Monday, June 2, 2008

DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE SCARIEST THING IS? TO NOT KNOW YOUR PLACE IN THE WORLD, TO NOT KNOW WHY YOU'RE HERE: I suppose we should speak for a minute about Occasional ALOTT5MA Whipping Boy M. Night Shyamalan, whose new film is being released this week. The Times sat down with the difficult director, and it starts off like this:
M. Night Shyamalan says he knows exactly when his relationship with Hollywood started to sour.

In 2000, he was on a conference call with executives from Walt Disney Studios discussing “Unbreakable,” the follow-up to his phenomenally successful movie “The Sixth Sense.” He wanted to market “Unbreakable” as a comic-book movie — the tale of an unlikely superhero — but Disney executives insisted on portraying it as a spooky thriller, like “The Sixth Sense.”

“I remember the moment that it happened, exactly where I was sitting at the table, the speakerphone,” he recalled in an interview from his office in a converted farmhouse near Philadelphia. “That moment may have been the biggest mistake that I have to undo over 10 years so the little old lady doesn’t go, ‘Oh, he’s the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist."
I'm pretty firmly on the record that "Unbreakable" is a fantastic movie marred by a ten-minutes-premature ending, and "Signs" was a decent thriller ruined by a disappointing ending (which nevertheless made a ton of money.) As for "The Sixth Sense," it deserves its status as modern masterpiece. Its ending works because everything before it works, especially the air of sadness and dread, and the outstanding, restrained acting from Willis, Collette and Osment.

["The Village" and "Lady in the Water," however, yuck. And while the budgets are interesting, that's not my problem.]

What I'd like to see is simple: Shyamalan directing someone else's script. He is a great visual stylist -- and (with a significant assist from composer James Newton Howard) a fantastic creator and sustainer of mood -- who is fallen by his own dumbass script decisions. (Really: "Those We Don't Speak Of"?) If someone were to take away some of that decisionmaking from him and allow Shyamalan to focus on what he does well, I think some fantastic films could result.

Implicit in all this is my assumption that "The Happening," not yet screened for critics, will suck. Anyone predicting otherwise?

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