Review: Coraline

The Thinker by Rodin

There are plenty of 3D movies now in production, and a couple now in theaters including the recently released Monsters vs. Aliens, which has been widely panned as having an empty soul. Do we really need 3D movies? I kept asking myself this question while watching the recently released movie Coraline which my wife and I found in 3D at our local theater. We had to pay $12 for the privilege of watching a matinee of this 3D movie.  For this extra money I sure hoped there was some content in the movie that justified the extra expense of our tickets. In fact even for a movie as entrancing as Coraline, you really do not need the 3D trapping. This movie probably would have been just as good, if not better, without it.

Here’s the problem with 3D movies: they needlessly distract from the content of the movie. Having objects come hurling at toward you from the screen is a one trick pony. It is novel the first half dozen times you encounter it but after that it is like radio static, too many scratches on the film stock or some noisy theatergoers settling down late into seats near you (which happened to us while watching this movie). 3D offers another limitation: by adding another dimension you somehow lose a tiny bit of resolution and for some of us it is just enough to be bothersome. Unless we can become inured to having three dimensions in a film, it adds no value. And if we can get used to it, what is the point in adding it in the first place?

So don’t go see Coraline to see a movie in 3D. Go to see it if you enjoy deftly conceived, directed and produced fantasy films. Although at this late date it is hard to find in the theater, if you enjoy fantasy then Coraline is a must see film. You may have to wait for it to appear in DVD, hope your HDTV will render 3D, and the DVD comes with pairs of 3D glasses.

The reason Coraline works is because it is the brainchild of the noted author of many a fantasy book (and graphic novel) Neil Gaiman. If you had to pick one person on the planet that probably gets how to render modern fantasy, Gaiman would be it. However, Gaiman did not write the screenplay to Coraline, although presumably Gaiman had his unseen hand in its production. Henry Selick directed and wrote the screenplay, based on Gaiman’s book of the same name. Although I have not read Gaiman’s book of the same name, I suspect it is a largely faithful interpretation of the book.

Coraline Jones is a prepubescent girl (this is almost a requirement for a children’s fantasy movie) who moves with her parents into the Pink Palace Apartments in Ashland, Oregon. The Apartments are actually a hundred and fifty year old Victorian house subdivided into residences on the top, bottom and middle floors. At first, the other residents seem largely absent. Also emotionally absent are Coraline’s parents voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman. Their attention seems to be on finishing a catalog which they will present in town, so Coraline is largely left to her own to explore the creepy old house and its surroundings. There does not appear to be much in the way of neighbors, but Coraline does quickly encounter Wybie Lovat, a weird boy about her age who shows her the location of a mysterious well outside the property. Coraline also soon finds an old door inside one of the vacant rooms of the house. Curiosity makes her want to find the key to open it. It covers a brick wall, but at night the brick wall seems to act like a portal into a somewhat parallel life.

Coraline, accompanied by a mysterious black cat, venture through a weird pulsating tunnel reminiscent of the one in that bad 60’s TV show The Time Tunnel and into another version of Coraline’s life. In this life Coraline’s parents welcome and cater to her but they have one ominous difference. They have buttons where they would normally have eyes. And as we soon learn to stay and get the quality of parental attention she craves, Coraline too will have to choose to have her eyes replaced with buttons.

This is a reasonably scary children’s story and probably inappropriate for children under age ten. For children above that age, and us adults who are still children at heart, Coraline is an enchanting and often feels hypnotizing. Like with most Neil Gaiman stories, there is a lot of intrigue and subterfuge lurking below the surface of this story, as well as plenty of strange characters. The characters include Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two aging spinsters in the downstairs apartment who performed burlesque in their heydays, and Mister Bobinsky, a former Russian gymnast who at the start of the movie we glimpse balancing himself on the house’s weathervane. The film is tightly focused on Coraline and only on one occasion goes outside the dark, surreal and often threatening world of the Pink Palace Apartments.

The only possible advantage to having this movie in 3D is rather than make it feel more real, it may help exacerbate its surreal feeling and thus may help provide a sort of hypnotic state which makes the movie so engrossing. I suspect it would be equally engrossing without it. This is a fantasy film obviously a cut above what you usually find and which tills some new ground in the fantasy film business.

3.3 on my 4 point scale.

One thought on “Review: Coraline

  1. I saw Coraline twice – once standard and once in 3D, and frankly, I preferred the regular projection. I didn’t *mind* the 3D, but I felt it added nothing to the experience whatsoever.

    I heard Selick and a few other filmmakers on my NPR station a few weeks ago, talking about their belief that ALL films will be 3D eventually, and I wonder why anyone thinks this is a good idea. Some people, such as my husband, have eye-structure variations (Brown’s Tendon) that make the 3D technology useless for them, and I dread the day when I can no longer go to the movies with my husband!

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