So, I will talk about Coraline in a second, but please allow me to rant about the re emergence of 3-D technology in modern film making.
What in God’s name has happened to movies these days? Every animated feature coming out seems to be touted in 3-D, Digital D, Tru-D or Real-D. It’s bizarre. I can’t help but wonder who is responsible for the return of a trend that lived and died so quickly in the 1950’s, only to reemerge and die again every twenty years or so? Are we as a nation so nostalgic for the good old days that we’re willing to embrace a gimmick that will surely fade and die as it did half a century earlier? Are the movie studios so bankrupt of ideas that they are trying to revamp a sluggish market with the old “tried and true” ploys? When will it end? When?
I went to a screening of Coraline in ‘Real D’ yesterday with Annie, partly because it’s based on a novella by Neil Gaiman, partly because it’s directed by Henry Selick, and mostly cause Annie really wanted to. If you scroll down and read my post on Wendy and Lucy (shameless promotion) you’ll see that I generally don’t like movie crowds. And for good reason. But I was willing to stick it out since, ya know…it looked pretty good.
So we get there, get some shades and grab some aisle seats, essential for my movie going experience, try to ignore the blasting commercials for Coke Zero and the endless reminders to turn off you cell phones.
Really. Any society that has to be told three times in a row to be courteous should be ashamed of themselves. You brought on yourselves you thoughtless bastards!
The trailers begin and right here I just want to point out the coolest looking 2D(!) trailer for an animated movie I’ve seen in a long time. It’s for a movie called 9. And you should watch it here. Looks kind of awesome. Even with the silly music.
But the rest of the bunch were duds.
Most of the trailers were also IN 3-D!! (cue loud booming voice) They obviously animated the features around that idea, so we know the production companies are in on it. The 3-D gags were very forced looking and really worried me about what I was immediately going to spend the next hour and a half watching. I was getting kind of a strained-eyeball-aching-pain two trailers in. Could I last an entire feature?
So brings me to my first sigh of relief upon Coraline’s opening, the animation looks wonderful. The opening credits feature a metal claw made of pins disassembling a doll and putting it back together again. It has all of Henry Selick’s hallmarks just in the first two minutes. This is not computer generated, well mostly not, it’s the stop motion animation that Selick has heralded since his animation shorts in the 80’s and early 90’s.
Selick is best known as the Director who constantly gets overshadowed and replaced in the minds of philistines by Tim Burton. Selick directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, a masterpiece of animation and story, but since Burton produced the thing, everyone assumed he was the main man.
We all saw what Burton would have done to Nightmare when he himself directed The Corpse Bride, a wholly unsatisfying and terrible bore from start to finish. Meanwhile Selick has had some recent setbacks himself, as his last feature before this was Monkeybone. Monkeybone people! With Brendan Fraser? Where everything is frickin’ stupid and annoying and Fraser’s, what, in a coma? I think? Chris Kattan? Yikes.
But thankfully, Selick returns to his creepy and atmospheric roots with Coraline. The story is taken from Gaiman’s work, as I said, and is pretty faithful to the plot and characters overall. The weird neighbors and distracted parents give Coraline (the girl) a sense of extreme isolation and odd apprehension. Her new apartment house is a dilapidated mess, she has no children her age save for the owner’s grandchild Wybe, who is kind of a creep, and basically Coraline is too spirited and adventurous to be wasting away in this world.Then stuff starts getting a little weird.
She gets a doll from Wybe that his grandmother owned. Its an exact replication of Coraline. In fact it’s the doll from the opening credits, the one made by the claw of pins, with button eyes.
After losing the doll, she finds it in front of a small door in one of her rooms. Coraline tries to open the door, but it’s locked. The door is tiny, like a crawl space. It’s also bricked up.
But one night she opens it to find a strange tunnel leading to another world.
She does go through the door, and into that other world, one with familiar settings made wonderfully new. Her “other” mother and father greet her in her “other” house. They’re loving and attentive and fun.
They also have buttons for eyes. But they’re fun!
Her “other” neighbors are exciting, successful, entertaining. There’s a jumping mouse circus, and a fantastic garden with live snapdragons and all kinds of crazy shit. It’s great!
Here, we really feel Coraline’s childlike wonder fulfilled and we share in her dreamlike fantasy. When Coraline goes to sleep she wakes up in the real world, so everything seems very innocent and safe about the “other” world.
This new world seems like a perfect place for Coraline. But there is a subtle menace about this “other” world. Something’s not right.
Coraline ignores the warning signs and keeps going through the door.
And every time she does, the other world gets a little darker and darker. The “other” Wybe for example, doesn’t talk. The other mother made him like this.
She seems to be running this show, darkly ominous and strangely scary.
The other father starts saying curiously threatening things and looking a little disheveled. All this leads Coraline to attempt to escape this other world. She’s figured out it ain’t that cool. Especially when her other parents try to SEW BUTTONS ON HER EYES!! That’s basically all it takes and Coraline is out of there!
I don’t blame her. That looks painful.
It ends up with the other mother as some kind of eye stealing/child killing monster who Coraline has to stop. Her real parents get kidnapped and she has to free them and the dead children’s ghosts from this other world. This is where shit started getting really heavy. The little ones in the audience got a little squeamish and I could hear one telling his daddy he was “a scared.”
And yea, its pretty scary. Even I was wide eyed, feeling that grimacing “Get out of the house! Get out of the house!” look the whole final act. But you know, Selick and his crew pulled it off.
The story is great. Natch. It’s Gaiman. The man is pretty good at what he does. Just read my post about Marvel 1602 (shameless promotion).
But this is a rare occurrence where the movie holds it’s own, equal to the original material, simply because it is such a visual experience. The 3-D here was used brilliantly. It created depth from foreground to background and a haunting feel. Only briefly was the effect used as an in-your-face moment. Otherwise, hats off to the whole crew at Laika,the company who made this, and Selick in particular.
This will probably be compared way too much to something like Nightmare Before Christmas, but hopefully people will love it for what it is and appreciate that at least not everything in 3-D is there simply to take your money and run RIGHT AT THE SCREEN!! IN 3-D!!(cue booming voice)
Unfortunately, this movie will only be available in 3-D for a short time, as it will be replaced by the 3-D Jonas Brothers Concert Movie? What the Fuck? I am officially back to hating 3-D.