Monday, March 9, 2009

That Dragons Can Be Beaten

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” - G. K. Chesterton

Last night Becca, Aaron, the Abigail, and I (finally) went out to see Neil Gaiman's Coraline (based on the book by the same name) in 3D at the San Francisco Metreon and had a great time. A lot of it was just the company and the atmosphere. We ate curry (prepared by yours truly), bought way too much candy at a local shop (and smuggled it into the theater), and marveled at the enormous Princess Leah statue we encountered on the way (the Abigail: "it's going to come for me in the night and suck out my soul!" Me: "and then it will be a person and you'll be an enormous stylized Princess Leah statue... God, this movie has warped my view of reality."). The rest of it, though, was the movie. Coraline was brilliant.

Of course, I have some nitpicks, and the Abigail has more, but it was overall an enjoyable experience. Although the movie doesn't have much to do with the book, the changes they made were all well-intentioned and well-chosen. The addition of an extra child character for Coraline to bounce off of, for example, while diluting the sense of loneliness that pervaded the book, was important, because characters talking to themselves works better in a written format than it does on film.

I was a little annoyed by some talking-down that happened. I didn't need the cat explaining the metaphysics of the other world, and I'm a grownup. Do the writers really think children need these things explained? They get stuff like that immediately, it's only idiot adults who don't (though, as the Abigail pointed out the explication might have been there for the adults, which makes it more forgiveable). There are also a handful of moments where Coraline is somewhat, oddly, disempowered, her victories and cleverness turned into mere good fortune or someone else's victory or cleverness. The big finish, however, is still all Coraline's.

In the end, my only serious criticism is a direct result of the stop-motion and puppetry used in the movie. The ordinary world was so hyper-real that the wonderful and sinister other world was less fantastic by comparison. Perhaps the movie would have been better served by some combination of animation and real life to create a greater contrast between real and other. However, given the choice to use puppetry and stop-motion animation, the creators of the film did an excellent job.

In other words, Coraline was such a brilliant movie that it barely registers as having any flaws at all. The high points: the other world was brilliantly fantastic and creepy and the characterization was so evocative I fell in love with Coraline herself immediately and even became terribly fond of the added character. The low points: some awkward explication, some disempowerment, and a hyper-real reality. I still award Coraline five Burning Zeppelins out of five. I've already bought the soundtrack on iTunes, and when it comes out on DVD, I'm going to add it to my horde.

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I was going to turn this into a segue into a post about what's so awesome about stories and games about children... but I haven't got the time. My deadlines beckon, creepily, in the distance. So, I hope you're all satisfied with this (by now largely irrelevant) review of Neil Gaiman's Coraline.

In other news, if I don't see Tim Burton's 9, my soul will fall out of my body. End of story.

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  • Have you seen or read Coraline? What did you think of it?
  • What measures should the Abigail and I take to ensure that the enormous Princess Leah statue doesn't come for our souls in the night?

4 comments:

Becca said...

Honestly, compared to a lot of movie adaptations I've seen, I thought this one was fairly close to the book. Yes, I know there were some deviations, but it more or less followed the same story.

I kind of see what you're saying, but at the same time I thought the stop-motion puppetry fit the atmosphere so well.

In any case, good times.

Mark said...

@ Becca

Ultimately, I agree. Doing the movie in something other than stop motion and puppetry wouldn't have had the same problem, but then it wouldn't have been as stylish. Was the choice worth it, in the end? Almost certainly. As I said, a brilliant movie.

The Bionic Arabist said...

For me, the big issue with the movie was pacing. The sudden disjunction between "creepy and evocative exploration story", "run away from the scary thing story", and "fetch the mystic items story" didn't feel as clean as I remember it in the book. Whybie, on the other hand, was charming, and I'm actually pretty in favor of that choice.

But for the most part, I file the movie under: "I don't care if it had problems. It was beautiful. It was a sensory feast. What more do you want?"

Also, the mouse circus scene is going to cause some fascinating acid trips.

Mark said...

@ BionicArabist

It sounds like we're on the same page. I'm also filing Coraline under "I wish Jon were here to watch it with me because that would have been awesome," and then weeping.