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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Coraline 2-Disc Collector's Edition - Recommended
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Posted July 22 2009 - 08:08 PM
Film Year: 2009
Film Length: 1 hour 41 mins
Genre: Fantasy/Animation/Stop Motion
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: VC-1 @ over 25 mpbs
(Bonus Disc has the film in a standard definition anamorphic transfer)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 @ an average 4 mbps
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
(Bonus Disc has the film in standard definition 5.1 sound in English, Spanish and French)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG (Thematic Elements, Scary Images, Some Language and Suggestive Humor)
Release Date: July 21, 2009
Starring: The Voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, John Hodgeman and Ian McShane
Based on the book by: Neil Gaiman
Written for the screen and Directed by: Henry Selick
Film Rating: 3 ½/5
Coraline is a truly refreshing film experience. Ostensibly a stop-motion animated children’s fantasy, the story actually delves into darker territory than you might expect and winds up having an impact similar to that of The Wizard of Oz. I’ll quickly clarify that point: When I was a child, I found myself quite scared by some scenes in The Wizard of Oz, particularly the encounter with the illusion of the Wizard as a giant floating head in front of flames. (“I am OZ! The Great and Powerful!”) That, and the various scenes with the Wicked Witch were usually enough to actually send me out of the room or behind the couch. Coraline achieves something akin to that primal level at times, enough that I can recommend the film as an honest old-fashioned kind of fairy tale. Keeping in mind that many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales have some pretty scary material at their core, this story is right in line with that tradition. And it tells a good story that any family will enjoy together. (And I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to show scary movies to children – just that the best fantasies always have a little darkness in them, and that’s not a bad thing at all.) So what’s this film about? The title character, voiced by Dakota Fanning, is a young girl bored with her drab life and her self-absorbed parents. A nighttime trip through a little door inside her house takes her to a fantasy version of her life, with what appear to be loving parents who dote on her. Except that something’s not quite right here. When she returns to the real world, she begins to receive warnings about what may actually be happening in that other world. And things get creepier from there until the film reaches a fantastical climax, made all the wilder by the wondrous stop-motion animation employed by director Henry Selick.
Coraline has been released simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition. The Blu-ray comes in a 2-disc edition that includes both a Blu-ray DVD holding both 2D and 3D versions of the movie, and a standard definition DVD holding the movie again, along with a digital copy you can port over to a computer or other device. The Blu-ray DVD boasts an impressive DTS-HD MA track in English along with a vibrant 1080p VC-1 picture for the 2D version of the film. The 3D version works in places to provide some interesting separation and dimensionality but loses a lot of the colors in the process. The Blu-ray disc is loaded with extras, including an audio commentary (available for all versions of the disc on both editions), several 1080i HD featurettes, some 1080i deleted scenes, a BD-Live link to an SD interview with Henry Selick, along with some U-Control features for the 2D version including animatics, more behind-the-scenes interviews and footage, and, best of all, video footage of the voiceover sessions with the cast. This is a special film, and the presentation here enhances it nicely. I am happy to recommend this for purchase.
VIDEO QUALITY 4/5
Coraline is presented in a 1080p VC-1 1.85:1 transfer that on the 2D version shows off an amazing range of color and detail in the tiny stop-motion world of the movie. Just as in The Wizard of Oz, when Coraline goes through the mousehole to the “Other” world, the color palette goes through the roof. As it is, in all scenes, Coraline has an intensely blue head of hair, framed at times by a bright yellow raincoat. There’s nothing here in terms of flesh tones since the characters are all puppets, but each character has his or her own color scheme, both for their appearance in the “real” world and the “other” world. I have to note, however, that the 3D version does not possess the same range of colors, due to the limitations of the 3D methods available today for home video. Some intense colors, like Coraline’s blue hair, will make it through, but the overall picture is considerably less colorful. The separation effect works in various places, particularly in the lace framing of the opening titles and an early scene where Coraline stands at the kitchen window. It’s an interesting gimmick to watch once, but the real visual joys of the film can be found within two dimensions rather than three.
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
Coraline is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French. This is a surprisingly active mix, using the surround channels and the subwoofer along the way to immerse the viewer in both of the worlds of the film. There is some directionality and some use of the surrounds beyond the usual music and low atmospheric sound. The characters’ voices come through clearly. In simple terms, the mix is a pleasure to hear.
SPECIAL FEATURES 4/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Coraline comes generously packed with extras. Most of them are exclusive to the Blu-ray release, although the audio commentary can be found on the standard definition version as well.
U-Control – The usual picture-in picture feature from Universal is available here, working on three levels. The first level is what looks like a complete set of animatic storyboards for the film, which you can watch along with their corresponding scenes. The second level is a series of additional interviews and on-set video footage beyond what you can find in the regular featurettes. The third, and best, level, is a series of videos of the voiceover sessions done by each actor. Multiple takes of most lines are shown here, so you can really see the actors working through their performances. The material with Ian McShane is particularly great. I note that the U-Control material is not available while watching the film in 3D.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online. Along with the trailers, there is also an additional interview with Henry Selick available at the BD-Live site. Titled “The World According to Henry”, it is presented in standard definition and runs a little more than 5 minutes. If you’re registered with Universal BD-Live, signing in makes it possible to activate various online functions including sharing of “My Scenes”, sharing of your mash-ups, chatting with other people, or generating your own commentary for the film. A “How-To” guide is also included for anyone that needs it.
Commentary by Director Henry Selick and Composer Bruno Coulais – Henry Selick does a scene-specific commentary, talking about the various elements of the film as they unspool. This can be a little dry in places, but there’s a wealth of information here, particularly for fans of the stop-motion genre. Bruno Coulais provides separate comments over the end credits of the film, detailing his involvement with the film and his approach to scoring..
Deleted Scenes (8:37, 1080i) – Several deleted scenes are presented by Henry Selick in a series of odd video introductions that cut off his first words at various times. Selick acknowledges that these scenes are ultimately unnecessary to the film, which is why he chose not to complete them or include them with the film. The scenes cannot be viewed individually.
The Making of CORALINE (35:53, 1080i) – This multi-part featurette takes you from the adaptation of the story from Neil Gaiman’s book through the production process. Gaiman cheerfully acknowledges the changes made to his work, saying that a completely faithful adaptation would only have lasted about 45 minutes. The featurette includes visits to the various departments working on the film, including a discussion of the extensive wardrobe created for the film at a very small scale, a discussion of the CGI effects used to augment the animation where needed, and the process of making the film in 3D with a camera on a special mount that would move it back and forth within the space of two eyes to get two shots for every frame. The parts of this featurette can be viewed on their own or via a “Play All” function. As each part is fairly short, I recommend just running the whole thing. (One of the more interesting bits in this featurette is a display of all the various facial expressions and transitions available for each character – which is accomplished by pulling off the lower part of the face and attaching the appropriate version!)
Voicing the Characters (10:46, 1080i) – Henry Selick and the cast talk about the process of recording their voices for the film’s characters. Some footage is shown of the voiceover sessions, and this is interesting material, but it’s really just a warmup for the picture-in-picture material available when the movie is playing.
Creepy Coraline (5:03, 1080i) – This brief featurette goes into the scarier and ickier creations used in the film, including various bugs and rodents. Appropriately enough, it starts off with a stop-motion animator showing off her box of rats. I’ll leave the rest of this to your imagination. Have fun.
D-Box Motion Code – An option is presented to use this motion code in sound systems that can handle it.
As I said before, there’s a standard-definition disc available in the packaging. It holds a standard-definition copy of the film with SD 5.1 sound in English, French and Spanish and the commentary track with Selick and Coulais.
Digital Copy – The standard definition disc included in the package holds a digital copy of the movie that you can download to your PC or portable device.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film, with markers to note which chapters have applicable U-Control features.
One other quick note: Universal has put up a website at http://www.coraline3dgarden.com which will allow you to interact with Coraline's garden through your computer. You'll need to print out a page from the site, and have a webcam and the proper Active X plug-in. I have not tried this myself, but Universal tells me that you'll do things like click on different objects and blow into a microphone to make things happen. Anyone who tries this please respond in this thread...
IN THE END...
Coraline is a worthy addition to the world of family fantasy films, and another example of fine stop-motion animation from Henry Selick. The film itself is worth seeing without the special features, but the fact that they’ve provided some really interesting bonus content makes this an easy purchase. I am happy to recommend it, especially for families to watch together. It may be scary in places and a little icky in others, but that’s part of the nature of fantasy. And this film achieves both its scares and its character development quite honestly. I’m glad Selick made this film and that it’s been given such a nice treatment on disc.
July 22, 2009.