Coraline — My Quick Review

I bugged out of work a few hours early today so I could meet up with the family for a matinee showing of Coraline. The local theater had a rather defensive home-grown sign explaining that the extra $2.50 they were charging per ticket pays for the cost of renting the 3D projection equipment from Disney. And then there are those big bins that try to guilt us into “recycling” the glasses (so they can sell them back to us the next time). Maybe if they actually refunded you a dollar for turning in the glasses?

But I digress.

I read this book to my kids a few weeks ago. The slow pace of the opening of the movie not only perfectly matches the tone of the book, but it also lets us drink in the scenery (very convincingly rendered in 3D… in the first few minutes of the movie I noticed some jerkiness, but soon got accustomed to it).  As part of the rising action just before the climax, Coraline has to collect three objects (souls in the book, eyes in the movie — or, rather, pairs of eyes, that are always represented by a single round object… don’t ask).  The scene in which Coraline gets the first object is a psychological drama in the book, and I recall it was almost as effective as the riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum in The Hobbit.  In the Coraline movie, this bit appears as a lickety-split action sequence, and from there Coraline acquires the next two ball thingies so quickly that there’s little time to notice a character transformation.

The book has Coraline, through her force of will, transform herself from plucky orphan Newt to surrogate mother Ripley, and it’s a thrill to read. In the climactic chapters of the book, the
third-person narration keeps us out of Coraline’s head, so that we’re just following along as she charges ahead into danger; we don’t know exactly what she’s planning, but by this time we’ve learned to trust the heroine, so it’s a thrill to read along and enjoy her courage.  In the movie, a string of action sequences — admittedly striking — takes over the space where the book had ratcheted up the psychological tension, and the change diminished my enjoyment a bit.

The climactic encounter was very faithful to the book, but the “You thought it was over but it isn’t yet” was weaker in the movie because it involved the timely return of the sidekick — something that’s more appropriate for a buddy film.  I realize that we can’t spend an
hour of screen time listening to Coraline’s internal monlogue, hence the new sidekick; but once you’ve created him, you’ve got to got to give him a subplot and an
arc of his own, which leads to his role in the battle that comes after you think you’ve seen the climax. 

Some very powerful visual effects having to do with the Other Mother’s
malevolent manipulation of the environment are very well done, giving
the film a new set of visual references that added texture and more
coherence than the talky attempts to explain what’s going on. 

I won’t go see it again while it’s in the theaters, but the 3D effects were good enough that I’d consider going to see another 3D movie if the effects were that smoothly integrated into the experience. (It seems it would be easy to do that with CGI films.)