Henry Selick’s Coraline (2009) is finally an example of how 3D doesn’t have to be solely about exploiting the ideas of spectacle. Being very much an anti-3D spectator, it would understandably take something fairly special to convince this writer that such a film can hold greater merit than just being another tediously plotted, CGI-laden piece of cinema.
However, Coraline manages to defy such expectations, incorporating the potential beauty of the third dimension through its subtlety rather than overdoing it and distracting from the story of the film itself. It doesn’t by any means damage the portrayal of a girl torn between the real ‘boring’ world, and the temptations of a much more exciting, parallel universe that she finds behind a tiny door in the bedroom of her new house.
Indeed, perhaps it could be argued that Selick’s subject matter hints at notions of being torn between the attractiveness and wonder of new technology, of the 3D obsession of recent years, and the ‘real’ world of masterfully-skilled puppetry and other such old-fashioned, traditional animation techniques. Seeing this film in Blu-ray, of course enhances its already strong aesthetic points, and the most visually striking and memorable scene occurs when Coraline is presented with a beautiful garden, created lovingly for her by her ‘other father’. Animated flowers and plants literally come to life, glowing, sparkling and glistening in all their 3D glory… This is the magic of cinema.
A beautiful, enchanting soundtrack wraps the spectator wholly in the on-screen events and transports them into the weird and wonderful world of Coraline and her ever-blossoming imagination. However, when things take a turn for the worse, and her ‘other mother’ tries to replace her real eyes with buttons (to match those of her new parents), Coraline must escape the clutches of a terrifying matriarchal figure, who morphs into an overpowering black widow spider, made from the needles first seen sewing together the eerie doll that leads Coraline into her ‘other’ world.
While the gothic-style mise-en-scene, reminiscent of the work of Tim Burton (in particular his Corpse Bride (2005)), and Selick and Burton’s earlier collaboration The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), might be getting a bit tired, this is a film that perfectly executes the teamwork possible between 3D and more traditional techniques of times gone by. And, refreshingly, this is a piece that places its emphasis on visual storytelling but not solely on the modern usage of that notorious third dimension.
Laura J. Smith