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March 3rd, 2009

There ought to be a word for it...

My first free afternoon since I got back to the US (I've been here for two weeks now) and so I went out to see Coraline in 3-D. The 3-D is as good as I have seen, not a distraction (except for action at the edges of the field of view). The artistry was quite well done. The little incidental jokes were cute. It's better than 90% of the movies out there. And I left dissatisfied. It should have been better.

My first reaction was to complain (to myself) that the film lacked a moral center. By "moral center" what I usually mean is that I really want to see a clear reason why the hero is a hero; why the hero is actually morally stronger than the villain. I want to see that there is more to make the good guys good than the fact that they hit harder and shoot straighter... or, as is the problem with way too much anime, that they are good guys for a better reason than just that they don't have weird facial features.

But I don't think that was exactly it. I think the problem was that Coraline's change of heart was not well motivated within the framework of the story (she should have been more suspicious, and creeped out, by the button-eyed folks to begin with); and that her victory was also not due to her own virtue, by which I mean she neither had to make a hard choice (well, she did make one -- to go back down the tunnel -- but again that was not well motivated; we were not really shown why that was the only right thing to do) nor did she triumph due to any cleverness or wisdom on her part. She was handed the victory; she neither figured it out herself, nor did she earn it.

There is no way to complete a sentence that begins "the moral of the story is..."

What did I know at the end of the movie that I didn't know at the beginning? It just felt like a whole lot of running around without a whole lot of point to it.

I find that there are a lot of authors like that, whom I just can't read anymore, not because they are bad -- I can enjoy bad on its own terms -- but because they are almost good, and the little bit they fall short drives me nuts. I am afraid that Gaiman's film scripts are falling into that category on a regular basis. (Charles de Lint's books also come to mind.)

What's a word to describe a good book or film that is irritating for not being as good as it could have been?




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