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WGUC Reviews


Focus Features
Rated PG
Now Showing at: most major theaters, with limited 3-D availability.
Review by: Larry Thomas

Ever since the upgrade in technology has proven that movies can be better than ever, the new digital 3D process has enraptured filmmakers. Comparatively few theatres have the necessary equipment to show digital 3D due to the costs involved. Those that do are making the most of it, since 3D films bring higher ticket prices, plus a surcharge for the 3D glasses. The biggest box office hit so far was the Hannah Montana concert film last year. However, the follow-up, a Jonas Brothers concert film last week was a major disappointment.

The most successful type of 3D movie lately is the computer generated animated films from the likes of Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks. Some have been better than others, but generally you can count on the animated titles to keep the kids amused.

Now, something has been done really right in the field of 3D animation. The film is Coraline, based on the book by Neil Gaiman, produced by Tim Burton’s production company, and directed by his associate Henry Selick, who helmed the wonderful The Nightmare Before Christmas. And unlike the other animated entries into the 3D race, Coraline is not computer generated. Selick used the stop-motion technique, which means actual models are photographed one frame at a time, and moved at appropriate intervals to give the illusion of motion. This is the same technique that Willis O’Brien elevated to an art form with the original King Kong in 1933. Ray Harryhausen became legendary for his work with stop-motion in such classics as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts.

In Coraline, the stop-motion work gives the picture a depth and clarity missing in computer generated images. Many of the individual scenes are worthy of being hung on the wall of an art museum for closer examination, as they invoke a sense of Salvador Dali.

Young Coraline and her parents move from Michigan to Oregon. The parents are self-absorbed in their careers, and it’s up to Coraline to amuse herself in the new surroundings. She discovers there is a small door that has been wallpapered over in their living room. Upon entering, and crawling through a narrow opening, it’s revealed there’s a parallel universe on the other side, with similar, but decidedly different, parents. If you’re looking for a comparison in this tale that moviegoers can relate to, it’s like Alice in Wonderland meets The Wizard of Oz meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher and Ian McShane, who are all just fine in bringing their characters to life, provide principal voices. There is a concert-hall worthy score by Bruno Coulais, a composer for French television and films, played by the Budapest Symphony with chorus and children’s chorus that is absolutely exquisite. Without question, this is the best original film score in years, and hopefully will be remembered next year at Oscar time.

If there is a downside to the PG-rated Coraline, it’s that it’s rather dark and creepy for very young children. This is more for their older siblings, perhaps ten and up, but even more so for mom and dad. Adults with a sense of wonder and imagination should revel in this aural, visual treat.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Coraline was not a huge box office performer, so in most places that opened in 3D, it’s now been downgraded to 2D. It’s still a good film in 2D, but the 3D process makes it truly amazing. There are two locations in the Cincinnati area still showing Coraline in 3D with limited performances: the Rave Cinemas in West Chester, and the Showcase Springdale. Either may be out of your way, but are well worth the effort for the chance to see Coraline in 3D. As of this writing, Coraline will be number two on my ten best list for 2009.

And speaking of the list, my number one film for 2009, which I reviewed a few weeks ago is finally in town. Let the Right One In, the Swedish pre-teen vampire movie, opened Friday at the Esquire Theatre for one week only…so don’t miss it.


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