'Coraline's' 3-D effects work best on the big screen

by Robert W. Butler

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

17 July 2009


Watching Henry Sellick’s stop-motion animated “Coraline” in the theater, I had some reservations about its dramatic effectiveness but none at all about its breathtaking 3-D technology.

Simply put, it was just about the best use of 3-D I’d ever seen. The film offered images so exquisitely rendered and carefully detailed that you felt you were actually moving through its make-believe environment.

Now “Coraline” has come out in a two-DVD set that includes both a plain old 2-D version of the film and a 3-D one.

Take my advice and stick with the 2-D.

Like everybody else who gets their hands on this package, I couldn’t wait to slap it into my player so that I could watch it in 3-D on our new flat-screen TV. After 15 minutes of ever increasing frustration, I gave up.

In theaters audiences watched the 3-D version through clear polarized glasses. But with the DVD you get four of those old anaglyph cardboard glasses, the ones with one green lens and one red lens.

Where to begin…? Well, for starters, the flexible plastic lenses create subtle distortions.

And the red-lens-green-lens system totally messes with the film’s lovely pastel palette. Technicians have so desaturated colors on the 3-D version that it is essentially a black-and-white experience. The only big flashes of color come from the Coraline character’s yellow outfit and blue hair.

And while objects and characters in the foreground are in focus and sometimes seem to jump off the screen, the backgrounds seem blurred and muddy.

If you’re determined to watch “Coraline” in 3-D, my advice is to use the biggest flat-screen you can find — a 50-incher at least. (And don’t even think of watching it on a conventional cathode ray TV. It looks terrible).

Also, be prepared to move some furniture. The 3-D effect works best if you’re only a few feet from the screen. Trouble is, you lose resolution the closer you get to the pixels.

Darned if you do. Darned if you don’t.

With the 2-D, at least, you can concentrate on the flawless animation as a bored Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) finds an alternate universe where her “Other Mother” dotes on her in ways her real mother won’t. (Teri Hatcher provides the voice of both moms.)

Parental note: “Coraline” has some creepy, dark stuff going on that may be upsetting to younger children.

Director Sellick provides an illuminating commentary track. The second disc has an hour-long making-of documentary that becomes a primer of sorts on how stop-motion animation works and the crushing load of detailed work that goes into creating a film world using tiny sets and 7-inch-tall plastic figures that must be photographed one frame at a time.

Topics: 3-d | coraline
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