Just like buses, you wait ages for top-notch BD transfers to come along and then two come along at once. After Knowing scooped that coveted full 10 out of 10 score for its vivid live-action depth and detail, I would never have hoped that another such dazzling disc would arrive so hot on its heels, but Universal's Coraline, with its gorgeous colour-scheme and exquisite detail, does just that.
Whereas A Nightmare Before Christmas fooled a lot of us with what looked like a tremendously faithful hi-def incarnation on BD, yet had one or two problems when properly analysed, Coraline appears to be a simply glorious and pure digital to digital transfer of the movie. This release contains both the 2D and 3D versions of the film, and both 1.85:1 images use a VC-1 encode.
The 2D version is gorgeous, without a doubt. Colours in the real world are deliberately muted, and the picture detailed but dour. Coraline's blue hair is perhaps the most vivid thing that we see, other than the décor down in the divas' chambers. But the image is still captivating and offers oodles of finite asides, from blades of grass to rocks and branches, and from the house itself to the mountains and the clouds. The feeling of depth is extraordinary considering that we are only ever looking at a miniature set. Panning shots are seamless and smooth, the texture on the puppets is consistent and convincing for, well, puppets - but the investment of life in these creations is unparalleled. If I was to be picky, I would possibly comment on some of the gloomier skies that, on occasion, looked slightly blurred and less defined than the surrounding image ... but, like I say, that would just be me being picky for the sake of it. Edges are tight and cleanly delineated. Enhancement does not intrude, and nor does any type of noise reduction. Technically, this is just about flawless - and this, remember, is before we enter the Other House and explore a world of all-out colour, texture and vibrancy.
So, once we reach the hidden realm of the house, things open out figuratively and visually. Deep blacks provide acute shadows, fall-off to grey is immaculate in subtle shadings in rooms, tunnels and wells. The eyes and hair of the Other Mother are some of the richest, most hypnotic black you will have seen, positively gleaming with Stygian depth. Contrast is fine throughout. Detail, once again, is completely breathtaking - just look at the costumes on the troupe of mice, or the fur, collars and eyes on the Scottie-dog audience. The finger-print manipulations of the puppets is nowhere near as apparent as on, say, the creatures tooled by Nic Park, but for those who love such things, this charming attribute of stop-motion can still be observed in the facial textures of all, though possibly most obviously on the actresses, Spink and Forcible, played by French and Saunders. Look at the icky bits oozing when a coco-beetle is bitten into, as well.
The colour palette explodes into a riot of vivid primaries and beautifully blended secondaries. The slightly dusty, drier aesthetic of the real world is swapped for a giddy, lustrous glow that fills the screen with warmth. Of particular note are the glorious reds and blues of the Coraline-face garden, the splendid midnight blues of the sky above Coraline and Wybie as they peer down the well, the neon-etched green of a maddened Other Mother and the beautiful sugar-coated pink of the house. It is also scintillating and sharp when we see the Other World getting chewed-up, piece by piece, during one set-piece, with some incredible whites and greys frosting the image without ever blooming.
The 3D version is good fun, too. Four pairs of glasses are supplied with the anaglyph release so you should, at least, give it a try. After giving us some advice on how best to view this version, the movie kicks in and drifts into the expected green/red tint that runs without any hint of natural colour - which is obviously a shame, but something that goes with the territory, I'm afraid. But detail and clarity is still very good, indeed, and there is far less blurring or ghosting around the edges than in some other entries.
Certain 3D aspects really do stand-out. Coraline moving through some over-hanging branches. The view that Wybie has from the ridge when he first spies upon Coraline. The tunnel behind the little door stretching out. Flowers in the Other Garden unfurling and insects flying to greet our heroine. The Mantis-tractor taking to the skies and our view of the Coraline flower-beds. A big external staircase unhinging itself from the house and swinging down to the ground, pitching Coraline to the lawn. The land being chewed-up around the house towards the final act and, best of all, the action in the spider-web. These scenes, as well as many others, offer the depth and wow-factor that we are all looking forward to. But the effect of the 3D in Coraline's BD transfer is, in my opinion, not as accomplished or as exciting as that seen in My Bloody Valentine. Now this is for various reasons. Firstly, Coraline plays things a lot more subtly - it is not as wildly in-yer-face as the obviously more overt slasher-pic which thrives on thrusting weapons and body-parts out of the screen. Secondly, I think the fact that you are looking at animated stop-motion characters and not real people diminishes some of the immersive qualities of the depth somewhat. There is something inherently artificial to the style, no matter how fabulously accomplished it may be, and this could well lessen the believability factor a notch or two.
Of the two versions presented here, it is fairly obvious that you should stick with the 2D. It has the colour, detail and vibrancy that you want. The 3D is there for a fun alternative and, on a personal note, myself and several other people I know who have watched the 3D version suffered no headaches or eye-strain at all.
Coraline sounds just fine, too.
Universal sees to it that Selick's movie packs a sublime DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that reaches around behind you and makes every attempt to immerse you in its wacky world, as nuance, effects, ambience and vocals flit around the set-up and follow the on-screen action with highly engaging results. But this isn't an overly aggressive track, in fact it errs on the more subtle and warm side of things, which, for this film, is perfectly in-tune. The dialogue is rich, bright and fabulously steered. John Hodgeson's voice, as both Fathers, is weirdly wonderful and somewhat addictive, a honey-coating that spreads across the front speakers with delicious ease. There is never a problem encountered with the placement of dialogue within the mix, it is positioned and never drowned out by the action or the music.
Speaking of the music, the score is delightfully presented with clean instrumentation, a flowing depth and a full bodied approach that bleeds through the entire set-up and swells in all the right places. The theatrical performances have definite presence, such as Bobinsky's drum-bashing circus mice and the Other Father's little Coraline ditties at the piano. The film is not a musical, although the score is fizzing and ebullient with a wide range of carnival-esque sounds to keep proceedings bouncing along.
Doors opening and closing, floorboards creaking, the sound of snap-dragons getting snipped and the fluttering of the Mantis-tractor's propellers all have a subtle directionality that helps keep the fantastical vibe alive and kicking. A terrific effect is the metallic sproinging of the web-strands as Coraline falls into another Other Mother trap. The Mantis-tractor also thuds quite heavily around the garden and across the little foot-bridge once things have turned nasty. There is a nice pop to the candy-floss canons that buffet Wybie and the clattering of sharpened, almost robotic spider-legs during the final encounter is keenly sported by a track that makes effortless use of the surrounds for even the most minute of effects. When the big staircase gives way and comes crashing to the ground, there is, indeed, some good use of directional steerage, but I wasn't as impressed by the sub activity. Bass levels are perfectly acceptable, you understand, but they have that slight restraint that so many family films like to endorse. You won't experience your ribs getting crushed by deep impacts, or the windows rattling, but the bass is still consistently solid and entertaining.
The atmospherics, such as the wind that whistles around the ridge near the start, and the rainstorm and lightning that the Other Mother seems to conjure at one stage are expertly handled. You will hear the wind circling authentically around the set-up and the distant calling of Wybie's old grandmother from across the valley filtering from the directional depths of one speaker. But the ambience within the Other House is superlative. There is a great sense of depth to the various rooms, the kitchen, the dining area and the tunnel that has convincing steerage and sound placement all around you. The design is thoroughly active and superbly credible at all times. Thus Coraline sounds almost as good as it looks, making this one of the most all-round immersive family films this side of Pixar.
Excellent and a very strong 9 out of 10 from me.
Coraline is stacked with good stuff.
Besides such BD exclusives as the U-Control PiP functionality and BD-Live gubbins, we get a selection of excellent behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes that, enhanced by a suitably quirky tone and a real sense of humour, provide a very satisfying overall package.
The film carries a great commentary from Selick and a final credits spiel from composer Bruno Coulais. Recorded separately, unless Coulais literally just walks in at the end, it is naturally Selnick that takes the lion's share of the track and his gentle and polite manner reveals an enormous amount of trivia and information regarding everything to do with the film, from script to score, from characters and the actors who portray them to clothing and themes. He even tells us how the sight of an almost-nude old lady performing on the stage is very off-putting to a lot of people! Despite the meagre amount of time that Coulais gets, he provides a lot of thought and insight into what he tried to bring to the film.
We get three tracks under the U-Control banner. One is focussed on behind-the-scenes trivia and production footage, whilst another treats us to voice recording session and associated sound-bites with the actors, and then, for real completeness, we get an animatic track that runs for the entire movie. Personally, I couldn't stick with the animatic for more than a couple of minutes, but it is great that they have seen fit to put it on the disc. The behind-the-scenes box-outs detail lots of things, but it is always great to see the miniature sets and the puppets being manipulated. Selick and various others crop up from time to time to expand on certain elements and even if there is eventually a bit of overlap with the commentary and the other featurettes, this is still immensely interesting.
The Making Of Coraline is 35 minutes long and can be watched either as a whole documentary or broken down into lots of little themed dissections. We meet Neil Gaiman - with beard and, later, without beard - and also his daughter, for whom the original story was written, as she quizzes Selick on the changes he made to the source material. Extensive sections deal with the creation of the puppets, their costumes, their hair and their whole incredibly intricate “life”, and we get to sit in on voice sessions with the cast as Selick directs them. This is great little making-of that humanises the production and has no trouble in bringing Selick and crew over with wit and warmth. Only Fanning seems to be sugary, gushing and overtly praise-heavy- but she is only young. Otherwise, this is time very well spent.
Voicing Coraline is a great piece that goes a lot further than many similar featurettes on animated film discs. For a start, we meet all the cast and not just the notables. Joking about during these sessions seems totally genuine and Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French are their typical sly and comic selves. It is great to see Keith David who, to me, will forever be the quick-tempered Childs from The Thing, laughing it all up and having fun putting his anvil-toned tonsils to the task as the cat.
Creepy Coraline is further look at the puppetry in the film, only this time it focusses on the meaner, more disturbing elements, such as the rats - anaemic, evil, festooned with bald spots - and the Other Mother in her various incarnations, including that shocking Michael Jackson look.
Some Deleted Scenes help to round off what is a very satisfying package of bonus material that certainly gives you a distinct taste of what went into producing this little masterpiece. Whilst some are mere shots and images that were snipped out, there are some longer scenes and character beats that Selnick deemed would slow the film down. The director introduces each segment and even tells that us one of the most elaborate actually took 66 days to animate - and is actually the post-credits treat. But he elects to show us it here because he knows that many people don't manage to sit through the full end credits.
Universal also have D-Box capability and their usual My Scenes function. The BD-Live gives access to a talk from Selick amongst other things and, all in all this is a terrific little package that combines fun with fact.
This release also contains a DVD copy of the 2D version of the film, along with the commentary track.
Well, as I said earlier, I found Coraline pretty tough going at first, but once things turned nasty I simply fell in love with it. Having seen the film a few times now, I can safely testify that I have gotten over my coldness towards it and would heartily recommend to anyone. The basic premise is not exactly original - in fact, the theme is possibly the most used in make-believe fairytale fables - but this does nothing to harm the visual ingenuity and the surprising level of maturity that infiltrates the whimsy and the darkly miraculous.
Charming and bewitching, the film may be, but a nice touch is that the extra features are, as well. Selick is a fascinating filmmaker and someone whose flights of fancy and weird devotion for puppets is totally sincere and engrossing. Thus, he comes across extremely well in his thorough commentary and he is not at all unwelcome when he pops up often throughout the various featurettes. A liberal dose of deleted scenes and well-thought-out "making-of" exposés provide practically everything that you could wish for. And then there is the exquisite transfer that puts Coraline right up there with the best that the format has to offer.
All in all, this is a jaw-dropping experience that will enthral as much as it unsettles. Henry Selick can rest assured that he is the true master of stop-motion animation today. And Neil Gaiman could not have wished for a better, more gifted, nor more devoted craftsman to have brought his fable to the screen.
Very highly recommended.
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