Lady in the Water Review
Hearing a noise like splashing in the pool, apartment block caretaker Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) goes out to investigate, fearing a late-night party. He sees someone in the pool but they manage to stay underneath the water for a very long time. Turning his back for a second, Heep hears them dart above the water but he spins back too quickly and slips on the water next to the pool. Falling hard, Heep is concussed. Waking a little later, he is, to his surprise, back in his own apartment. Sitting on his sofa is a young woman (Story - Bryce Dallas Howard) wearing only his shirt. Not knowing how he got back home nor who the young woman is, Heep asks who she is. But what he hears will surprise him, those who live beside him and a struggling writer (Vick Ran - M Night Shyamalan) who's more important than he realises...
"There is no originality left in the world, Mr Heep. That is a sad fact I've come to live with." So says Mr Farber to Mr Heep in the course of this film, describing one of the hardships suffered by a film critic. On the contrary, there is indeed originality in the arts, in film in particular, and one needn't look any further than Lady In The Water for proof of that. A major Hollywood studio, has not ever allowed children to write, produce and seemingly direct a film. But they have here! They don't actually appear in any of the bonus material on this disc, which is an odd thing indeed, but how else could one explain the childishness of Lady In The Water? How else to explain away a creature that looks like a dog wearing a grass skirt? Three monkeys that, betraying the limits of the children's imagination, are also wearing grass? And a giant eagle that, with one handily remembering Father Ted's lesson on perspective, might not actually be so giant but simply very far away. Lucky the children indeed who were given, in a movie studio, the greatest playset in the world!
Actually, I know that it wasn't children who wrote and directed Lady In The Water but that it was M Night Shyamalan, who's now self-graduated out of supporting roles in favour of a starring one. One of - and I'm struggling to type this with hands that are visibly shaking! - a visionary writer who will bring great changes to the world. Whose book, The Cookbook, will so influence one young boy that he will come to be the leader of this nation and will be a great leader. But this writer will not live to see those days for he will die before the true influence of his book can be seen...oh, bollocks! Stop there!
There have been vanity projects before now in which directors moved to the centre of the screen in a bid to flatter themselves. I'm thinking, in particular, of an adult movie in which the writer/director/cameraman/...man stepped out from behind his video camera to get stuck in with two women who, moments before, had been enjoying one another's company without ever appearing to require his presence. He didn't, after being visibly shunned, leave the scene but retired instead to a corner of the bed where he masturbated himself. Being something of a coincidence, Lady In The Water sees writer/director M Night Shyamalan masturbating for...I was going to write our pleasure but I don't think that's the case. And not literally either! This is a 12-certificate, after all, but there is plenty to suggest that Lady In The Water is a grand masturbatory effort, all 105 minutes of it, in which Shyamalan makes a claim for the greatness that was meant to be his but which was quickly forgotten about after the fuss inspired by The Sixth Sense died down. And the thing is...I felt a little soiled after watching this.
Shyamalan playing a visionary writer? A dreary and small-minded film critic who is preemptively killed by the scrunt whilst post-modernistically considering his own demise? A McGuffin to the story called Story? I had suspected that at no time during the making of The Village did anyone suggest that it's big twist might be, well, a bit hopeless. Indeed, there's the feeling that no one has been telling Shyamalan that all the things that make a great film do not come merely by association with his name but are crafted. Or if they are telling him this, as was Nina Jacobson of Buena Vista, he's simply not listening. Lady In The Water is the fall that has been awaiting Shyamalan for a long time, a rotten film that gets caught in all of the wrong places. Too long, without air of mystery and with skittish plotting, all that saves Lady In The Water is Giamatti's acting, who portrays hurt and defeat better than anyone else working today and whose secret is the most affecting thing in the film. And yet even then, Shyamalan wastes Giamatti, having him bumbling about in the apartment block wondering who is the Healer? The Guild? The Symbolist? The guardian? I didn't know and I cared even less, just wishing for it to end.
Shyamalan mentions Where The Wild Things Are in his introduction to the film. One can see his point somewhat, moreso in the illustrations than in the ability to tell a story. But the problem with this comparison, other than it flatters Shyamalan more than it does Maurice Sendak, is that Where The Wild Things Are didn't set out to explain very much but does, whereas Shyamalan goes out of his way to explain a great deal and ends up being very confusing. And this is not difficult, not in the sense that Last Year In Marienbad could be difficult. Or Bad Timing might have been considered difficult. Where The Wild Things Are is a lovely little tale of Max, who's so badly behaved that his mother sends him to bed without his supper. In his room Max creates a forest all around him and goes to the land where the wild things are. Eventually, tired of life there, he goes home into the night of his very own room where his supper is waiting for him. And it's still warm.
Sendak would have it that Max was the wild thing and the world in which the wild things are is one that Max has built for himself. His calming down precipitates his leaving it. It's a beautiful idea and written so simply that even very young children can comprehend it. On the contrary, Lady In The Water suffers from the same ailment as do many fantasy films, being a surplus of ideas, most of which are utter nonsense. The Guardian. The Symbolist. Scrunts. The Great Eatlon. A Narf. The Vesse. The Blue World. The Tartutic. The healing mud Kii. And so on. There's a Dungeons & Dragons feeling to all of this with one fearing that Cleveland Heep will be asked to travel to the Kingdom of Hrr'th, retrieve the Sword of Krrin and return it to the men of Rakara'a, reducing his THAC0 in the process. Do not fret if you feel confused by this as I watched the film and I'm not entirely sure where everybody fits, even taking to Mark Danielewski's near-impenetrable Only Revolutions to find some intellectual solace. Unlike Where The Wild Things Are, Lady In The Water talks a lot but doesn't explain very much and eventually one stops listening.
That would seem to have been the manner in which Lady In The Water was generally received, making a loss and doubtless proving to be a disappointment to Warners who must have seen something of a glow remaining around Shyamalan where others did not. It is, however, hard to find any sympathy for Shyamalan in this failure, more a feeling that he deserved it. Actually, The Village was also deserving of being a failure but at least that had a wonderfully gloomy first half and a great performance from Joaquin Phoenix. Lady In The Water only has Paul Giamatti. Another Shyamalan film might not even have that. One hopes that Shyamalan goes away for a short time to realise that he is far from being the writer he describes himself as here. He may even decide to leave the unnecessary twists, cameo appearances and the fantasy and get to where Maurice Sendak once was, to tell a simple story in a simple way.
Lady In The Water doesn't look at all bad, with the disc coping with the blacks of the many nighttime scenes without ever really showing itself troubled by them. The mist and water spray does present the film with a few more problems but such things are few and far between, with Lady In The Water being fairly flatly directed and preferring daylight scenes, making it to DVD in a decent presentation. As one might expect, the quality of the print is very good with there being no obvious faults. But the DD5.1 audio track is excellent, with the two marks that I've given the film being for two scares in the film, one each for the turning on of a sprinkler system that gives a much better jump than the scrunts or the frankly rubbish Tartutic. Yes they're cheap but they're also fun and in a film that takes itself as seriously as this, fun is in short supply but very much wanted.
Lady In The Water: A Bedtime Story (5m01s): Introduced by writer/director M Night Shyamalan, this talks about the origins of the film as a story that Shyamalan read to his children before their going off to sleep. The director's quiet tones are well suited to telling such a tale with him hoping that, as a book, it will live on long after the film. However, one doubts that whatever Shyamalan's enthusiasm and his placing his own story alongside the likes of Where The Wild Things Are, Lady In The Water won't be much remembered past this year, never mind next.
Reflections Of Lady In The Water (34m46s): This is the main bonus feature on this DVD, a making-of that takes the viewer on the journey that Shyamalan went through to get his film to the screen. Of course, it omits any of the stuff that's actually of any interest such as explaining how Shyamalan exiled himself from Buena Vista in favour of Warner Brothers but if your interests extend more to the actual production of a film rather than the rattling of egos - and there must be one or two out there unwilling to dip their toes in the more murky aspects of Hollywood - then there's something here that will be of interest. On the other hand, as one who laps up Perez Hilton and the likes, I found it a bit dull with few of the interviews (and there are many) getting anywhere near what Shyamalan has to say as regards his film. And the constant praising of the director can get tiresome.
Auditions (2m10s): Not at all strangely, there's no footage of Shyamalan auditioning himself for the part of Vick Ran...you do wonder if he had himself in mind for the part all along.
Gag Reel (3m16s): As funny as a too-tight pair of pants!
Deleted Scenes (5m02s): What I wanted was all the footage that was cut that saw all the members of cast who weren't a water nymph say, "Hold up a second! Scrunts? Tartutic? The Great Eatlon? What the fuck, Heep?" Unfortunately, nothing like that seems to have been filmed (or included here) leaving a lot of Bryce Dallas Howard looking meaningfully at the screen. Of which, as anyone who's seen the film will attest to, there was quite enough of that already.
Finally, there's a pair of Trailers (1m41s, 1m29s) and, if you put the DVD into a DVD-ROM Drive and wait for the Interactual Player to install (just so you can uninstall it once again), you get...a Weblink!
M Night Shyamalan reminds me of Prince. Not, you'll understand, the Prince of 1999, Purple Rain, Parade or Sign o' The Times but more of the later years when Produced, Arranged, Composed And Performed by Prince became more of a threat than suggesting that some blisteringly psychedelic funk was on its way! A Film By M Night Shyamalan, as the cover of this DVD announces, now produces the same kind of effect, a feeling that whatever is within the pits and bumps of the discs won't be anything like as wonderful or as surprising as its writer/producer/director thinks it is. This DVD, though, is a reasonable one and though I might be a touch harsh on this film and on Shyamalan, the actual disc itself isn't bad. One hopes, though, that he keeps himself in check should he ever get another chance to make a film and rediscovers the spirit that made The Sixth Sense (and half of The Village) such an enjoyable watch.