Corpse Bride

Corpse Bride (2005)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Johnny Depp, Emily Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee, Tracey Ullman
Extras: Music-Only Track, Featurettes, Galleries, Theatrical Trailer

Revisiting the stop-motion puppet animation style he established with "The Nightmare Before Christmas, " Tim Burton serves up another wonderful tale filled with atmosphere and his trademark look. After successful run in theaters and a smashing DVD version, the film is now also available on HD-DVD from Warner Home Video, including not only a high defntion transfer but also all the supplements from the Special Edition DVD.

The film tells the story of Victor (Johnny Depp) on the eve of his being married to Victoria (Emily Watson). They met only once but their families have arranged the wedding, each in hope to obtain riches they desperately need from the other family.
To practice his wedding vows, Victor wanders deep into the forest where he suddenly finds himself married to a corpse bride. Speaking his vows and accidentally slipping his ring onto the corpse's finger, he unintentionally sealed the marriage and is whisked away into the underworld. Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), his new wife, immediately falls in love with the shy young man and tries to do everything to please him and to give him a home among the Dead. But Victor is still breathing and longs to go back to the living and his real bride, Victoria, who he fell in love at first sight.

Once again the story and world that sprung from Tim Burton's imagination is nothing short of breathtaking. On the one hand we have the utterly bleak, repressed world of the living in which Victor finds no joy, or pleasure under the thumb of his parents. On the other hand there is the colorful world of the dead, where there is always someone to cheer you up, where people enjoy themselves and have fun. Burton uses the stark contrast between these two worlds wonderfully to create a film that is filled with counterpoints and visual syncopates.

The film is also, once again, a stop-motion puppet masterpiece in technical terms. Not only is the animation absolutely fluid – yet always maintains that magic touch of stop-motion – it features some wonderful images that seem to have sprung from some of the most atmospheric live action films. The way Emily's gown is flowing and how her veil is fluttering in the wind is wonderful and combined with the backlit shots these images ooze a gothic atmosphere, almost like a classic horror film. There were many moments in the film where I thought to myself "How did they do that?" In my mind, "Corpse Bride" once again underscores the fact that Tim Burton is one of the most imaginative, visual and visionary filmmakers working in Hollywood today.

The film's voice cast also reads like a "who's who" and includes such talent as Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Christopher Lee, Tracey Ullman, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Richard Grant, Michael Gough and many others. Each one of them great character actors and each one of them oftentimes a bit underrated and underestimated. With them let loose on this story, the film's characters spring to life with charisma and personality like you wouldn't believe. Add to it the great musical numbers by Danny Elfman and you have a film that touches you and makes you long for more. While some people have openly shared their disappointment with the film in comparison to "The Nightmare Before Christmas" I do not share such sentiments at all.

The DVD version that Warner released some time ago looked fantastic to say the least, but wait until you see the high def incarnations of this film. Presenting the movie in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio this transfer is a sight for sore eyes. Completely shot using digital SLR cameras, the high definition image holds an incredible amount of detail that puts the DVD version to shame in a breeze. The richness and fine delineation of even the most subtle details is simply mesmerizing. Add to it the incredible color reproduction and you have a picture that seems to jump ff the screen sometimes. It looks so vivid, vibrant and deep that you will want to reach into the screen and touch it sometimes. The bleak look of the world of the living is offering up nicely rendered bland tones with good gradients – almost black and white looking – while on the end of the spectrum the underworld is awash in colors without ever oversaturating. Hues, tones and tinges are marvelously rendered without bleeding and without ever washing out detail. The blacks in the transfer are as deep as blacks get, making for a presentation that has high contrast and perfect visual depth but never loses detail in the shadows. Like the DVD was a reference transfer for the format, this high definition transfer easily qualifies as a reference transfer for HD-DVD and will please every viewers, especially considering that these bold colors and contrasts on display here are challenging any video format.

Stepping up from the DVD version we find Dolby Digital Plus EX tracks on this disc in English, French and Spanish, as well as a Dolby Digital Plus track featuring only the movie's music. The tracks are very active, making constant use of the surround channels, but at the same time offer a clarity and transparency that is immediately noticeable. It is nicely restrained at times and then remarkably aggressive at others, always in perfect synch with the imagery it accompanies. Dialogue is well integrated and always understandable and Danny Elfman's music is wonderfully blended in the mix to accompany the story and heighten the experience. Once again, the presentation quality is stellar and makes you forget that you are watching a home video presentation.

As mention above, all the extras that were part of the DVD version have been included in this release as well, in the same 480p standard definition format. The features are easily accessible from the floating main menu. The menu looks nice and matches the film's whimsical style perfectly, though I did find the font that was used to list and describe the special features a tad too light and small. I have no doubt that these texts will turn out illegible on smaller displays.

"Inside The Two Worlds" is a featurette that discusses the production design on both, the land of the living and the land of the dead. It gives viewers a nice understanding about the thoughts that went into the style and design of these settings.

Next up is a five-minute featurette in which composer Danny Elfman discusses his approach to the music and the songs in the movie. It is a nice clip, though I wished it had been a bit longer and more in-depth.

"The Breath Of Life" takes a look at the animation process and the artistry that goes into this process. It also discusses the technical side of it, for example how digital photography has made the process so much easier than the previous use of film cameras.

In "Tim Burton: Dark vs. Light" the cast and crew members discuss their collaboration with the director and how his imagination has influenced and driven them. It also gives Burton himself the chance to talk about his approach to the film.

In "Voices From The Underworld" you get to take a glimpse at the cast that brought the characters to life, as they discuss their work and the characters. I always like these featurettes as sometimes it is simply fun to see the actors do their voices and acting them out in front of the camera. This featurette is wonderfully complemented by "The Voices Behind The Voice", a feature in which a part of the film is shown in two windows. One of them features the actual movie and the other one shows the respective actors during the recording session. Great stuff!

"Making Puppet's Tick" is the last of the featurettes on the disc, taking a closer look at the technical side of stop-motion puppetry. From the design, the creation all the way to their operation, you get a glimpse here at the process that is necessary to bring them to the screen.

The release is also offering a photo gallery with pre-production art and the movie's trailer.

"Corpse Bride" is a cinematic highlight filled with fun, great music, wonderful sympathetic characters, staggering images and a touching story. It is one of the few films that I would consider perfect and flawless. It is another masterpiece in Tim Burton's impressive body of work and it springs to life even more impressively than ever before in its high definition incarnation. This release is flawless and impressive and will serve as a reference disc for other animated movies to come. In a word, this is a film you MUST see and a HD-DVD you MUST own.