The Nightmare Before Christmas is a film that discusses the theme of emptiness in one's self and one's longing to fill that empty void with things never experienced before, while still maintaining their original character. Burton's characters Jack and Sally exemplify people who long to fill their empty void, and they fill this void through the love that they develop for each other.
V. Film Language and Representation
1. How are characters and issues represented?
The characters are represented through their dialogue and through the actions that they perform. Jack, the main character, is especially characterized by his own musical monologue and by the musical score itself. In the extract chosen he sings that "there's an empty place in my bones that calls out for something unknown. The fame and praise come year after year does nothing for these empty tears." Jack feels that those around him don't understand him because they don't see anything to Jack other than that he's the king of Halloween. However, there is much more to Jack and Jack knows this. That's why there's something in him that "calls out for something unknown." The "unknown" is the central problem that Jack has to face in order to become happy once more. In the film Jack first believes that the "unknown" is Christmas which is why he goes out and explores Christmas land. However, it turns out that what's missing in his bones is love. Sally is the one that grows to love him as seen by the extract. She follows him to make sure he's safe, and at the end of Jack's monologue detailing his longing for something new Sally says that she "knows how [he] feels." From this critical scene the story follows Jack's journey to fill his emptiness, while Sally follows Jack to get him to realize her love for him.
2. What is the style and effect of acting and performance?
The style of the movie is a claymation animation meaning that the actors are dolls, and because they are dolls the movie had to be filmed with stop motion technology. Because of this every single frame had to be individual manipulated to create fluidity. In order to add realism to the dolls the art crew created about 400 individual "Jack" heads. Every Jack head had a different facial expression which varyied on whatever word Jack was iterating, or depending on his emotion in any given shot. Of course every other character had a bountiful number of heads as well for the same purpose as Jack's heads. The purpose for this is to make it seem like the dolls are really saying what the audience is hearing. This of course adds realism to the film, and to the performance of the "actors" because they are able to change facial expressions fluidly. Also, the art designers gave each doll a special body with movable and fixed joints. So whenever a character had to walk or raise an arm or tilt their head the film crew was able to move the doll accordingly. This also adds realism to the film. Lastly, the dolls were voiced by phenomenal voice actors who were able to bring the characters to life with purposeful and articulate language. Jack, for example, was voiced by Chris Sarandon whose voice brought the characterization of life out. He was able to sound gloom when needed, or excited when needed. However, the most noteworthy voice in "Nightmare" was the voice of Danny Elfman. Danny Elfman was both the score writer and the lyricist. Because of this he was able to sing every note to the music as it was intended to be sang by its creator, since he was the creator. His voice in the scene showed how glum Jack was and how misunderstood he felt. It greatly brought forth the emotion within the character. Whether Jack was praising himself as being the menacing Pumpkin King or if Jack was in dismay due to his realization that there's something missing in his life, if you will, Elfman was able to bring forth these emotions through the sound.
6. How is meaning created by lighting, shade and color?
The use of dark colors simply reinforces Jack's location which is a cemetery. Also it adds to the dark feel that the holiday of Halloween gives, and of course Jack is in Halloween Land. There are several cast shadows on the grave stones which adds darkness to the scene, but they also edge out the grave stones themselves and make them clearer. For example, there are several grave stones in the shape of the Christian "cross." Perhaps this is to show a connection between Halloween and Christmas. Halloween usually is depicted as being a dark holiday because it celebrates the spirits of the dead, as represented by the grave stones. However, the grave stones are in the shape of a Holy Cross which may be Burton's way of showing that Halloween isn't a pagan holiday as some Christians view it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween#Christianity). Rather, Christians should view Halloween as a holiday of mystery meant to fascinate kids with spooky yet visually enticing images. Like the trademark pumpkin of Halloween. They are interesting because kids can carve them and place lanterns in them, but in the film they are spooky as well as shown by the pumpkin patch whose pumpkins are releasing the spirits of souls. These souls are the typical white color because "people have always used white to dress up as ghosts(http://www.knowswhy.com/why-are-ghosts-white/)." So the white color keeps in line with the Halloween tradition.
7. How is meaning created by sound and music?
As previously stated, Danny Elfman wrote the score for the film. He spent 3 years working alongside Selick and Burton when ever he was present. These 3 years allowed Elfman to score music that pleased the director and producer. The score pleased them because it added meaning to the scene. When Jack is trying to escape the townspeople, he enters an ally which has musicians playing a sorrowful tune. From here a new more hopeful tone starts to play when the audience sees Sally. The score shows that Sally may be Jack's salvation. In this sense the score foreshadows the end of the film which allows the audience to become more alert of Sally and her characterization. After Sally Jack is all alone. The music becomes louder and more exciting and somewhat scary. This adds to Jack's characterization because he is currently quite mysterious and scary. The music also adds a sense of malevolence to Jack's characterization. This of course is supported by Jack's singing in which he proclaims scarily that "He is the Pumpkin King!" But then the music shifts to a more dismayed tone when Jack starts to explain that "somewhere deep inside of these bones an emptiness began to grow." This makes Jack uneasy because he doesn't know what this mysterious thing is. The music then picks up and goes to a more malevolent tone again as Jack praises himself as being a well known person because he's so scary. Yet again, almost instantly Jack starts singing in a melancholic tone and the score shifts accordingly. Jack explains again that "there's an empty place in my bones that calls out for something unknown. The fame and praise come year after year does nothing for these empty tears." The music follows every note that Jack says. If Jack elongates a word then the score follows, this creates a very intense relationship between the score and the actor's voice. In a way, it feels like Jack himself must have written his own score because the score very accurately and precisely depicts Jack's every emotion. The fact that the score kept changing from spooky and exciting to melancholy almost instantaneously shows how confused Jack is in this scene. He has no clue of what's missing in his life, but he knows that something does exist that he must experience in order for him to be happy again. As Jack leaves the cemetary, his music slowly fades out. Then the music changes when Sally is revealed and it becomes hopeful once again. This again reminds the audience that she will have an important part in Jack's journey for him to become happy again.