Neil Gaiman Talks "Coraline"

Neil Gaiman is best known to comic book fans as the award winning writer of the classic 1990s Vertigo series "The Sandman." In recent years, Gaiman's success has leaped across mediums, stretching from novels to movies and even to television. This weekend marks the debut of the film adaptation of Gaimain's Hugo Award-winning novel "Coraline," produced in stop-motion animation and presented in 3D.

The story follows a young girl named Coraline who has moved into a new home with her inattentive parents. While exploring the house, she finds a key that leads to a world where there is an "Other Mother" and "Other Father" who want to make Coraline their own daughter. The tale includes a talking cat, a mouse circus, and an audience of Scottie dogs all brought to life under the talented direction of Henry Selick of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" fame.

CBR News caught up with Neil Gaiman to talk about the film and the whirlwind of activity his life has become.

Gaiman's career has become particularly hectic since his latest work, "The Graveyard Book," won the prestigious Newbery Medal, an experience that would excite any author. Well, almost any author. "I don't know if it ever got to [the point of being] exciting," Gaiman told CBR News. "I think it would have been exciting if it ever stopped moving long enough for me to notice it was exciting. Instead it was: I had had two hours sleep, the phone rang and woke me, and suddenly I won the Newbery and my two days off, which I was going to spend writing Metamorpho for Mike Allred, suddenly turned into a mad whirl of being interviewed and flying to New York and back."

Naturally, Gaiman has made the time to see the entire film "Coraline" film. "It's awesome," he said. "It's astonishing and seeing it with your 3D glasses on in a big theater is just unbelievable."

Gaiman, who took actress Fairuza Balk to the premiere as his guest, also enjoyed getting to see the audience's reaction to the film. "Once the mice started going, just hearing [Fairuza's] delighted laughs," he said. "At one point, she said she felt like a kid because at the after party she was sitting around the fireplace and all of these people were talking about the meaning of the film and this subtlety and that psychological significance and how disturbing that was and how cool that was, and then a little ten year-old-girl who was there said, 'I liked the mice!' and Fairuza said, 'I liked the mice too!'"

Gaiman admits he was initially puzzled by the decision to make "Coraline" a 3D film, but that changed after he saw the first 3D screen tests. "The first time they showed me some 3D screen tests and I saw what they could do, it was astonishing," the writer said. "And I am looking at this going, this is the best 3D I've ever seen, this is like a Viewmaster reel when you were a kid and you had those Peanuts Viewmaster reels and it had that amazing quality to it.

"What I found interesting about the film is pretty much after the first minute, you forget about the 3D. I think because in some ways, Henry doesn't use 3D [like everyone else]. He uses it in a different way from anyone else I'd ever seen; every other filmmaker tends to make 3D about things coming towards you, they throw things at you, they point things out into the audience, it's always about things approaching you. When Henry uses it, it's about the way things recede. It's about the way things move away from you, it's about defining space and using illusion to define. There are things he does in 'Coraline' which are incredibly old, they're from magic tricks, they're from Victorian stage design and because everything you're dealing with is real, he's doing that, he's pulling that stuff out which is amazing."

As for the actress who plays the voice of Coraline, Dakota Fanning, Gaimain thinks she she's perfect for the role -- maybe a little too perfect. "It's interesting, because what tends to happen when I start talking about the casting on 'Coraline' and about the things that I like, and I start talking about French & Saunders, and I'll talk about John Hodgman and Ian McShane, and I'll start talking about Terri Hatcher -- and Terri's performance is astounding -- and I forget Dakota," Gaiman explained. "And I forget Dakota because in my head I think, 'Well, there's Coraline' and I forget that somebody's acting there. I remember all the other actors and they're all acting with Coraline. Isn't it terrible?"

The casting of British comediennes French & Saunders is something Gaiman felt strongly about, as he was the one who suggested them. "I got to do one piece of casting, every other piece of casting is one hundred percent Henry," Gaiman confirmed. "With that one, I basically told Henry that he would be casting French & Saunders as Miss Spink and Miss Forcible. And Henry, bless him, said okay and cast them sight unseen. He knew who Jennifer [Saunders] was cause he'd seen 'Absolutely Fabulous,' all though I don't think he would have ever made the jump from 'AbFab' to Spink and Forcible. He didn't know who Dawn [French] was but he trusted me, which is a lovely place to be, really. It's a very good relationship."

Typically, authors and fans find that film adaptations tend to stray too far from the source material, but not Neil Gaiman - at least, not in the case of "Coraline." "I had one huge note on the first draft script which was that I thought it was too faithful," he revealed. "[Selick] did a first draft that was very, very faithful but too faithful. A lot of the book occurs in Coraline's head; you know, she is walking down a corridor and you know what she feels and what she thinks walking down that corridor and suddenly it turned into this thing where you have this girl walking down a lot of corridors."

Gaiman felt that the story needed to be opened up more in order for it to make the leap to the big screen. "Henry's first draft script didn't feel like a movie, it felt like the book transposed," Gaimain continued. "And he went away and a year later he came back with a second draft script, and his second draft script is basically the template from which everything else [came from]."

Interestingly enough, Selick's "Coraline" script was intended to be for a live action film. "He thought he couldn't do an animated film," Gaiman said. "And I would think, 'Can't we do an animated?' And he'd say no, so it was [live action], for various weird contractual reasons having to do with the production company. I do like that he wrote a live action script, partly because the pacing for the film is live action pacing, it's a 100-minute film, it's 20 minutes or more longer then it would be if someone sat down to make an animated film."

Comics fans who can't wait for Neil Gaiman's Metamorpho project with Mike Allred can check out "Batman" #686, the first part of "Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusdader," which hits stands on February 11. "The Batman stuff is awesome," Gaimain said. "I don't know whether or not what I've **done** is awesome; I was asked to write the last Batman story and I did or at least I wrote what I would want to see as the last Batman story. But on the way I got to ask the impossible of [penciler] Andy Kubert, not once but often twice a page, and Andy and [inker] Scott Williams just came through. It's astonishing, I've seen issue one and I'm really just unbelievably proud of what Andy and Scott have done, it's wonderful. And what I've seen of issue two, it's better. And while at the end of the second issue they may be wanting to burn me in effigy, I think they will be wanting to make Andy Kubert some sort of comics god."

"Coraline" opens this weekend in the U.S. "Batman" #686 goes on sale next week from DC Comics.

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