Coraline: The Pinnacle of 3-D Cinema To Date

I don’t claim to be an expert on 3-D film. From U2 to Hannah Montana, I have never seen a 3-D concert, and I never got a chance to see Henry Selick’s original masterpiece, The Nightmare Before Christmas, when it was re-released and adjusted to include 3-D technology. However, in terms of narrative cinema created specifically with 3-D use in mind for its original release (a qualifier if ever there was one), Coraline reigns supreme. It’s an intimate stop-motion fantasy, with Selick’s trademark beautifully unsettling imagery, but never before has one of his movies gotten under my skin so deeply. Whether it’s the advancements in his own artform and storytelling, or the inclusion of the best and most mature 3-D effects work I’ve seen, this is the very rare February film that will still be stuck with me by December.

Coraline’s title character (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is upset that her parents have moved away from their home, living now in a pink mansion turned apartment complex of sorts. Her parents pay her no mind, a neighbor boy sort of stalks her, her neighbors are kooky washed-up performers, and she is bored to tears. One day, she finds a door that is only unlocked by a mysterious key with a button on it. Behind it, a wall of bricks—no adventure to be found there. That night, a mouse wakes her and runs behind the door, and a magical fabric portal leads her to a new world that looks exactly the same…except her parents are now absolutely perfect. They cook feasts, have magic inventions, and dote affection upon their daughter. The only difference? They have buttons for eyes. The old saying of “too good to be true” becomes apparently rather swiftly, and… well, I don’t want to give away any of the fun surprises.

When things go dark in this film however, they get VERY unsettling. I was more disturbed by some of the PG-rated imagery here than by any amount of gore in recent horror films. As Roger Ebert once said, the children’s entertainment that lasts longest is a little creepy. The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory… not that Coraline belongs on that list necessarily, but the children audience are treated with as much respect here as they were there, and Selick is not afraid to frighten the children in a fantastical manner and capture their imaginations in a way that isn’t cute or cloying. It’s almost offputting how peculiar these images are. When I first saw the gymnast neighbor’s character design, I immediately thought how strange it was, and wondered if it fit with these normal looking humans surrounding him. Of course I was mistaken—by the end of the second scene with this man, I eagerly anticipated his arrival again. Selick is a genius when it comes to these gorgeous yet haunting images. They look even better in 3-D. For the first time in my experience, someone has taken 3-D and not made it a vehicle for letting sticks poke out at you or balls thrown out at you. It’s not about showing us things close up, it’s about giving us a truer sense of the depth of the space—finally, it’s no longer a gimmick! I’m sure the film is great without 3-D too, but when you see the fabric portal stretch off into the distance, and you feel like you could crawl through it, you finally understand why folks have been trying to use 3-D for so long.

To describe anything more about this film would be a crime. Part of the wonder is in the surprise—the economy of the screenplay is almost too perfect, and while that’s phrased as a backhanded compliment, I mean it more as an issue of wonderment. In a day and age where The Dark Knight has plot holes galore, and folks like Tarantino let films drag off on tangents for who knows how long, how did a movie where every single image, moment, and character exist for a reason come to be? This film is the most inventive fantasy since… well, the Pixar films of late. Thank goodness children’s films are being more well-made than adult films nowadays. Hopefully they can inspire a future generation of filmmakers to make as challenging and inventive cinema as they have grown up with— and I look forward to the day when I can throw a Coraline disc into my high definition 3-D television, and they can be as enchanted as I was.

~ by russellhainline on February 11, 2009.

2 Responses to “Coraline: The Pinnacle of 3-D Cinema To Date”

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  2. […] Feature: 9. Monsters vs. Aliens 8. 9 7. Fantastic Mr. Fox 6. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 5. Coraline 4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3. Ponyo 2. The Princess and the Frog 1. […]

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