I missed it during last year's premier theatrical run, so I was determiined to catch the 3D version of this 14 year old stop-motion animation classic this Halloween season. The film remains delightful and the 3D conversion by Industrial Light and Magic, with polaroid glasses by RealD, is quite impressive, though for the sake of corporate branding it's promoted as "Disney Digital 3-D. . .3-D so real it's like you're in the movie."
This tag line hints at what is the sole limitation in this conversion process. If you take the physical plane of the movie screen as the stereo window, all depth effects occur behind it. With the exception of a very few weather effects, swirling snowflakes for example, nothing in Nightmare Before Christmas comes through the window.
This is in sharp contrast to a newly produced opening segment with a jack o' lantern jack-in-the-box where ghostly numbers and, at the climax, a grinning pumpkin head zooms out of the screen to hover briefly in projected space that seems to be at arm's length distance from your seat.
It reminded me of the floating fish in Murray Lerner's 1978 classic Sea Dream shown at Marineworld that achieved a similar proximity. My target market advisory team, three sisters aged 7 to 10, confirmed that the effect in this short intro was the most effective 3D of the entire presentation.
While 'through the window effects' certainly got a bad rap from their over-use and mis-use in the first wave of 3D theatrical films in the early 1950s, the inability of the current conversion process to include them even occasionally short changes the contemporary audience of the most pronounced 3D experience possible. No other single shot elicited the gasps and delighted reactions of this opening segment.
Maybe this limitation will be overcome with the planned 3D conversion of Orson Welles' muckracking potboiler Citizen Kane by Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation, scheduled for release in 2010. ;-)