M. Night Shyamalan had a lot to live up to with his fifth film as writer/director, as he had built quite a following since Haley Joel Osment had been seeing 'dead people'. The Sixth Sense had cinemagoers talking, and word-of-mouth whispers had people flocking for repeat viewings. Unbreakable reunited Bruce Willis with the director for what would become a modern-day masterpiece, of which split viewers into a love it or hate it camp. The film’s low key, moody harshness and gritty realism, its slow burning pace and cold, atmospheric visuals distanced the film aesthetically from the director’s debut. However, both films were very similar in essence, Unbreakable was just more daring, and much closer to perfection. Again, with his latest film, Shyamalan takes on a story that is usually burdened with a tried and trusted formula, and puts his own unique spin on things. Here he proves his magical talent for suspense by not falling below the high quality benchmark he has created for himself, and maybe he might just have created his most enjoyable project yet.
Mel Gibson is Graham Hess, who becomes intrigued after finding crop circles in his field. His family which includes Joaquin Phoenix as his brother, first believe it is the work of petty neighbours playing devious tricks. However, when more unexplainable events take place, and the news channels begin reporting crop circles appearing all around the world, they start to believe something otherworldly could be to blame.
Shyamalan’s trademark visuals are in place - his superb use of the camera, his attention to visual detail and visual storytelling. However, it is the script that takes on the biggest change from his previous efforts with the inclusion of distinct humour that not only is very funny and gives the film a new dimension, but it works surprisingly well to instill a feeling of realism with the characters.
Realism is what Shyamalan has always strived to gain in high quantity, because he is forever playing along the line that separates fact from fiction, and here we get the ‘reality’ as one family sees it. It is interesting, as well as being extremely brave on the filmmakers part to centre the film totally around Graham Hess’ family, and their farm. The location changes away from the farm on only two occasions and one of these occasions appears as a flashback, yet we are still with either Hess, his son or daughter, or their uncle. Unlike films that have been likened to this one, as viewers we feel more in tune with what is going on, because we see and interpret the events as the family does, and much like we would in real life, ie. Finding out much of the exposition via the television and the news, or through conversations with the local cop.
Performance wise, the two children, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin are excellent, especially the young girl who eases into the role at such a young age. Mel Gibson has one fantastically funny Lethal Weapon moment, but overall he mixes Ransom’s father with a man struggling to regain his faith, with great effect. The stand-out though is Joaquin Phoenix, who exudes tidy control through some of the more difficult to perform scenes, and delivers the humour with ease and assurance.
M. Night Shyamalan’s fifth film as writer and director is an exceptional paranormal suspense thriller that proves his talent at the helm and as a scribe. It is certainly his most fun film to date, and comes out of 2002 as one of the best films, if not the best Hollywood production, of the year.
Some nifty, surprisingly spooky main menus greet you as you load the disc, and are a sign of the quality to be found on the DVD.
The picture is presented as it was theatrically, framed at 1.85:1 and is anamorphic enhanced. To be honest, there isn’t much to fault. The print is, as you’d expect, in perfect condition and the picture’s overall quality is superb. There is a softness to the image at times, but this is clearly a mark of the photography, and not a fault of the disc. There is also a little grain, but again it is due to how the director wanted things to be visualized, and this never becomes distracting. Overall, the image is superb, and even with the extensive nighttime and dark scenes, the disc still reproduces these to the highest quality.
A DTS track would be welcomed for this film, which uses sound particularly well, however, we are not provided with one so the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track has to do. And for all intents and purposes it doesn’t disappoint, recreating the sounds left/right and behind that worked so well in the theatre. The bass channel is also neatly used throughout, creating the sense of brooding and impending dread – very atmospheric.
Making Signs - This is a documentary divided up into six sections exploring different facets of the movie making process. The viewer has the option of watching them all through a ‘play all’ button, or the viewer can watch individual sections depending on what information is required. In total, each section together adds up to about an hours worth of viewing.
The documentary as a whole is reasonably well produced, and provides a wealth of information, especially the third section entitled Making Signs: A commentary by M. Night Shyamalan. This is around twenty-three minutes long and is basically a conversation with the director, but I found it to be the most interesting.
Deleted Scenes - Five deleted scenes, all of differing lengths, are presented without an optional commentary by the director which is disappointing in respect to what the Vista Series has done in the past.
Multi-Angle Feature - I personally don’t find these interesting in the slightest but for those that do, the option of watching two scenes as they were originally conceived on paper with a choice of audio options: 5.1 final mix, 5.1 score only, or 5.1 effects only.
Night’s First Creature Movie - It’s a masterpiece! The special effect of the ‘creature’, if you can call it that, is ingenious. Shyamalan’s acting is top draw, the sound mix is perfection and the editing deserves an Oscar! On a more serious note, if you want a really good laugh don’t miss one of the director’s earlier pre-professional movies, that proves you’ve got to start somewhere.
For the majority of viewers, this film simply will not disappoint. Terrific suspense and brooding paranormal undertones are grounded by well-used humour, good characterisations, and an excellent script. It is a shame though that Touchstone’s Vista Series doesn’t quite excel itself. What we get is a DVD of high quality and content, yet it still feels lacking when compared to the Vista Series’ main rivals, New Line’s Infifilm. A full, screen specific commentary by Shyamalan is unlikely but the inclusion of the excellent promotional campaign from the first teaser trailers to the final theatrical trailer isn’t too much to ask.
However, any gripes about the release shouldn’t and doesn’t take anything away from a superb movie that in itself, is well presented on the DVD.