Home Movies: 'Coraline,' 'Watchmen' Arrive
Adapted from a dark children’s novella by British author Neil Gaiman and directed by Henry Selick, who played a pivotal role in crafting the look of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline is a visual achievement of the highest order, an endlessly inventive spectacle that represents the first stop-motion animation feature ever filmed in 3-D. Judging by the results, it will not be the last.
No stranger to tales of ghosts, goblins and ghoulish guardians – he also directed 1996’s James and the Giant Peach – Selick seems right at home in Gaiman’s cheerfully demented universe, where young Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) yearns for an escape from the hopelessly dreary home she shares with her inattentive parents. She gets her wish when she discovers a doorway to a parallel universe that seems to promise all the pleasures missing from her real life: a colorful wardrobe, a kitchen overflowing with savory treats, and parents who hang on her every word. But something is amiss.
Coraline’s Other Mother (Teri Hatcher) is a mirror image of the real one, save for her curiously off-putting grin and the cold plastic buttons where eyes should be. She says all the right things, but in an oddly calculated fashion; she’s trying too hard. Coraline doesn’t pick up on those eerie undertones at first – she’s too busy enjoying the attention, not to mention the food. But evidence of the Other Mother’s less maternal instincts begins to emerge.
The Other Mother’s affections melt away slowly – what were once gentle suggestions become subtle intimidations – but there’s no question the love affair is over when she tries to pry out Coraline’s eyes with a pair of sewing needles. Her endgame is revealed: She plans to steal Coraline’s soul and banish her parents to an eternity in fantasy hell, and it’s up to our heroine to save the day.
Selick, who also wrote the screenplay, remains mostly faithful to Gaiman’s twisted fairy tale, which should seem familiar enough to those weaned on classic children’s stories like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Yet the thrill of Coraline is not so much in the storytelling, which is entertaining without seeming truly exceptional, but in the richness of the animation.
Coraline is a dazzling sensory experience, never more so than when its pint-size protagonist crosses over into an alternate reality that is far more colorful and alive than the pallid confines of her Oregon apartment. Here, the 3-D effects seem less like a gimmick than a revelation – Selick’s world, with its lush gardens and cotton-candy cannons, practically jumps off the screen. It is a joy to visit, though as it turns out, you wouldn’t want to live there.
EXTRAS: Both the DVD and Blu-Ray editions of Coraline feature 2-D and 3-D versions of Selick’s fantasy, with four pairs of 3-D glasses to boot. Selick and composer Bruno Coulais offer insightful commentary to complement the usual assortment of deleted scenes (visually rich) and a making-of featurette that invites us into the director’s preproduction meetings and allows us to witness the editing process, plus animation and voiceover sessions.
Elsewhere: If director Zack Snyder's narrative didn’t always soar on the big screen with the same feral energy as Alan Moore’s writing – one wondered if Snyder might have served his movie better if he’d been more willing to deviate from the playbook – Watchmen is a grand spectacle that captures the graphic novel’s subversive spirit better on DVD and Blu-Ray. For those lulled to sleep in the theaters, the promise of an even longer director’s cut might seem more a threat than a promise. But here Snyder restores an extra 24 minutes, and the movie seems more fluid as a result. The EXTRAS, which include a history of Moore’s graphic novel and a My Chemical Romance video, could have packed more of a punch.