Corpse Bride (2005)

About a year ago, when I wrote about Edward Scissorhands, I said that director Tim Burton had made only four films that I enjoy, and that my favorite of them is Ed Wood. However, when I wrote that, I hadn’t seen Corpse Bride in so long that I’d forgotten that it isn’t just an enjoyable film, it’s completely wonderful. I saw it early in 2006, and a recent bad memory was wrapped too tightly around it for me to separate the art from my dumb life decisions. I even bought a doll of the beautiful Emily, but I’ve spent the last fifteen-plus years just remembering the movie from a safe distance. Yes, it’s a good film, but, you know, dumb decisions.

It takes a long time for me to exorcise ghosts, because I allow the damn things to get in everywhere.

So a few months ago, I decided it was time to upgrade as much of my film collection to Blu-ray as the studios will allow me, and purge a lot of movies I bought, watched once, and forgot about. I was happy to upgrade The Nightmare Before Christmas – not, we must remember, actually directed by Burton – and asked myself whether it wasn’t high time I brought Emily and Victor, and Victoria, I suppose, back into my life. And wasn’t it true that Halloween was coming up? And that I have a ten year-old boy who was certain to enjoy the macabre mayhem of this goofy and delightful movie?

Indeed, the ten year-old enjoyed this a hundred times more than he did Sleepy Hollow, with the caveat that he tuned out during the songs, which rank among the best that Danny Elfman has composed. That may be one reason why I’m even more in love with this movie than I originally was: as quick as I am to grumble about him, when Elfman is on fire and letting his freak flag fly, he writes wonders. The kid giggled and chuckled throughout, and occasionally shrieked with laughter. The loudest point might have come when one of Victoria’s distant ancestors shows up in front of his family portrait.

Our son also enjoyed chewing over the visual difference between the “all black and white and grey and pale blue” Land of the Living and the colorful Land of the Dead. There’s so much fun world building here between the two lands, along with the sad realization that Emily only has as much skin as she does because she’s only been in the Land of the Dead for a few short years. However, I have to say, as much as our son impresses us with figuring out where a story’s going to go next, he totally missed that Emily had been murdered by a mysterious figure played by Richard E. Grant, which I thought was about the most obvious possible plot development. But it does mean that Victor gets to duel with Grant’s villain while armed only with a fork, which probably got the second biggest laugh. Corpse Bride is a masterpiece, silly, tight, lovable, romantic and gruesome, and yes, it’s even better than Ed Wood.

One final observation: there’s an incredibly neat, albeit slightly frustrating bonus feature on the Blu-ray I got. It’s called The Voices Behind the Voice, and it features tiny little black-and-white screens – almost like old webcams! – of many of the cast reading their parts in sync with the animation, so we can see Johnny Depp, Emily Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough and more doing their work, and it’s just delightful. As much as I like the visuals, I’d have happily sat down for seventy-seven minutes just watching the actors behind their microphones. There’s far too little of it, and the postage stamp screens aren’t big enough, but the little window is nevertheless completely charming. Pick up a copy and make sure it’s got this feature on it!

Doctor Who 7.14 – The Name of the Doctor

Let’s be honest. This episode does not make a lick of sense. It’s extremely well made, but it’s the living definition of just going along for the ride and accepting whatever the story throws at you, which include River Song and the Paternoster Gang and the Great Intelligence and several repurposed clips from old stories. So ever so briefly, for example, there was a tear in space and time and the Great Intelligence, wearing Richard E. Grant’s body, did something to prevent the Doctor from saving Gallifrey from that old invasion by the Vardans, and then there was another tear in space and time, and Clara stopped the Richard E. Grant body from doing that.

Eventually everybody goes home, except for the Great Intelligence, which is fractured into forgotten splinters in our hero’s memory, and his weird and ugly Whispermen, who fade into nothing, and River Song, who’s been dead a long time, and we never actually see the Doctor take his pals back to Victorian London. That’s because the episode instead concludes with the thunderous revelation that there’s another Doctor, played by John Hurt.

I told the kid this episode was going to blow his mind and it succeeded. “My brain is flat now,” he sighed, shaking his head. He enjoyed it because it’s all spectacle and danger and he’s very curious to know what comes next. I told him he’ll have to wait just about eight days. And he won’t even have to wait that long to find out who John Hurt is…

Doctor Who 7.7 – The Bells of Saint John

“The Bells of Saint John” is a simple and fun crowd-pleaser that feels like Steven Moffat going back to the show’s 2005 basics and finding something new and ordinary to turn into a Doctor Who menace, this time wi-fi. It’s packed with silly time travel shenanigans and our son absolutely loved every minute of it, from the little scares to the big reveals to the comic moments, and his big takeaway is that he really wants to see the Doctor’s antigrav motorcycle again. Biggest chuckle of the evening: the Doctor agreeing that “mobile phone” is a “surprisingly accurate” description of the TARDIS. Richard E. Grant pops up at the very end to let us know that the Great Intelligence is still on Earth. I wonder where it’s been hiding since “The Web of Fear”

Doctor Who 7.6 – The Snowmen

Before we got started with tonight’s feature, we looked at the three mini-episodes that were made here and there in 2012 and 2013 that take place before it: “The Battle of Demon’s Run, Two Days Later,” “The Great Detective,” and “Vastra Investigates.” These set up the world of the Paternoster Gang. I wish I enjoyed these three more than I do, but Vastra’s wiser-than-you shtick aggravates me, and the one-word answer scene in “The Snowmen” would have only been entertaining if Clara had got up and said “I’ll just go back to jumping and yelling in the park, thank you very much.”

On the other hand, I predicted a little over two years ago that the kid would absolutely love Strax, and he certainly did. Dan Starkey is by far the most amusing part of this story. The episode is really constructed extremely well, but the best parts are Strax suggesting they blow up their enemies.

“The Snowmen” retcons a couple of points from Virgin’s Doctor Who novels of the early 1990s. One of them I approve of wholeheartedly. Those books set up the Great Intelligence, as well as some of the Doctor’s other nebulous weirdo foes like The Animus from “The Web Planet,” as an Old God from Before Time, because it was the early 1990s and Lovecraft and all his Cthulu nonsense was really in vogue then. (So was cyberpunk and virtual reality everything. Some of those books have aged terribly.) So giving the Great Intelligence a new spin as nothing so grandiose is fine by me. It is a crystalline, snow-like organism that mirrors thoughts and didn’t start growing until the mid-1800s, not before the dawn of time or any of that.

On the other hand, one of those silly Old Gods was Nyaarlahotep, who showed up in Andy Lane’s otherwise completely wonderful novel All-Consuming Fire, which introduced Sherlock Holmes and Watson as real people in the Who world. So don’t try passing Madame Vastra as the real Great Detective. The real Great Detective attended Bernice Summerfield’s wedding, and he didn’t have lizard skin. The idea.

So the kid enjoyed this tremendously, and I’ll tell you this for free: “The Snowmen” is a good story hampered with a soppy and dopey ending about children crying on Christmas, but none of the story’s very good moments – Clara’s introduction to the TARDIS, Richard E. Grant sneering at everything, the Punch and Judy bit, the astonishingly good new TARDIS set, Strax – compared at all to our son finally connecting all the dots when they were at Clara’s gravesite and the Doctor wonders whether he’s heard the words “Great Intelligence” before. I mean, considering it took the kid until Clara mentions making a soufflĂ© to realize that she was played by the same actress he saw, what, two weeks ago, I was impressed that he realized something was up at all. But he got it in the end. “Wait, wha– the Yeti?!” he shouted as the penny dropped. It was a beautiful thing.

When they showed this in 2012 and Clara said that the TARDIS was smaller on the outside, I punched the air. I’d been wanting to hear somebody say that for years.