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Coverage: Nightmare Revisited

February 6, 2009


[extended trailer for Coraline on YouTube; if you can’t watch it, click here]

Guest blogger Scott writes:

Coraline opens today and, while debcha might be most excited about the production of a favored author’s work, I have multiple reasons to be excited. I like gothic spooky, but can’t stomach horror (at least until a Hollywood hack proposes the cheap vampire crossover Underworld vs. Twilight — I may actually already be in line for that movie), and Hollywood doesn’t usually make much of a distinction. I have a lifelong love of children’s entertainment that doesn’t take a dim view of children. And this movie will fill out my double feature of Animated Films Featuring the Voice Talent of Humorous Non-Fiction Authors Who I’m Secretly Stalking.

But mostly, I’m excited for another off-kilter, animated film by Henry Selick. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my ten favorite movies of all time, and while it’s thought of as a Tim Burton movie, Selick was able to give the same eerie look and feel to James and the Giant Peach. That’s not to take away from what Burton brought to Nightmare, but just to point out that Selick, given good source material, can perform the same artistry again. “But wait,” I hear you say, “Isn’t this a music blog? What are you rambling on about?” I’m getting there.

debcha has previously written about the changing business model of music, one piece of which is the increasing placement of songs in other media. For television, this has resulted in the “Music From” album. But in their ever-increasing effort to squeeze out every last drop of marketability from a product, we’re now starting to see things like this—albums of covers of music from TV shows or movies. Now, unlike those Amazon commenters, I don’t think this is inherently bad, but then, I like covers. And although the initial album is a different beast entirely, it’s that same premise that brings us to Nightmare Revisited.

The album came out in September and, though it caught my interest, I hadn’t gotten around to listening to it until just a couple of weeks ago. Now, if you read blogs devoted to cover music, they’ll pretty universally claim that what makes a cover worthwhile is the artist taking the material and making it their own in an interesting way. This album definitely does that. But it took a bit more thinking, first about the songs themselves and then about the theory of what makes a good cover, to figure out why the album was disappointing (not bad, just disappointing). The instrumentals were mostly enjoyable, and the instrumentation for the songs generally sounded better than the song turned out to be.

In making the covers their own, what was missing was the sense that the performers understood what made the songs good in the first place. In particular, I think the difference is that the singers (I’ve never before used that term to describe Korn, and God willing, I never will again) are just that—singers—rather than actors. They use their voices to convey a story, but not to convey a character. So in the original “What’s This?”, Danny Elfman both tells the story of Jack Skellington’s arrival in Christmastown and gets across the somewhat-crazed excitement he feels at being there. Lacey Mosley of Flyleaf, despite making some really interesting changes to the structure of the song and instrumentals, sounds wrong to me largely because she isn’t doing that kind of emoting. And that’s not to pick on her, as most of the songs have a similar problem—interesting and promising instrumentation choices marred by voice work that doesn’t make adequate sense of the words being sung.

MP3: Danny Elfman – What’s This?
MP3: Flyleaf – What’s This?

6 comments

  1. Slightly (but only very) off topic… I saw Coraline and it was much better than I thought it would be. I totally recommend it. Except for kids. Too scary for kids.


  2. Heh. I’ve heard Neil Gaiman, and others, say that kids think it’s an adventure and grown-ups are terrified. I’m looking forward to seeing it this evening.


  3. Judging by the reactions of all the kids leaving the theater, very few of them see traumatized or even mildly frightened. Maybe adults just think kids are a bunch of wusses.


  4. Wasn’t this the same sort of attitude regarding Lemony Snicket’s “Series of Unfortunate Events”? It was criticized by some for being too morbid and violent for kids… and the kids rabidly awaited each book’s release.

    I’m not taking my niece to see Saw III anytime soon, but kids are much more intelligent (can determine fact from fiction/enjoy adventures) than the level credited to them by current society.


  5. Justin and Jason, that’s part of what I meant by “children’s entertainment that doesn’t take a dim view of children.” I think the ability to determine fact from fiction is definitely important in this context, but I also think it’s just the fact that children have access to the real world, too, and even if they don’t know precisely how, they know when things are being sanitized for them. In the real world, that can be appropriate–I’m glad I didn’t have to explain September 11th to a child–but sanitizing their things just leaves kids less able to manage the real world when it intrudes.


  6. […] have a deep weakness for stop-motion animation, and this unofficial video for Cambridge, MA’s Passion Pit far surpasses the […]



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