The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents November 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Where the Wild Things Are
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
Natural Born Killers
North by Northwest
ASC Close-Up
Coraline (2009)
Blu-ray Edition
Special Collector’s Edition
1.85:1 (High Definition 1080p)
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Universal Studios Home Entertainment, $39.98

As the moving van departs into the misty Oregon woods surrounding the aging Victorian mansion long ago subdivided and dubbed the Pink Palace Apartments, the unimpressed, 11-year-old new resident of the first floor leaves the unpacking to her parents and immediately heads outside in search of better things. The precocious, blue-haired pre-teen is Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), a transplant from Pontiac, Mich., who, in spite of meeting a lurking stray cat and a boy her age, Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.), remarks constantly she is bored. Coraline’s cranky parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), preoccupied with the gardening catalog they are writing, push their petulant daughter to occupy herself by exploring their new, 150-year-old home.

After Coraline has met the odd upstairs neighbor, aging Russian acrobat Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) and the eccentric basement dwellers, elderly British actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), a package arrives from Wybie. The package contains an old rag doll with button eyes and that bears a striking resemblance to Coraline. The appearance of the mysterious doll heralds unusual changes in Coraline’s world — in particular, the finding of a small, locked door in the living room. It is not until later that night, when Coraline is visited by some enchanted mice who wake her and lead her to the doorway, that it glows with an incandescent invitation.

Once on the other side of the door, Coraline meets her “other” mother and “other” father who, with the exception of black buttons for eyes and a weirdly positive attitude about entertaining bored Coraline, seem identical to her real parents. These “others” cook lavish meals and delight Coraline as well as encourage her to go out and enjoy their exotic garden and socialize with the much improved “other” neighbors. In spite of the joys of the “other” side, it is the appearance of a mute, button-eyed Wybie and finally the voice of the lurking cat, Me (David Keith), who talks on the “other” side that warn Coraline something is not quite right, particularly with her powerful “other mother.”

In director Henry Selick’s film version of Neil Gaiman’s devilish children’s book Coraline, the audience is thrust into the whimsical and sinister world of the Pink Palace through the intricate details of stop-motion animation. In what cinematographer Pete Kozachik, ASC, referred to in AC (Feb. ’09) as “the most ambitious and technically challenging film in the stop-motion genre,” there is a remarkable visual landscape owing to the collaboration of numerous resourceful and talented magicians. Conceived by the director and cinematographer as both a 2-D and 3-D theatrical feature, Selick and Kozachik, with shared inspiration from the artwork of Tadahiro Uesugi, agreed the visual quality of Coraline would be split in two, with more subdued tones in the real world of the Pink Palace and a lively, intense palette of light for the “other” world.  As Kozachik succinctly notes in his piece for AC, the visual quality used “distorted mirror images of each other as different in tone as Kansas and Oz.”

Universal Studios has recently issued Coraline on Blu-ray, and much like its package art advertises, the results are “the perfect high-definition experience.” The luminous, 1080p image transfer is outstanding, with shimmering colors and incredible depth of field that instantly make the disc one of the best of 2009 and certainly reference quality in showing off Blu-ray performance. The beautifully rendered transfer also has a dizzying level of deep blacks and eye-popping sharpness. The audio, too, is excellent, with the rich, multi-directional sound mix active, giving vitality to the score and perfectly channeling the actor’s voices as if they truly were coming from their animated counterparts.

The package includes an array of supplemental features, the best of which is an on-screen, picture-in-picture option that offers a feature-length, early-work print version or “animatic” and  a 37-minute, HD, “making of” documentary that features members of the creative team, including Kozachik. A dense, informative audio commentary from Selick, with the brief participation of composer Bruno Coulais, nine minutes of deleted scenes, an 11-minute segment on working with the voice actors and six minutes of face time with elusive writer Gaiman round out the supplemental features. Like several recent animated, Blu-ray releases, a standard-def DVD is included, as well as a digital copy for portable devices.

Finally, Universal has added a hi-def 3-D version to the platter and four pairs of 3-D glasses.  While the two-color “old school” 3-D display delivers some fine optical illusions within the limitations of the home screen, it is merely a ghost of the original theatrical 3-D experience, and the resulting distortion of the film’s incredible color renders the inclusion simply a gimmick. It is the flawless 2-D presentation of Coraline that will supply the real thrills on home screens. This darkly beautiful fantasy blooms on Blu-ray and will quickly become part of any good digital toy chest.

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