly imaginative world. The internal logic of that first script was rock solid. Intelligent through and through. Calling for possibly the greatest works of stop-motion animation we’d ever see. It wasn’t hokey and stupid and cheap and dumb. It wasn’t loud and noisy and annoying and bad. It wasn’t this movie. It was grand and noble and fun and like nothing any of us had seen before. It wasn’t COOL WORLD, it was the film that COOL WORLD dreamed to be.
Henry Selick helped create that world, he was going to envision it with the greatest team of Stop-Motion animators around. Gigantic Stop-Motion production numbers with a visual inventiveness far larger in scope than anything in NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.
Chris Columbus recognized the talent of having Henry Selick and Sam Hamm’s partnership in place. Knew what the script could have been.
Step in Fox Animation and Fox with their cowardly non-committal chickenshit film production limp-dick policy of non-filmmaker support.
Budget draft after budget draft... Make it cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. Rubber suits, as little animation as possible… beef up the physical comedy… add more fart jokes and base humor. Rip out the amazing paperdoll world of Death. Gone the human shrinking flattening paperdoll converter device. Let’s take as much of the fantastic as possible out of MONKEYBONE.
Monkeybone was from the beginning an expensive project… from the beginning it was an odd experimental film. But by taking away so much of the tools and paints and money to make the film… all they are left with is a limp film aimed directly at the urinal.
So again, how responsible are Chris Columbus, Henry Selick and Sam Hamm… the three primary producers and creative head honchos of this disaster?
As soon as the cuts began, they should have left. Soon as they realized that the story could not be told in the only way it could be told… they should have left. By cutting all that they did, they had to realize how unbalanced the film had become… how disjointed it would end up.
I’m friends with Sam Hamm. Sammy is a great guy and his scripts have constantly been the victim of BUDGET DRAFTS. Sam dreams big. Has enormous canvases in his brain he tries to put to paper then to screen. But this would’ve been better next to the unproduced brilliant draft of WATCHMEN than becoming the piece of shit waste of time that it has become.
All the different mix of techniques for bringing the various characters to life… well, all it did was call gross attention to technique as opposed to story-telling. The sculpting of the costume work was exemplary… but they moved like crap. The stop-motion (what there is) was quite nice, but at the end of the day… it just felt out of place. The CGI work seemed even more cartoony than I’ve seen before. [...]
I hate that Henry Selick’s filmography reads NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH... And then this… This film should not be in that list. He should have run away. Bailed at the first sign of studio interference.
Waste of time. Complete waste of time. One of the biggest film disappointments of my life. Not a film worthy of the talent that made it."
Posted by: Anon, September 9, 2008 4:08 AM
Now I have to see Monkeybone. :-D
Posted by: Kram Sacul, September 11, 2008 2:53 AM
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