By Adam Roche
Henry Selick is one of those heroes of Hollywood who largely go unsung. Take the other film he’s known for. It’s still inconceivable to me that all this time later, people still think Tim Burton directed ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. In fact, apart from a little input here and there, providing the germ of a story and adding his name above the title, Burton had relatively little to do with the making of the perennial spooky favourite. The director of the film was Henry Selick, and if you look waaaaaaaaay down at the bottom of the movie poster, you’ll see his name there. Last on the list, unsung, and yet generally responsible for its creation and longevity.
Fast forward 16 years and his name starts to emerge again, only this time it’s featured a little more prominently on the poster. With ‘Coraline’, it seems, Henry Selick has finally moved into the front seat, and it’s about time.
The film is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman, and concerns the book’s titular heroine, who moves into a dilapidated boarding house with her parents, and there discovers a small, papered-up doorway which leads to a parallel world, inhabitated by replicas of not only her parents, but of the house’s other inhabitants. Whereas the folks in the real world are irritable, too busy, and slightly deranged, the world beyond the door is a world of perfection, where everyone becomes their ideal.
It’s a world where Coraline’s mother always has time to cook wonderful dinners and play games with her daughter, where her father enjoys gardening and playing the piano as opposed to staring ashen-faced into a computer screen as he endlessly writes (oh, how I know it well…). In short, it is the world in which Coraline dreams of living. Never mind that everyone there has black buttons sewn onto their face where their eyes should be.
Coraline is transfixed and intoxicated with it all, and when she is given the opportunity to leave her own drab world behind, and remain in the ‘other’ world forever, she jumps at the chance. However, there’s just one condition, and it involves a needle and a thread, and two shining black buttons…
Let’s make no mistake about it, people will see this and think it’s a kids film. You may even watch the first half hour and think it’s going to be something completely different, some kind of surreal fantasy about the way a child’s mind can turn a bad situation into something else. In actual fact, what it turns out to be is a dark horror story, a deliciously creepy fable with the power to make you thrill and gasp at it’s sheer audacity.
There are no friendly ‘Skellingtons’ here. Our villain likes to kidnap, to kill, and to pluck out the eyes of children. And just so you know that our villain means business, it’ll show you three former victims. It’ll stretch its face grotesquely as it screams. It’ll insist that you smile, and if you don’t, it’ll ‘fix’ your mouth so that you’ll be able to do nothing else. And then, just when you think you’ve gotten away, it’ll take your parents. Think you’ve got a pair of arms to run to? Think again.
It’s this audacity that marks ‘Coraline’ out as a surefire classic. Having watched the film with children of varying ages, I can assure you that the rumours are true. Children will find it scary. My 3 year old stopped watching and went off for some Care Bear therapy. My 7 year old saw it through to the end, and was simultaneously thrilled and terrified, spending a good deal of time after it had finished punching the air and shrieking with delight.
To scare a child and entertain them at the same time is an extremely hard trick to pull off, but ‘Coraline’ manages it it supremely, even utilizing some of the tricks that you’ll find in more established horror movies, such as it’s occasional use of sound maelstroms, and the dark, foreboding sensation as you realize that Coraline’s troubles may not quite be over once the door is locked behind her…
And of course, full credit must go to Henry Selick. This is his baby. It’s his heart, his genius you see on screen. Let’s just hope it’s not another sixteen years before he delivers his next defining moment.
As to the disc itself, I watched this on Bluray, which comes with a 2D version, and a 3D version complete with four pairs of 3D glasses, which is incredibly welcome as the two pairs we got with ‘Journey To The Center Of The Earth’ meant that only two of us could watch it at once, whilst everyone else had to look away or they got a headache.
Having watched both versions, I can honestly say that 2D ‘Coraline’ features a truly eye-popping picture, a surefire reference disc if ever you needed one. The detail is so fine and crisp that you can feel every texture on display. The movie itself is such a colourful celebration of the artistic mind that you’ll be hard pressed to find another disc that surpasses it’s beauty. It really is that good.
The 3D version, whilst not as good looking, is surprising nonetheless. One of the bugbears of 3D film making is that directors always try to utilize the technology by inserting completely pointless actions into the film, such as arrows shooting out at you and Brendan Fraser spitting water. With ‘Coraline’ however, you finally get the feeling that it might just be possible to be immersed in a movie that way. Instead of a shooting arrow, we are given subtle depth of vision as Coraline arranges seed packets behind a rain spattered window. Instead of Brendan Fraser’s bile, we walk alongside Coraline and a cat as they talk, truly able to feel the distance between them. Of course, being Stereoscopic 3D, the picture loses all colour, and you will find a hazy blur across certain frames that weren’t there before, but if you want to know what all the fuss about 3D is, ‘Coraline’ is a decent enough starting place.
In short, ‘Coraline’ is a movie that more than deserves a place in your collection simply for it’s bravery, it’s remarkably appealing lead character, and it’s bizarre flights of fancy. Watch and be dazzled.