Coraline: Collector's Editon Blu-ray Review with D-BOXJuly 21, 2009
Coraline's packaging label "From the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas" triggers wondrous expectations of dazzling visuals, uniquely twisted characters, and memorable if slightly demented musical numbers. But it was never meant to be a continuation of Nightmare or resemble that film, despite the shared use of increasingly rare stop-motion animation. The song and dance is part of the story rather than embellishment, and traces of happiness reside in a shroud of intentional lies.
Unfortunately for director Henry Selick, a common misconception assumes Tim Burton directed The Nightmare Before Christmas and therefore influenced Coraline, which is simply not true. Coraline is not only directed by Selick but he also adapted the screenplay from Neil Gaiman's children's book of the same name. His fingerprints identifiable with Nightmare are scattered all over Coraline but never in excess as to be regurgitating what has already been done.
Young Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) has been uprooted from her city home and friends to live in the country with work obsessed parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) that pay no attention to her. Relegated to entertaining herself, she stumbles upon a strange door in their new (old) home and follows it to an alternative universe drawing inspiration from falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Taking the concept of "all is not what it seems" a step off the deep end, Coraline's journey soon turns into a creepy, twisted fight for her and her family's life.
Selick takes his time getting Coraline to the door by introducing her to characters such as her parents, a talkative young boy, two former burlesque dancers, an odd black cat and Russian acrobat. She is disinterested in all of them - except her parents - for one reason or another. The plotting of this lengthy and mostly chatty portion is uneven without an understanding of how or why these characters will influence Coraline later on.
Once Coraline enters the door, the story kicks into a higher gear and sustains it until the end. The "other" world is eerie and enchanting the same time, a dangerous place for a child with few reasons to return to her own. As Coraline is drawn to this world's majesty so are we, for it's where the best designs, set-pieces and events unfold. Only in retrospect after visiting the "other" world can Selick's decision to pad the first act with complacency be appreciated, even more so from a second or third viewing when the reasoning behind each character's behavior and purpose is better understood.
Selick and the talented artists at LAIKA have achieved visual nirvana with Coraline's stop-motion animation that deserves a tip of the hat. Every scene is brimming with intricate details and subtle movements that you have to remind yourself was made and animated by hand. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, there are some relatively dark and trippy scenes not entirely suitable for children. There are also others, such as an aerial view of a lavish garden exploding with colors, which will blow your mind.
Universal brings Coraline to Blu-ray with optional 2D and 3D viewing modes. In 3D at 1080p, the opening sequence aims to pop your eyes out with some "in your face" effects. From there, 3D is toned down to more suitable and less obtrusive uses such as layering the foreground and background elements in a scene. Viewing Coraline in 3D does not make or break the film, but it is especially recommended to draw out the unusual designs of the alternate world even though the anaglyped technology currently used in home video 3D is not capable of reproducing the full color palette or not perfectly aligning the depth-of-field in all scenes.
In 2D, Universal presents Coraline in what can only be called a flawless and exquisite VC-1 encoded transfer framed at 1.85:1. I tried quite hard on a second viewing to spot issues with the quality and could find none. There is no edge enhancement, digital noise tinkering, banding, bleeding edges or any other anomaly. The colors and the details they bring out such as Coraline's sparkling blue hair are gorgeous. Blacks, and there are quite a few, contrast bright whites like neighboring piano keys. This video presentation is, without a doubt, perfection.
Universal produces some of the strongest 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes of all studios and, surprise… surprise, Coraline ranks up there with the best of them. Without Tim Burton's hand there is no Danny Elfman bombastic score. Instead there is much more, from the subtle squeaks of mice to a cacophony of obedient terriers barking. Bass extension delivers strong when Coraline's alternate world turns on her, and surrounds are as out of control as the sanity of those after her. Everything is crisp, sharp, real; the perfect aural companion to a perfect visual treat.
D-BOX Motion Code
Once Coraline enters the alternate world, the D-BOX engineers were given an opportunity to put the chair in motion… and they did. Much like the slow revelation of what true horrors Coraline faces are, the D-BOX moments start slow and build in intensity into a riveting finale. There is a little bit of everything from hovering effects to subtle movements walking or driving to being literally jarred by a violent event.
When D-BOX is combined with 3D is where Coraline becomes an almost otherworldly experience. Our senses are used to viewing movies as a flat image with rear-ends plastered into a seat. When depth is added to the image and the chair "moves" in-sync with the action on screen, well, it is the type of experience you want to phone up the neighbors and invite them over to share.
Coraline's supplemental package includes the aforementioned 2D and 3D viewing modes that include four pairs of 3D glasses, a reflective slipcover case, and DVD and digital copies for cross-marketing to future Blu-ray adopters. Though Coraline is based on a children's book, the bonus features are decidedly geared towards adults with high definition video throughout, with only one exception, and nary a fun game or activity to be found.
U-Control – A total of three U-Control picture-in-picture options are offered with footage snippets culled from the same interviews and behind-the-scenes footage featured in the separate featurettes. The modes include Tours and Voice Sessions, PiP Behind-the-Scenes, and PiP Animatics. There are lots of great production tidbits here but you will have to put up with the PiP window taking up the better half of the screen's bottom to view it.
The Making of Coraline (35:53) – Appearances can be deceiving, much like this daunting list of segments to this feature which when pieced together run only a hair over a half hour. Each segment, from story evolution through character design, voice acting, puppet creation, and bringing the animation to life, offers enough a glimpse through broad strokes into how Coraline came to the big screen without overemphasizing any particular area. It hits the beats wonderfully, including dissecting my favorite scene when the fantastic garden is revealed from a bird's eye view, and is well worth a watch.
Deleted Scenes (8:37, HD) – Henry Selick offers a general introduction about the pain in removing these six scenes from a stop motion animated film where the hard work of animators is lost. His pain is easy to identify with as each scene appears to have been completed.
Voicing the Characters (10:46) – A more in-depth look at voice work than what was touched upon in the making-of feature. Each of the main character's actors is given an opportunity to discuss their inspiration for the voice created.
Creepy Coraline (5:03) – A short but fun featurette about putting all the creepy elements into the film like rats and bugs.
Commentary – Director Henry Selick hits this commentary hard with unbridled enthusiasm and passion told through general stories not related to what is happening on screen. It is tiring to keep up with him through the first act, though he finally settles in and steps into a more traditional commentary dissecting scenes. Because of his involvement in translating the story for the screen both on paper and visually, the vast amount of information Henry shares is worth enduring the track.
BD-Live – "The World According to Henry" is an exclusive BD-Live featurette with additional insight from Selick. Some of neatest inspirations are hidden in here, but the downside is this is the one exception offered in standard definition.
Truth be told, Coraline did not hook me on my first viewing. I went in expecting something following the tone and construction of A Nightmare Before Christmas and discovered something quite different, quite darker. Then I watched it again and it "clicked," for whatever reason, and I realized this is the crowning achievement of Henry Selick's career and a wonderfully told and presented story.
The Blu-ray Disc version of Coraline is nothing short of exemplary with a pristine 1080p video transfer, lifelike lossless audio mix, a 3D viewing mode, D-BOX Motion Code only when warranted, and a wealth of informational bonus features. I feel confident in endorsing Coraline as one of the best Blu-ray releases this year and expect it to wind up in the majority of Blu-ray collections before long.
- Dan Bradley
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Coraline (Collector's Edition)
July 21, 2009
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio