It’s Sunday, March 7, and everyone is wondering what the winners will be. Well, wonder no more, because here are the official winners of this year’s Cinefantastique Wonder Awards. Oh sure, other people are tuning into the Oscar telecast to see whether Sandra Bullock takes home an Academy Award, but for aficionados of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema, the Wonders are the awards that really matter, because they offer a chance to recognize great films that are often denied Academy Award nominations because of their genre affiliation.
Of course, this year is a bit of an exception, because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated two science fiction films for Best Picture, AVATAR and DISTRICT 9, along with one animated fantasy, UP. With several other Oscar nominations in technical categories, the genre has at least a fighting chance of winning some recognition from Academy voters.
Nevertheless, the Wonders are the true measure of achievement in the genre, voted on by experts with a life-long love of horror, fantasy, and science fiction – and more important, voted on by those imbued with that all-important Sense of Wonder. BEST HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
BEST DIRECTION IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
James Cameron for AVATAR
BEST SCREENPLAY FOR A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchll for DISTRICT 9
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson (story by Docter, Peterson & Thomas McCarthy) for UP
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Saoirse Ronan in THE LOVELY BONES
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Robert Downey Jr in SHERLOCK HOLMES
Sam Rockwell in MOON
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Vera Farmiga in ORPHAN
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Jackie Earle Haley in WATCHMEN
BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
BEST MAKEUP IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
MY BLOODY VALENTINE
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Henry Selick for CORALINE
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Mauro Fiore for AVATAR
BEST EDITING IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivki for AVATAR
BEST MUSIC IN HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Michael Giacchino for STAR TREK
EDGAR G. ULMER AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT BY A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Tuesday July 21st’s DVD and Blu-ray releases offer something for cinefantastique fans of every stribe, whether your personal tastes run toward science fiction, fantasy, or horror. The top title of the week, at least in terms of sales figures, is WATCHMEN. The sprawling plotlines of Alan Moore’s well-regarded graphic novel did not translate well to the celluloid form, but the film’s muddled storytelling and slagging pace did not impede ticket sales, which turned WATCHMEN into a science fiction blockbuster. On disc, the film arrives in four iterations: a single-disc widescreen DVD of the theatrical cut, a single-disc full-screen DVD of the theatrical cut, a two-disc special edition DVD of the director’s cut, and a Blu-ray disc with the director’s cut, plus Amazon Digital Bundle, Digital Copy and BD-Live. Did I say four iterations? Well, there is a fifth one, sort of: you can purchase the Blu-ray version housed inside a miniature statue of Night Owl’s floating ship. It’s the perfect gift for the graphic-novel-loving maniac in your family!
Up next is CORALINE, Henry Selick’s darkly enchanting 3-D stop-motion film version of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel. A fairy tale that may be a touch scary for the little tykes, CORALINE is now available as a single-disc DVD, a two-disc Collector’s Edition DVD, and a Blu-ray/DVD Combo, plus Digital Copy. All three versions include the film in 3-D.
THE MESSENGERS hardly seemed good enough or successful enough to warrant a sequel, but that did not stop Ghost House Productions from unleashing THE MESSENGERS 2: SCARECROW on us. This time, Danish director Martin Barnewitz replaces the Pang Brothers. A prequel, rather than a sequel, MESSENGERS 2 hopes to undermine audience expectations by offering a few unexpected twists. We’ll see if Barnewitz (who helmed the excellent ROOM 205) can pull it off…
For television fans, theres the Complete Second Season of PUSHING DAISES, the vastly over-rated show that died a well-deserved death. If that’s not enough for you there’s also STARGATE SG-1: CHILDREN OF THE GODS, the ROBOT CHICKEN spoof of STAR WARS: EPISODE II, and an import titled SKELETON CREW, about a film crew that stumbles upon a mental institution where thirty years earlier the mad doctor running the place made a series of snuff films starring his patients.
Bruno Coulais’ score for Henry Selick’s 3D-animated film, CORALINE, is an enchanting enactment for orchestra and choir, which brings to wonderful life the magical environment and story concocted by the brilliant author Neil Gaiman. The music features a perfectly appropriate blending of unusual instruments (mechanical piano, electric bass guitar, jazzy flutes, what sounds like a child’s xylophone, squeaks and squeals and all manner of bells and percussion oddities) with both adult and children’s choirs and a pervasively eloquent harp which is liberally spread throughout the length and breadth of the movie. The inclusion of a cute if very short song by the band They Might Be Giants fits nicely within the overall sensibility of Coulais’ music. This is a wondrous score, melodically intriguing, instrumentally engaging, and completely intoxicating.
Coulais, 55, was trained in classical music in Paris but gravitated toward film music through the suggestion of several acquaintances. He was asked to compose music to a documentary film by director François Reichenbach in 1977, but his first foray into feature films was in Sébastien Grall’s film, LA FEMME SECRÈTE, released in 1986. He had scored more than fifty films and television works when his music for the 1996 documentary film, MICROCOSMOS, brought him to international attention. His ability to provide music of eloquent grace and beauty for this new breed of artistic documentary with limited narration was further solidified with WINGED MIGRATION (2001), GENESIS (2004), and THE WHITE PLANET (2006).
Bruno Coulais has been equally adept in scoring dramatic subjects, such as 2001’s horror-fantasy, BELPHÉGOR – PHANTOM OF THE LOUVRE (2001), VIDOCQ (2001), and SECRET AGENTS (2004). His nearly 150 film scores to date have covered nearly every genre and embraced all manner of musical styles. Known for his use of ethnic instrumentation and human voice, Coulais is among the new breed of French composers – Alexandre Desplat, Armand Amar, Philippe Rombi among them – providing notably expressive work in contemporary cinema.
One of the first things to be noticed about a Bruno Coulais score is that one barely resembles another. From the energetic drama of VIDOCQ with its malevolent darkness and twisted chambers of sonority to the haunting ethnic melodies of the adventure drama HIMALAYA (1999) or the eloquent classical choir work that gave such poignancy to LES CHORISTES (2004, THE CHORUS, which earned him his third César Award), Coulais relishes films that allow him to become as varied as possible.
In CORALINE, director Henry Selick’s impressionistically animated interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s short story, an adventurous but lonely girl named Coraline (“Not,” she reminds everyone, “Caroline”) finds a mirror world that turns out to be a strangely idealized version of her own, but one whose sinister secrets soon keep her from returning home. It was Selick’s style of animation (ala his work on THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH) and the way in which the film was shot that gave Coulais his initial inspiration for the kind of music the film would need, rather that its nuances of story and fantasy.
“At first, I don’t attach myself to the narrative because I think music must be another character of the film,” he said. “I’m sensitive to the light, to the mood, and everything that you cannot see directly.”
Coulais devised his enchanting instrumental design according to Selick’s visual interpretation of the story, which gave the strange alternate world of Coraline’s home and its button-eyed denizens a menacing clarity.
“While watching the pictures of CORALINE, I was struck by the extraordinary pictorial invention as well as the different stratum of the film: the routine/the fantasy, the epic side/the dark side, the fear, etc. and I agreed with Henry Selick, that we must use a wide musical range in order to realize all these diversities,” Coulais said. “The challenge was to make emerge a musical unit in spite of these different stylistic [elements] and I believe that the themes have played this part.”
Once he had established the musical design of CORALINE, Coulais developed the score to coincide with Coraline’s journey, her descent into the darkness of the world beyond the bricked up wall inside the drawing room door (where her button-eyed Other Mother has entrapped her), her heroic attempts to escape from that world and save her real parents, and her ultimate redemption and triumph.
“Once I wrote the main music themes of the film, I tried to work in a chronological order so I could respect the film progress,” he said. “I needed to start from a realistic, routine mood and then go into a fantastic mood, becoming more and more frightening. It was important to make the music evolve with the story. The first themes, like the one illustrating Coraline’s first visit in the house, seem peaceful in order to make the character’s world more realistic. But then the bizarreness and the anxiety take over. Some funny and absurd bits join the music. But even from the beginning there are some musical touches that make us understand we’re not in a completely realistic film.”
Coulais composed and recorded his score in France while communicating with Selick in Hollywood. Selick had used his music from WINGED MIGRATION and MICROCOSMOS as temporary music while building his final edit of CORALINE; although Selick didn’t expect Coulais to mirror those scores in his original compositions for CORALINE, this temp track gave the composer a kind of referential shorthand that let him know the type of music Selick had in mind for his film.
“Despise the distance and the language barrier, I’ve rarely felt so close to a director,” Coulais said. “Henry explained what he was expecting from the music for each sequence. Once the demo was done, I sent him an mp3 file to listen to. He gave me his first impressions and then, later on, his final remarks once the music was edited in by [film editor] Christopher Murrie.”
For Coulais, the most challenging aspect of scoring CORALINE was keeping pace with its shifting tone and supporting its sense of mystery and menace – and doing so with music that conveyed both mysterioso and emotional expressions. “There are two sequences which for me, were extremely important,” said Coulais. “The first sequence is the mice Marching Band on which I tried to write a score where the density and the scale were that of the mice, using all kind of instruments like toys, Chinese instruments, child’s brass and child’s piano, but also instruments of a traditional Marching Band. The second and the most important is for me the sequence between Coraline and the Other Mother where I intended, in spite of the malevolency of the Other Mother, to bring a certain emotional level to the scene.”
Like much of Coulais’ film music, his CORALINE score sounds like nothing else he has written, embodying a musical character and style all of its own. Coulais believes this is possible due to the wide range of films he has been able to score, and the willingness of directors not to impose certain strictures upon him.
“A kind of schizophrenia exists because sometimes a composer gravitates to the idea of being at the service of the film; sometimes he inclines to write the most personal music as possible,” Coulais said. “However, some movies allow the composer to be as free as possible in the writing of the music score. I am of course unable to define my style, but I can say that I am attracted to strangeness, and to the hybrid mixing of human voices and instruments. Although, I do also like to work with homogeneous instrumentation, like a string quartet.”
This was one of those rare weekends during which no new science fiction, fantasy, or horror movies opened. The only two holdovers still in the Top Ten were CORALINE and FRIDAY THE 13, which saw somewhat divergent results. CORALINE, in its third weekend of release, bounced back from #5 to #3, which is where it made its debut. Henry Selick’s animated film, based on the Neil Gaiman novel, earned $11.03-million, raising its three-week total to $53.4-million. FRIDAY THE 13TH, which made its debut at #1 last week, fell faster than one of Jason’s victims – all the way to sixth place with $7.8-million. Nevertheless, thanks to the strong opening, the film has slashed its way through $55-million worth of tickets sales in less than two weeks.
It was a weak weekend for new fantasy and science-fiction films: CORALINE, the excellent new stop-motion film from Henry Selick, came in third place; PUSH, the new action sci-fi flick wound up in sixth.
CORALINE opened in 2,299 North American theatres , where it earned $16.85-million, well behind HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU and TAKEN. Still it was much better than Selick’s previous directorial outing, MONKEYBONE, which opened wtih only $2.7-million back in 2001.
PUSH made its debut in 2,313 engagements, earning just over $10-million. Expect a fast push into video stores.
Meanwhile, another newcomer, FANBOYS (about some friends who try to steal a print of STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE), opened in limited engagements, finishing at #37 with $171,533.
As for holdovers, THE UNINVITED fell from third to sixth place during is sophomore session, earning $6.26-million. After two weekends of release, the remake of TALE OF TWO SISTERS has earned a spiritually thin $18.24-million.
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS dropped out of the top ten, fading from #7 to #11 in its third weekend. $4.1-million in ticket sales raised its three-week total to $39.84-million.
As is usual for animated films, CORALINE was completely storyboarded, allowing for a great deal of thought about where the camera should go for each and every one of its approximately 1,500 shots. This careful pre-planning allowed director Henry Selick to come up with some beautiful camera moves (and angles), as well as determine the best way to use 3-D in each shot. The result (to echo Leonard Maltin), is the best use of 3-D I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, the majority of past movies that were made in 3-D have been pretty awful. In fact, over the entire history of 3-D, you’d be hard pressed to name more than a dozen really good movies. Some featured exciting action sequences; some had great 3-D effects, but most were very bad, if judged strictly on their merits as movies. As DreamWorks animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg recently noted while promoting his newest 3-D movie, MONSTERS vs. ALIENS, “The one thing 3-D can’t do is make a bad movie into a good movie.”
So CORALINE is a rare double treat, because it works as a very good movie seen in 2-D, but becomes even more spectacular when seen in 3-D! In fact, CORALINE is the first stop-motion animated feature that was actually conceived to be photographed in 3-D. It’s what director Selick calls “a fully immerse three-dimensional movie-going experience,” adding, “The technology of today’s 3-D really can now be called ‘stereoscopic,’ because audiences can now look at things with both eyes as we’re designed to do as human beings anyway. 3-D captures the complete stop-motion world that we, the moviemakers, want to share with our audiences. With CORALINE, we are using 3-D to bring audiences inside the worlds that we create, and convey the energy that our miniature sets exude for real. It’s about that, rather than having gimmicks like things flying off the screen all the time. We do have some of those, but sparingly.”
Indeed, Selick wisely uses the 3-D effects in quite a miserly way. The opening and closing credits give audiences most of the more eye-popping moments, while the movie itself doesn’t use the kind of gimmicks that would merely take the viewer out of it’s carefully constructed fantasy world.
Cinematographer Pete Kozachik explains that the 3-D moments had to “support the story and were carefully scripted for short bursts, rather than lengthy set pieces. We were advised, ‘It’s more about opening up space, rather than bringing stuff up in your face’.”
To that end, the cinematographer invoked the advice of two of his mentors; Academy Award-winning visual effects artists Dennis Muren (“one shot, one thought”) and Phil Tippett (“what’s the shot about?”).
Since the story of CORALINE involved parallel worlds, an interesting concept that Selick might have been tempted to follow was to use regular 2-D for one world, and have viewers put on their 3-D glasses when Coraline visits the Other World.
However, Selick felt that it would be much more consistent to convey the differences in the two worlds by subtle changes in style. He explains, “In the world that Coraline lives in, we made the sets more claustrophobic. The color is more drained out, since her life should feel flat. When she gets into the Other World, the sets may look similar but we built them deep and more dimensionally. We also tone up the color a bit, and move the camera more. In her real life, the camera is locked down and it’s like a series of drab tableaus. Her real life feels like a stage play. So the Other World feels more ‘real’ to her – and to the audience.”
Of course, CORALINE can and will be shown in 2-D at some theaters, but as Dakota Fanning enthuses, “It looks so much better with the glasses!” And be sure to sit through all of the end credits to see a final burst of amazing 3-D effects “Coming at You!”
Henry Selick’s film of Neil Gaiman’s book ranks alongside the classics of fantasy filmmaking
10 years ago, in February, 1999, Cinefantastique celebrated the 100th anniversary of stop-motion with the publication of a special double issue. At the time, it looked very much like stop-motion might be poised to go the way of the dinosaur, as CGI threatened to make it obsolete as a viable movie form. However, director Henry Selick never stopped believing that stop-motion was still the best way to make certain animated movies. Now, 10 years on, Selick has proved his point most spectacularly with an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book CORALINE.
Selick and his cadre of talented animators (Anthony Scott, Travis Knight, Trey Thomas and Eric Leighton) have toiled away for four long years, and the result has to be considered (to borrow an ad line from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD), “nothing less than a miracle in motion pictures!” Indeed, I’m sure that CORALINE will thrill all stop-motion aficionados to their bones. One reason for this, no doubt, is that Henry Selick has managed to make the film so appealing to all ages. When, for instance, was the last time you heard a lengthy quote from Shakespeare in an animated film? As a result, I daresay CORALINE can rank alongside such classics of fantasy filmmaking as Jean Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and Alexander Korda’s THE THIEF OF BAGDAD.
So special thanks for this success must go to all of the studio executives at Focus Features, along with producer Bill Mechanic, for shepherding such a time-consuming project to it’s successful fruition. Unfortunately, these days there simply aren’t that many producers like the late Charles H. Schneer, who can guide a stop-motion picture to completion.
Below are some of director Henry Selick’s comments about the film (from the press notes), along with excerpts from my interview with Mr. Selick, taken from CFQ’s special stop-motion issue.
What a piece of work is Man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
—Shakespearian actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, while performing in a theater for 248 Scottish Terriers and Coraline.
HENRY SELICK: When I first read Neil’s manuscript, I was struck by the juxtaposition of worlds; the one we all live in, and the one where the grass is always greener. This is something that everyone can relate to. Like Stephen King, Neil sets fantasy in modern times, in our own lives. He splits open ordinary existence and finds magic.
Coraline is very appealing to me, and I hope that she will be very appealing to children seeing the movie for a variety of reasons. She’s brave and imaginative and has got an overwhelming curiosity; if she sees something interesting, then she has to know about it. I loved that her ‘grass is always greener’ scenario turns out to be scary. When Coraline – an ordinary girl – faces real evil and triumphs, it really means something, as Neil has said.
Neil invites the reader in to participate in Coraline’s adventure, and I wanted to do the same for the moviegoer. This was an ideal opportunity to take all I know about storytelling through animation, bringing those tools to bear on a story with a strong lead character. Neil was there with help and advice right from the start, yet was not overly precious with his book and would step away when I needed to focus. You want to honor the important parts of a book in adapting it, but you also have to invent and change as well. LAWRENCE FRENCH: John Lasseter was telling me that one of the things he has discovered is that people are inherently fascinated with the idea of miniature worlds. Whether it’s in CGI, stop-motion or in model railroads and cars. HENRY SELICK: That’s probably what drew me into stop-motion, after having been a 2-D animator first, and having come to stop-motion from that tradition. I can’t get around the fact that you actually see the world in front of you, three dimensionally, lit, with the puppet there on the set. It may not be moving, but you know it’s going to be brought to life in the camera. I love that tactile, touchable realness of the miniature world. It’s something you can never get with drawn or computer animation. I’ve always loved Ray Harryhausen’s work, George Pal and later on Starewicz. I’d always loved it, but I didn’t really know how to do it, so I gradually shifted from one form to the other. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Besides Starewicz, you also like a lot of the eastern European animators, don’t you? HENRY SELICK: Yes, I love Jan Svanjkmajer, who did FAUST, and CONSPIRATORS OF PLEASURE, that’s quite a brilliant piece of work. It’s 90% live action and incredibly entertaining, and he uses stop-motion in a very powerful way for the climax. He’s one of my all time heroes. The ideas behind the animation in his films are always really powerful. He’s the inspiration for the Quay brothers. And in Jiri Trinka’s film, THE HAND, he has a really free spirited character. LAWRENCE FRENCH: How do you define good stop-motion characters?
HENRY SELICK: That’s hard to say. For me, I’d say the more stylized or simplified way you go, combined with really believable acting. That’s where you find the best characters developing. The way the puppet moves has to make it really seem to be alive, depending on both the design and how well it’s lit. But I’ve never really gone for realism. I’ve never had the job of doing realistic effects for a film. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Are you committed to stop-motion over the long haul, depite the rise of CGI? HENRY SELICK: Yes, I love stop-motion, so I’m pursing projects in stop-motion. I’ve talked to people about them, but it’s got to be the right story and done economically, so it can continue to be commercially viable. Also, now with the help of video cameras, and computers, it’s easy to do stop-motion on your own. I have a 13-year old nephew who has a camera with single frame capability, and he’s making movies. He goes from live action to animated figures, and edits in the camera. It’s so simple. You can animate aluminum foil, blobs of clay, G.I. Joe dolls, anything! So I always think there’s going to be some kid doing stop-motion, it’s so accessible and low-budget. Over the years, most of what has been done in stop-motion is pretty awful. Not just a little bit bad, but usually very bad, and that really bothers me. When that gets out, it can really hurt the reputation of stop-motion. We are in this era of BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD where animation is the last thing on the list of what’s important to those shows. I’m committed to it, but I’ll have to take it a step at a time. I also need to do what I need to do to survive. I almost feel that Phil Tippett, in his heart, still is dedicated to stop-motion, but he’s also not foolish, so he’s going to do what he has to do, to continue making his brilliant special effects. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Phil Tippett told me that his argument for using stop-motion was you would get the input of one animator in creating a character. HENRY SELICK: Yes, that’s right, because very often one animator could do the entire scene. You cast the animators, just as you’d cast actors. Sometimes according to characters, or sometimes according to the scene. Trey Thomas, who is a kind of motorcycle guy, ended up doing a lot of the most delicate female animation to Sally in THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Josephine Haung did the most gorgeous close-ups of James face, in JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH.
Henry Selick (TIM BURTON’S A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS) directs Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and John Hodgman in this Focus Features production. A secret door in her family’s new house offers a passage way to an unusual parallel world for young Coraline. Release date: February 6.
CORALINE is the upcoming stop-motion fantasy film from Henry Selick, director of the uber-wonderful Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Selick’s follow-ups, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and MONKEYBONE, have come nowhere near matching that initial blaze of glory; fortunately, this time out he is working from a piece of source material by Neil Gaiman, about a young girl who finds a mysterious door in her home that leads to a parallel world. Originally slated for December 2008, the release date has been pushed back to February 6, 2009.