We’re at a point where CGI, where computers in general are taking over cinema. It’s a quick fix for a lot of problems. Want to change the sky, want to have kites flying, want to have a hummingbird or flies do exactly what you want? Get a computer and add it that way. Alas, what happens is that the ability to invest in the story is somewhat compromised if the seams are visible in ways that weren’t as troubling when the seams were literally visible. Being able to deny the reality of what is presented makes everything palatable. There is no danger, no truth.
My review of Coraline after the jump.
So it’s great to see Henry Selick recover from the disaster that was Monkeybone and return to stop motion. Real stop motion. And working with Laika, once Will Vinton’s studio, Selick inherited a number of great technicians who elevate the material into one of the great films of 2009.
Coraline (Dakota Fanning) is a pre-teen who’s forced to move to Ashland by her parents. Her mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (Jon Hodgman) are distracted, and so she amuses herself by exploring her new neighborhood, and meets Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), the only other kid in her neighborhood, who she immediately begins sassing. Most of her neighbors are bizarre, with Miss Forcible (Dawn French) and Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) a couple of eccentric actresses with a fetish for stuffing their dead dogs, and Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane), who trains his circus mice for a show. But Coraline is intrigued by a mysterious door in her house that is blocked off, and her curiosity is peaked by a doll Wybie gives her that looks exactly like her.
One night she goes back to the door, and it is no longer blocked up, but offers a tunnel to another world where her other mother (Hatcher) and other father (Hodgman, with his musical numbers performed by They Might Be Giants), and the other versions of the people in her neighborhood live what seem to be much more interesting lives. Everything seems perfect, but there’s one catch: to stay Coraline has to sew buttons over her eyes.
From Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, the story is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, and a number of other similar stories of alternate universes that prove to be too good to be true. But what sets the film apart is the craftsmanship. You positively stay in the world as created in either 2-D or 3-D, and the space and ideas prove engrossing. Selick talks on the commentary about how the spatial relationships in the different worlds were achieved, in the other world there’s a greater depth of field. These are things that may not register consciously, but make this one of those remarkable achievements in cinema and animation. And the stop motion photography is never short of jaw-dropping. There’s water, fog, all, the elements that once seemed unachievable with the format and were even problematic with Nightmare Before Christmas. Here, they are all rendered with such craftsmanship that it does nothing but add to the textures of the world. You have to know how hard it is to appreciate it, and many viewers might never be aware of those difficulties. Such is the craft.
But as I said to start, that’s the least interesting aspect of filmmaking. Though there is some work from CGI here, it’s mostly in line erasing, and modest things that don’t affect the whole. This is a world well worth exploring.
As for the Blu-ray, both the 3-D and 2-D version are included, and I was impressed with the 3-D on this disc. Though color is lacking (you can’t see the things as they should exist), the effect of it still comes across, as there’s not so much pointing, as there is depth of field. As such, the film plays now in blue-red, even if you can’t appreciate the color design as well. But thankfully the 2-D version is also included, and is just as impressive. This is one of the finest transfers I’ve seen in the format.
And the Blu-ray is exhaustive. Besides both versions, the film comes with a commentary by Henry Selick for virtually the entire running time, and he’s engaged, and offers great tidbits about the film. For the end credits, the composer Bruno Coulais offers his thoughts though both are credited. There’s six deleted scenes/sequences with introductions from Selick (9 min.), a making of (36 min.) that covers much of the technical side of things, while “Voicing the Characters (11 min.) gives the actors their due. “Creepy Coraline” (5 min.) talks to the darker and macabre elements of the film that give it that great Grimm feel. There’s also three U-Control PIP’s, one a straight PIP with more behind the scenes, an animatic track, and “Tours and Voice Sessions” which gives the cast their due, and shows them in the studio. Disc two offers a DVD version, which also comes with the commentary track, and digital copy of the film.