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February 21, 2011 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Dear M. Night Shyamalan, Sincerely, Omer Mozaffar.
posted by Fizz (95 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The main issue through all these points is that the emotional depth of your films has been steadily decreasing."

His films have been decreasing in every measure of quality, so i guess that's true.
posted by dubold at 6:18 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Your success becomes, in a way, my success.

What a twist!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:27 AM on February 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


What a twist!

Not asking him to just stop was an unexpected twist, that's for sure.
posted by mhoye at 6:29 AM on February 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


What a very nice, thoughtfully written letter.
posted by jquinby at 6:33 AM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dear M. Night Shyamalan Alfred Hitchcock, Sincerely Omer Mozaffar
posted by Fizz at 6:34 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, so Omer Mozaffar was a ghost the entire time?!
posted by AndrewShortComedy at 6:34 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I loved 6th Sense, thought Unbreakable was meh, and loathed Signs. The only other movie that got that reaction from me was Dancer in the Dark.
posted by empath at 6:35 AM on February 21, 2011


Love the article.

But, the soundtrack in the latter films seemed more and more to instruct me on the emotions responses I was supposed to have, rather than helping the story compel me to emote. Had I stared at a black screen for these latter films, especially AIRBENDER, listening only to the soundtrack, my emotional responses would have been identical. The soundtrack became prescriptive rather than descriptive.

This I have noticed is the case for pretty much every American movie in the last couple of decades. Maybe longer but I wasn't around to watch 'em. The music is so often so completely overpowering, loud and insistent, that it steals away your ability to feel for yourself.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:41 AM on February 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


My first though: is this guy writing his letter IN Chicago? Otherwise Shyamalan will not read a word of it.

I see the author has shrewdly accounted for the fact that his addressee's entire world extends no further than the six blocks around his house.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:43 AM on February 21, 2011


L'Estrange Fruit- I agree in large part, but of course there are exceptions, even in blockbusters (e.g. Fight Club).
posted by Jpfed at 6:50 AM on February 21, 2011


My first though: is this guy writing his letter IN Chicago? Otherwise Shyamalan will not read a word of it.

Shyamalan a Philly boy, right?
posted by sexymofo at 6:56 AM on February 21, 2011


Shyamalan a Philly boy, right?

Goddammit. You're right.

Well, burn the letter.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:58 AM on February 21, 2011


You are a filmmaker who explores religious ideas.

Followed by a picture of the family in Signs sitting on a couch with tinfoil wrapped around their heads to protect them from evil.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:01 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Remember to keep the shiny side toward the evil.
posted by Babblesort at 7:18 AM on February 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


Until you surpass it [The Sixth Sense], you stand in the shadows of your own past accomplishments. You need an APOCALYPSE NOW to your GODFATHER. Until then, all your films after your STAR WARS will be regarded as HOWARD THE DUCK.

I laughed at that.
posted by marxchivist at 7:21 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, at one time, you've got it, and then you lose it, and it's gone forever.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:21 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


> This I have noticed is the case for pretty much every American movie in the last couple of decades. Maybe longer but I wasn't around to watch 'em. The music is so often so completely overpowering, loud and insistent, that it steals away your ability to feel for yourself.

That has a lot to do with why I fell in love with No Country for Old Men and saw it over and over in the theater. Carter Burwell's notes on the score and accompanying quotes from the Coens show just how much thought they all put into how little music there was. My favorite, regarding the overall volume level of the movie:

Ethan Coen said, “Josh’s character is straining to hear, and you want to be in his point of view, likewise straining to hear.” The effect can be lost, he conceded, “if it’s a louder crowd and the room is lousy.”

Joel Coen interjected, “If it’s a loud crowd at that point, the film isn’t working anyway.”



With that kind of filmmaking in mind, I can see what Mozaffar was aiming for when he was criticizing the scores of Shyamalan's films. I think dubold is right, though - it's not just the emotional depth, it's not the soundtrack, it's every aspect of his films that's headed downhill. The last one I had any appreciation for was The Village which had some scenes that would have made incredible still photographs, seriously moving and vivid and surreal. As a motion picture, though? Meh. The last one I saw at all was Lady in the Water, and that'll remain the last one I see until I get some affirmation that he's made the return to quality filmmaking.
posted by komara at 7:23 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like this little kick in the pants. I'd rather see him make great movies. Same with George Lucas.
posted by starman at 7:28 AM on February 21, 2011


I like this little kick in the pants. I'd rather see him make great movies. Same with George Lucas.

George Lucas, now that's funny.
posted by Fizz at 7:32 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I gave up on Shyamalan after The Village. (Yes, some striking images, but...) The friend I saw it with actually said "meh" as we left the theatre. My lasting response to it was annoyance.
posted by Philofacts at 7:34 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Village was sort of alright, but I'd guessed it's big twist from the trailer. Signs and Lady In The Water, on the other hand, are truelly abominable.
posted by Artw at 7:43 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The letter doesn't seem to take into account the fact that once you have a Sixth Sense, your next films get more investor money from studios, etc. Thus, there are more cooks in the kitchen. Thus, there are more people worried about their slice of the pie. Thus, there's more meddling to make everything middling. I don't think it's all entirely M. Night's fault.
posted by spicynuts at 7:47 AM on February 21, 2011


Lucas is actually a great producer, and a wizard with visual design. His films look great. If he had the wisdome to hire a good screenwriter and a crackerjack director, the world would have more films like Empire Strikes Back or the first three Indiana Jones movies.
posted by bonehead at 7:49 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am reaching out to you not only because I loved your movies, but also because we are of the same generation of Desis

What an irritating and oppressive thing to say.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:06 AM on February 21, 2011


I don't think it's all entirely M. Night's fault.

I don't think you can blame the studios for the shitty twists (The Village, Signs), shitty premises (The Happening), or just total unmitigated crap in every way (Lady in the Water, Airbender) that his latest movies have been.
posted by kmz at 8:12 AM on February 21, 2011


I thought Signs was pretty funny. There's some nice low key humour in there.
posted by ovvl at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2011


Signs wasn't all that bad until the aliens showed up...so there was a good hour or so. The setup was creepy and pretty good, but yeah--that was the first time I groaned at the Shyamalan "twist".
posted by Hoopo at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2011


that was the first time I groaned at the Shyamalan "twist"

The twist being that God is a hack screenwriter.
posted by empath at 8:27 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


M. Night has always shown great promise as a director, the missing ingredient has always been respect for his audiences intelligence.
posted by nola at 8:35 AM on February 21, 2011


I hope that M. Night frames this critique and places it above the Bed of Money that he sleeps on.
posted by MasonDixon at 8:38 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the solution is to have the director get out of his shtick. Stop doing supernatural films with some childish twist. Do a romantic comedy, or a western, or heck, even a sci-fi extravaganza with lots of explosions. Just not an other The Shining wannabe.

The reason Coppola is seen as a genius isn't just because The Godfather and Apocalypse Now are both great movies, it's because they're great movies and different. (I'll also throw in The Conversation as part of his greatness.) It's not just that Coppola proved himself in multiple genres, it's that making different kinds of movies is a kind of discipline, meeting a challenge that brings greatness out.

Same advice for Quentin Tarantino, btw. Stop recycling your one idea. Jackie Brown had hints of brilliance in it, go back in that direction.
posted by Nelson at 8:47 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stop doing supernatural films with some childish twist.

He tried that with Airbender.

Don't let him do that again, for the love of god.
posted by kmz at 8:49 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've got to feel for him a little there - once the audience is looking for a "twist" and trying to anticipate it you're constantly going to have them second guess you and say "is that it?", or you're going to be doing something so leftfield that they'll be all "WTF, that doesn't make sense!"

On the other hand, the letter writer is right about The Sixth Sense - it wasn't just a build up top a twist, it was actually a nicely done story, with some engaging characters. The twist, TBH, wasn't even that original - it was straight out of an old Amicus anthology film, but that didn;t matter because it was well done. So maybe going back to coherant story telling and recognisable characters would be a good thing for him rather than trying to be increasingly outlandish to catch the audience out.
posted by Artw at 9:06 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dear Omer M. Mozaffar:

I haven't had a chance to read your letter yet. I had to go deposit a shitload of money into my bank account. I'm sure you have very helpful and valuable things to say.

Yours,

M. Night Shyamalan
posted by Clustercuss at 9:13 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jackie Brown had hints of brilliance in it is Tarantino's best movie ever, and not to be fucked with.
posted by mykescipark at 9:15 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's the real twist, Clustercuss. That people like Shyamalan and Lucas and Uwe Boll can make dreck as profitable or more profitable than actual masterpieces. It's the Black Eyed Peas school of filmmaking. The fact is, most people aren't critics, and lazy mass-market product is simply an easier way to make bank.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:16 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought The Village was excellent. It deviated from the usual MNS formula (as did The Happening, too, but that's an awful movie and another story entirely.)

In Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, the characters come to find out that something that's universally understood not to be real actually is real. Ghosts. Comic book archetypes. Aliens. Even Lady in the Water follows this formula—fairy tales end up being real. But in The Village, MNS flips the formula on us. Something that is presented to us (and presented to the characters) as real ends up being a trick.
posted by emelenjr at 9:19 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


The reason Coppola is seen as a genius isn't just because The Godfather and Apocalypse Now are both great movies, it's because they're great movies and different. (I'll also throw in The Conversation as part of his greatness.) It's not just that Coppola proved himself in multiple genres, it's that making different kinds of movies is a kind of discipline, meeting a challenge that brings greatness out.

A kind of discipline that Coppola hasn't shown in 30+ years.
posted by blucevalo at 9:33 AM on February 21, 2011


I saw the Last Airbender recently with Rifftrax.

Despite valiant efforts of the Riffers, the movie still hurt.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:39 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Village was sort of alright, but I'd guessed it's big twist from the trailer.

Ha! Ditto here. That was the last time I watched one of his movies.
posted by brundlefly at 9:40 AM on February 21, 2011


I think the problem with Shyamalan's movies are that the 'twists' have overtaken the rest of the picture. The twist in the 6th Sense, was not needed - but it added to the emotional resonance of the movie. The rest of his movies have been schlock because you sit there, trying to guess the twist (which usually comes at you within the first 10 minutes) and Shyamalan plays into this - so the whole thing turns into an excercise in Where's Waldo.

Hitchcock understood that the plot devises where just that, McGuffins that moved the story forward, but did not let them interfere with essential story.
posted by helmutdog at 10:01 AM on February 21, 2011


The music is so often so completely overpowering, loud and insistent, that it steals away your ability to feel for yourself.

On this comment above, made about how many current movies do this, I've actually found that I've been rebelling against this. If the music in a movie begins swelling in advance of an emotional point, or going tension-filled before a possible Scare (either Fake or Real), the artificialness of it has begun to stare out at me. It's contributed to my increasing estrangement from movies; all these obnoxious little gimmicks and tricks, that have become to moviemakers the way one makes movies, have accumulated to the degree that I can barely stand to watch most of them anymore.
posted by JHarris at 10:10 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, in many ways I really feel for M. Night Shyamalan. I suspect that he doesn't really know why Sixth Sense worked so well as a film (and let's face it: few creatives really do know exactly why what they did, well, did), but is constantly being forced to deal with its success. So he's taken that film apart, looked all the cogs and wheels and decided that "Ah ha! It was the twist!" and so become a punchline, a self fulfilling failure, just because of that lack of perspective. I'd also think there are a number of movie execs cheering him on, or pestering him to 'do another Six Sense style ending' and, being a bit lost, he thinks 'sure'.

Or he's just a hack that lucked out, made an incredible movie almost by accident and is now given more attention than he's worth. After Avatar (that I refuse to see despite seriously loving the original show) I do sort of wish someone would just stop him, stage an intervention and let him know that he now has to sit in the corner while he thinks about what he's done.
posted by litleozy at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the problem with Shyamalan's movies are that the 'twists' have overtaken the rest of the picture.

Definitely agree with this criticism. I enjoyed his first three films, and the rest have been B-movie Sunday at 1pm quality. The Happening was quite possibly one of the worst things I've ever seen in my life.
posted by Fizz at 10:12 AM on February 21, 2011


Of course, now Omer Mozaffar is going to be eaten by wolves.
posted by Artw at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the problem with Shyamalan's movies are that the 'twists' have overtaken the rest of the picture. The twist in the 6th Sense, was not needed - but it added to the emotional resonance of the movie. The rest of his movies have been schlock because you sit there, trying to guess the twist (which usually comes at you within the first 10 minutes)

I don't get this. The Sixth Sense and The Village are really his only movies with a perspective-altering "twist." Arguably also Unbreakable. I think it's a stretch to call the ending of Signs a twist. And Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender did not have twist endings at all.

I've found the progression of his career to be very strange. I think Unbreakable is a straight-up masterpiece, and The Village is a near-masterpiece. These movies are so brilliantly constructed, so intricate and subtle -- the work of a genius, IMO. Not a shot or a line of dialogue out of place. Then you look at The Last Airbender and it's like some sort of, I dunno, expensive elementary school Christmas pageant (albeit with some beautiful camerawork).

What the hell happened? All great directors whiff it from time to time, but this is not that. It's like his later movies (even Lady and The Happening, both of which I actually sorta kinda enjoyed even through my disappointment) are being made by someone else.
posted by eugenen at 10:17 AM on February 21, 2011


While LADY IN THE WATER centered on one character, both it and THE VILLAGE were peppered with one dimensional ensembles. As artistic choices, nobody can fault you for those

wat
posted by LogicalDash at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2011


Oh, sorry, one more thing: the letter-writer comments on the music. I agree that James Newton Howard's musical scores have gotten pushy. But musically they are stunning, and they've actually gotten better as the movies have gotten worse. Listen to "The Great Eatlon" from the Lady in the Water soundtrack, OH MY GOD SO GOOD.
posted by eugenen at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2011


Slightly off topic, but:

Ethan Coen said, “Josh’s character is straining to hear, and you want to be in his point of view, likewise straining to hear.” The effect can be lost, he conceded, “if it’s a louder crowd and the room is lousy.”

Joel Coen interjected, “If it’s a loud crowd at that point, the film isn’t working anyway.”


Small worry of that. I had a chance to see No Country when it premiered at the TIFF and saw it twice more when it hit general release, always seeing it in the biggest, most packed auditoriums I could (the reverse of what I usually do). This scene is what I tell people to think about when they wonder how people can get awards for Sound Design and Sound Editing.

Brolin's character, Moss, sits in his room and digs through the bag in search of some idea of how Chigurh is tracking him. He finds the transmitter and realizes that Chirgurh could be nearby even now. He calls the front desk and the phone is not picked up; distantly, down the hall, we can hear the phone ringing. He hangs up the phone and listens for Chigurh; very faintly, he (and we) hear the rising beeps of the transceiver, ascending in pitch as Chigurh quietly moves down the hallway. We can hear the creak of Chigurh's boots as he gets closer. When the transceiver's beeps reach their highest point, Chigurh stops outside the room. He turns off the transceiver, steps off to one side and unscrews the light bulb. He then steps back to the doors and turns on his hydraulic cow-puncher before breaking the lock.

At this point, the audience has just raptly watched four solid minutes of a man sitting in a room. Three times I have seen this in packed theatres with hundreds of other people; three times, I have found that for four minutes, everyone stops eating popcorn and checking their texts and conferring sotto voce with their neighbours: they are totally wrapped up in the story, which is proceeding only by sound design at this point.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:25 AM on February 21, 2011 [34 favorites]


I still think Signs is his best movie and don't understand why its so maligned.

The twist ending for The Village that I guessed before seeing the movie was that the village was a dollhouse/model and the monsters were normal-sized cats and children. I wish it went that way. It would have been even more unpopular, but I would have loved it.
posted by painquale at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2011


Well, that was certainly charitable.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:31 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


ricochet biscuit: "I had a chance to see No Country when it premiered at the TIFF and saw it twice more when it hit general release, always seeing it in the biggest, most packed auditoriums I could (the reverse of what I usually do). This scene is what I tell people to think about when they wonder how people can get awards for Sound Design and Sound Editing."

God, that was a great scene. There's a clip of the whole thing on YouTube with high-quality video (and sound) to lavish in.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:54 AM on February 21, 2011


If the music in a movie begins swelling in advance of an emotional point, or going tension-filled before a possible Scare (either Fake or Real), the artificialness of it has begun to stare out at me.

I've actually started to giggle whenever this happens. Just the idea of using overpowering musical cues to try and force me to emote strikes me as hilarious.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:22 AM on February 21, 2011


I don't get this. The Sixth Sense and The Village are really his only movies with a perspective-altering "twist." Arguably also Unbreakable.

It wasn't "perspective-altering" perhaps, but the way Signs came together at the end in retrospect made everything leading up to it seem so tacked-on and facile. Like he wrote this great buildup to an alien invasion and then thought "wait, how are the good guys gonna win?" and went back without changing a thing and added some really unlikely psychic prophecy destiny magic nonsense.


I still think Signs is his best movie and don't understand why its so maligned.

***SPOILERS***for a movie not highly recommended


Because of the ending being so ludicrous. A dying mother foresaw this all? A little kid's quirks turn out to be the key to the whole thing? Seriously, the aliens wouldn't have looked into this when they planned their invasion? 2/3 of the damned planet! In nearly every home! Gah! Such a disappointment.
posted by Hoopo at 11:24 AM on February 21, 2011


I think you misunderstand. The aliens didn't account for GOD. The aliens were bit players in an attempt to get Mel Gibson to convert.

I hope the Mormons don't take this approach in the future.
posted by benzenedream at 11:29 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It wasn't "perspective-altering" perhaps, but the way Signs came together at the end in retrospect made everything leading up to it seem so tacked-on and facile. Like he wrote this great buildup to an alien invasion and then thought "wait, how are the good guys gonna win?" and went back without changing a thing and added some really unlikely psychic prophecy destiny magic nonsense.

Yeah, but that still doesn't mean it's a "twist" as everyone is saying. A lot of movies have a reveal about some peice of information but since Robot Chicken did a corny joke about it everyone tries to do the same.

I'm not going to defend Signs but to me there's a huge epidemic of movies with the ending kludged onto it. So it's not just M. Night we're talking about.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2011


I'm glad to see some other love in here for The Village. I went in knowing the twist (which was hackneyed in some ways, sure, but I always love stories about wacky cult-like isolationists), but still found it emotionally compelling. Bryce Howard's character was strong and well-drawn, the kind of character I'd like to see more of in fiction (and I really struggle with the letter writer's assertion that "Most of the women in the latter movies did not need to even be women. I am saying that the default gender in your films - consistent with most Hollywood film - became male" in light of her character. Do female characters 'need to be women' plotwise to be effective?). And the monsters were fairly scary despite the fact that I knew they weren't real. It was atmospheric. I enjoyed it. I really also enjoyed some things about Lady in the Water, though I think Shyamalan shot himself in the foot in his over-the-top inclusions of himself as a revolutionary writer, and the critic as a straw man who gets torn apart by monsters. Really self-indulgent, and an artistic mistake.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:41 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I watched The Sixth Sense way after the fact, knowing the twist in advance and thought it was a really good and enjoyable film.

I watched The Village way after the fact, knowing the twist in advance and thought it was a bloody awful and annoying.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2011


Ha, weird. I felt the opposite. I figured out The Sixth Sense about ten minutes in (it was the same twist as my favorite goosebumps book when I was a kid), and found it unwatchable.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:53 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you misunderstand. The aliens didn't account for GOD. The aliens were bit players in an attempt to get Mel Gibson to convert.

Holy crap you're right, I had blocked that out. Yep, there's nothing like an invasion of malevolent creatures from space that aren't mentioned in any religious texts outside of maybe L. Ron Hubbard to get me going to church, because it's proof positive of God.
posted by Hoopo at 11:54 AM on February 21, 2011


One thing I realised about M Nights films is they are essentially B Movies but have managed to achieve 'A' status (well until recently) because they always looked pretty good.

Looking at IMDB I see his semi-regular cinematographer is Tak Fujimoto, whilst not on the top shelf (he's never been nominated for an Oscar) has obviously got some chops (he also lensed Silence Of The Lambs and Gladiator). And The Village had Roger Deakins! (Oscar nominated umpteen times - this year for True Grit). Airbender had the bloke that did the Lord Of The Rings films and Lady In The Water the bloke who did Hero.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:10 PM on February 21, 2011


And The Village had Roger Deakins! (Oscar nominated umpteen times - this year for True Grit).

While I have not seen every single thing that Deakins has photographed, I have seen enough to say that at this point in his career I don't think it'd be possible for him to make a movie that wasn't just stunningly beautiful. His involvement has a lot to do with my earlier statement about The Village being bad, but certain frames making some stunning photographs.
posted by komara at 12:14 PM on February 21, 2011


Hoppo: you have reiterated the oldest, most crayon-obvious criticism of Signs. The movie, flawed though it is, is always shown to be a ground-level view of the situation (that is, we never see the Joint Chiefs planning defense, we don't see the effects elsewhere except by way of TV reports, and we definitely do not see the aliens' POV). This gives us unreliable narrators.

Tell me: what makes you think the aliens we see onscreen are the ones behind this? If we were terraforming Mars, we would likely send algae first; would that be ridiculous because there is no way algae has the smarts to plan an interstellar voyage?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2011


I have seen enough to say that at this point in his career I don't think it'd be possible for him to make a movie that wasn't just stunningly beautiful.

I was listening to an interview with Deakins recently (Front row 18 Feb). He comes over as a really great guy. He said that when he did Shawshank everybody rang him saying they wanted their film to look like that. But then the makers of Dead Man Walking asked him to do their film but worried he might not be interested as was another prison movie and they wanted it to look a bit flat and boring. However the though the latter would be interesting to do, so he took it on!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2011


Because of the ending being so ludicrous. A dying mother foresaw this all? A little kid's quirks turn out to be the key to the whole thing? Seriously, the aliens wouldn't have looked into this when they planned their invasion? 2/3 of the damned planet! In nearly every home! Gah! Such a disappointment.

SPOILERS FOR SIGNS

Hm, I didn't realize that everyone saw the ending as being so straightforward. I read it differently. I thought the movie was entirely agnostic on whether God exists and whether there really were any signs that were "the key to the whole thing." The dying mother didn't actually foresee anything -- her words were entirely coincidental, and so was the little kid's habit. They got Mel Gibson to convert back, but whatever signs were there were innocuous and probably empty (kinda like those in A Serious Man, which complements the movie well). It was a twist on the surprise twist: there's only a surprise twist there if you choose to see one, and that makes kind of an interesting comment on faith.

I also thought it was a pretty effective suspense movie before the ending.

And everyone complains about the aliens coming to a place where 2/3 of the planet is deadly for them, but that can be pretty easily handwaved away with various explanations. They're not really worth arguing about though... it's the sort of criticism that strikes me as criticizing a James Bond movie because tanks don't really go that fast.
posted by painquale at 12:36 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoppo: you have reiterated the oldest, most crayon-obvious criticism of Signs

Usually if the plot of a movie has crayon-obvious holes in it, it's pretty easy to criticize as not being very good. I'm not sure why you're looking for something new and novel here, I was responding to a comment of someone who didn't understand why Signs was so maligned.

Also if we were to send algae somewhere for the purpose of terraforming we'd probably try to make sure that it was resistant to something that regularly falls from the sky and comprises 2/3 of the surface of the planet, or it would be a complete waste of time. Also worth pointing out that they had landed a number of times already and were no doubt aware of the existence of water and a large population of warlike beings who rely on it to live. You really have to strain to explain plot points in a way that even sort of makes sense.

I also thought it was a pretty effective suspense movie before the ending.

Me too, I was loving it and I think that's why it was largely given the benefit of the doubt by critics. It really was a good setup.
posted by Hoopo at 12:51 PM on February 21, 2011


Maybe they weren't all allergic to water: just that one was. Maybe they'd never seen water before. Maybe they were just trying to convince humans that they were allergic to water by pretending. Maybe they did a cost-benefit analysis and figured it was worth killing off the first few waves of aliens while they slowly siphoned all the water from the planet. Maybe they weren't intelligent, but operated off of fixed action behavioral patterns, like the bugs in Starship Troopers. Maybe they weren't planning to colonize... they just wanted to kill off enough humans so we wouldn't be a threat. Maybe they are allergic only to fluoride, so only tap water hurts them.

It's not a very good criticism.
posted by painquale at 12:59 PM on February 21, 2011


Maybe the calls are coming from inside the house!
posted by Nelson at 1:02 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The implausible attempts listed above to make the whole "poison water" thing work aside, how about it's not a very good plot point? It's not as though this is a movie based in fact, why as a writer would you make the conscious decision of making their weakness water of all things? It was a poor decision that made the ending completely silly. Shyamalan had done a fantastic job building up to that point. His resolution actually managed to ruin subsequent viewings for me.
posted by Hoopo at 1:33 PM on February 21, 2011


A dying mother foresaw this all?

No, she didn't foresee the whole thing. She just told Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) to "keep swinging", kind of as a passing farewell to him as she was dying, as that was the one thing he was good at.

The big thing Graham grapples with is whether there are coincidences or not, or whether everything that occurs and everything that is said is for a specific purpose, even if the players involved don't know what exactly that purpose is. At the climax or thereabout, Merrill, grasping for something to do, remembers "keep swinging", which saves him. Was that a coincidence that Colleen told him the exact thing he would need to remember to save him and his family? Or was this the hand of God? That's what the movie was trying to grapple with. And it's also a good depiction of an alien invasion from the perspective of bystanders who are far removed from the "main action"-- it's a deconstruction of the class alien invasion film.

Not figuring that invading a planet that's 2/3rds water is a bad idea when you're especially vulnerable to it, though-- yeah, problem.

Everyone wonders my M. Night kept being allowed to make movies after Unbreakable (which I love) seemed like a disappointment. The answer is that all his movies make money, so he can always get funds to make a new film, given his successful track record of making money for his backers. hard to believe, but there it is. yes, The Village was profitable.
posted by deanc at 2:28 PM on February 21, 2011


Was that a coincidence that Colleen told him the exact thing he would need to remember to save him and his family? Or was this the hand of God? That's what the movie was trying to grapple with.

Wow. You've actually made me hate it more.
posted by Artw at 2:31 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


The implausible attempts listed above to make the whole "poison water" thing work aside, how about it's not a very good plot point?

It's not that it wasn't a good plot point, it's just that it wasn't sold as one very well. The idea of earth being inhospitable to aliens isn't new, but Shyamalan made that point a rather non-sequitur.
It doesn't matter to me a character can lift a mountain, or if there's nine foot tall blue talking cats, or even if the whole movie takes place in a dream. All you have to do is sell it to me. I don't care if all the specific physics make sense, just give me a "reason" for them to make sense. Signs did not do that and neither did The Happening. I'm not sure if Shyamalan thinks he can throw some random shit in there just because, or if he just doesn't gauge his audience correctly.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:50 PM on February 21, 2011


These are aliens who live in a cornfield as well, and there's this phenomena known as dew...
posted by Artw at 3:05 PM on February 21, 2011


SPOILERS FOR SIGNS

I think Signs is brilliant as the fleshing out of this premise: small-town man has crisis of faith (p.s., along the way, aliens briefly invade and then leave earth, but that's only ancillary to the main action)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:21 PM on February 21, 2011


These are aliens who live in a cornfield as well, and there's this phenomena known as dew...

You're saying alien spacesuits are a non-starter? Hey I don't want to defend the movie lest I start an avalanche of snark, but I will say it's a great movie up until the 'water is acid to the aliens and who apparently know this but decide to take a bath in it anyway' part.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:43 PM on February 21, 2011


Signs would have been so much more satisfying if you never saw the alien at the end of the movie. That scene where one is caught on film at the kid's birthday party was great, but the scene at the end was disappointing.
posted by hootenatty at 3:52 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dear Omer Mozaffar: There are exactly 257 beans on the plate. That includes 17 bean fragments counted as whole beans, since none of the fragments could be assembled into a complete bean, despite many hours of manual efforts and computer modeling.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:57 PM on February 21, 2011


I did like The Village, if only for the score (somewhat) and the imagery.
posted by cp311 at 4:16 PM on February 21, 2011


Funny story from Signs. First off, here's something about me. Emotionally-charged groups of people affect me very powerfully. I don't know how it is for any other person. All I know is that when I was fourteen years old or so, I was watching Poltergeist in the theater with my (then) two best friends Frank and Tim Cranert. When it got to the part where the boy was going to bed in his bedroom with the ventriloquist dummy clown and the thing disappeared and the boy looked over and it was gone and then he LOOKED UNDER THE BED, I was gripping the seats in front of me and I audibly gasped.

But then when he rose back and up kind of went, "hmm? where's that clown?" and then the thing pops up from behind and its arms snake around the boy's neck, grasping the seats in front of me I rose up to full height and screamed at the top of my lungs,

"KILL IT!!"

My two friends, both sitting on one side of me, were so shattered they fell completely out of their chairs onto the floor. They were not happy and I was mortified. The rest of the theater cracked up.

I tell this story to let you know how overcome with emotion I get when others in the room are feeling the same thing. Great for parties, bad for horror films.

Well, jump forward 30+ years. I am no longer a kid. I'm a big guy. Kind of imposing at 6'5". And I do not see horror films because I honestly just can't take how the room "feels". But seeing as Signs was not a horror film per se and it was about aliens and I am totally into that kind of sci-fi, I went to see it. On opening night. In a large sold-out theater here in Key West. And I don't remember exactly what happened but it went something like this.

You know the scene where Joaquin Phoenix is sitting in the closet with the teevee and the news breaks to show "this disturbing footage just in from a birthday party in Mexico"? And they show these kids literally freaking out because they see something and it is getting super intense and Joquin Phoenix's character pulls his seat closer to the teevee and the suspense is just building up and all of us in the theater watching him watching this are all getting right on the edge of their seats?

And then the alien monster creature steps right out into full view. And the music.

And apparently I as a big full grown man let loose a scream that would have done Banshee from X-Men justice, and like Moses parting the Red Sea, pretty much in the precise arc of my voice, for like ten-to-twelve rows in front of my seat every single person fell completely out (and I mean out) of their seats and onto the floor.

What happened next I don't know exactly because my (then-at-this-time) friends proceeded to seriously pummel me with their fists as I had frightened the living shit of them.

So yeah, those film scores music sure will do a number on you. Especially if you're sensitive.
posted by Mike Mongo at 5:02 PM on February 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Mike Mongo, that story will now be my only positive memory about Signs. So thanks for that!

And the "it doesn't matter if the aliens were stupid, they weren't really aliens, they were, like, symbols of meaning and stuff," just fills me with grar. Even Doctor Fucking Who, a show were aliens actually impersonate abdominal fat globules and call themselves "Adiposians" does better than that. I mean shit, at least that's funny.

What I'm saying is that like all sci-fi fans I will put up with a certain amount of handwaving unobtainium maguffin-ing to allow an engaging story to proceed. And I also enjoy symbolic/metaphoric/artsy approaches to storytelling. But Signs was neither of those things. It was a hot mess of sloppy storytelling, wandering aimlessly around a cornfield until someone threw some water at it and put it out of its misery.
posted by emjaybee at 6:34 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, she didn't foresee the whole thing.

You're right, my memories of Signs are fuzzy other than feeling burned at the end. I just read the synopsis on IMDB, and had forgotten about the "two kinds of people: those who see signs, miracles, and those who see coincidences" conversation. This hand-wavy religious theme was obviously meant to be more central to the movie than I remembered it. Making that central means that the type of viewer who "sees coincidences" will find the whole thing ridiculous and manipulative. It's drawing attention to some of its' biggest flaws. The water thing isn't a non-sequitur--it's one of the main "coincidences" or “signs” that saves the main characters. Shyamalan apparently meant for us to look at the girl’s little quirk about leaving water around as a “sign” that later saved them from the inexplicably unprepared alien invaders. What you have in the end is a fictional story where all the problems are resolved by a series of contrived and far-too-convenient coincidences. Making the possibility of coincidence completely absurd is not the best way to ask a big question about faith.

These are aliens who live in a cornfield as well, and there's this phenomena known as dew...

no, silly, there's no fluoride in dew and they were just pretending so they could fool us later anyways.
posted by Hoopo at 7:12 PM on February 21, 2011


Usually if the plot of a movie has crayon-obvious holes in it, it's pretty easy to criticize as not being very good.

Yeah, I don't get how that guy had all those millions and you're telling me he missed his sled? What-EVER, dude: buy fifty more. What a stupid movie.

Look, I agree with you when you say that Signs is a decently atmospheric suspense film which is ill-served by its ending. I just disagree with the fatuous oh-those-aliens-were-so-stupid-why-didn't-they-bring-an-umbrella objection to the movie. It is not great, but it is a better movie than that.

For better or worse it is seen as a science fiction piece, and science fiction should be the one area where writers and filmmakers get to colour outside the lines and tell stories without having to explain every last thing to the audience. Audiences, in their turn, are constantly reassured that they will meet nothing out of the ordinary in speculative fiction and every qualm they have will be soothed with repeated explanations of what is going on. This stems back to at least '50s sci-fi movies with their heavy-handed, "As you know, Bob," style of explaining to us how the teleporter works or how the interplanetary drive can be used only once a week. My view: right, it works, so tell us the story.

This tendency, by the way, largely accounts for why I was a huge sci-fi guy in my teens and twenty-five years later, have barely any residual interest. The tipping point was probably the much-ballyhooed pilot of Babylon 5, where the 23rd-centiry commander likens to his first officer that the idea of various races meeting here to engage in dialogue with "the old United Nations." To me, this is exactly like having a modern drama about trade cartels show a CEO explaining to her board about how they are operating just like the Hanseatic League.

Anyway, I agree the water thing is a poorly-considered facet of the story, but I am perfectly happy to overlook it if the mood of the piece requires it. And the mood worked just fine for me. Like Mike Mongo above, I found the TV report of the children's birthday party very effective indeed (although not to the degree he did) and I liked even more that Joaquin Phoenix's character's immediate action was to do what any of us would have done: rewind and freeze frame. Maybe it is because Shyamalan is my contemporary, but I like to think that that scene grew out of him spending his '70s childhood the way I spent mine -- dragging my long-suffering dad off to see those schlocky "unknown documentaries" like The Mysterious Monsters. When I saw the alien stride into frame looking at the camera, I thought, "this director is a kindred spirit who has also looked at the Patterson Bigfoot footage more times than sensible." I forgave Shyamalan for any other sins for Signs right then.

The Village and everything else since then, though: he has lost me. I have seen them all, although now more out of a horrified fascination and morbid curiosity. Each time I think that he MUST have hit bottom by now, this one will be the one that turns it all around, and those 1999 huzzahs about him being a new generation's Spielberg will be justified, finally.

Still waiting.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:17 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


No you did NOT just compare Signs to Citizen Kane.
posted by Hoopo at 7:23 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did, but I did not compare it with Citizen Kane. Calm yourself.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:33 PM on February 21, 2011


But what's so hard to believe about a man's cherished childhood memory? How is Rosebud a plot hole?
posted by Hoopo at 7:57 PM on February 21, 2011


I was speaking in jest, mocking the sort of simplistic critique I think many critics have of Signs. If you wanna talk actual plot holes, then the golden question for Citizen Kane is how exactly anyone knows what Kane's last word is when he dies alone.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:21 PM on February 21, 2011


Strangely enough, he didn't actually die alone--the butler was there but it only comes up briefly in a less memorable scene where he mentions hearing Kane's last words. I'm really derailing now though.
posted by Hoopo at 8:56 PM on February 21, 2011


@ricochet biscuit

Respectfully, I am going to propose to you that if your defense of any critically maligned film hinges on finding fault with Citizen Fricking Kane, you may take your things and go home now.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:57 PM on February 21, 2011


Lady In The Water was one of the most misconceived films I've ever seen...one of the worst, too, but mostly just incredibly misconceived. Then I read this and it made a lot more sense.

At this point the only one of his films I'd rate is Unbreakable. He's got a way with images and setting a mood, but his writing? He should be legally barred from owning or operating a word processor, typewriter or pen and paper.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:17 PM on February 21, 2011


I don't see why you're objecting to the fluoride explanation for being "implausible". I don't know what that's supposed to mean in this context. What's implausible about it? These are aliens in a movie; they can be allergic to whatever we want. I was just pointing out that they could have added one line to the movie and you would have lost your criticism. It's that trivial. They could have said, at the end, that it was fluoride that hurt the aliens. Then there would be no weird plot hole and you would be happy, right?

Now, should they have mentioned it? Obviously not. The movie wasn't really about the aliens' plans. It was about the way a family reacted to an alien invasion. There are all sorts of possible explanations for the aliens' behavior, and the movie was right not to mention them. The criticism strikes me as the height of nitpickiness.
posted by painquale at 10:07 PM on February 21, 2011


"How did you not see all that blue shit from space?"

This thread is proof that you could put alien sprinkles on a turd pudding and people would line up for second helpings.
posted by benzenedream at 10:46 PM on February 21, 2011


Signs would have been so much more satisfying if you never saw the alien at the end of the movie. That scene where one is caught on film at the kid's birthday party was great, but the scene at the end was disappointing.

Completely agree. The birthday party scene was the stuff of nightmares.

I always felt that if you cut Signs so that with the scene where they're in the basement with the flashlight lighting only a sliver of the screen, you would have the best alien-invasion movie ever made.

Instead, the ending completely blew the rest of the film for me. Not to mention the crummy CGI Spielbergian alien.
posted by zvs at 10:52 PM on February 21, 2011


damn!

"so that it ended with the scene"
posted by zvs at 10:52 PM on February 21, 2011


Because it's a dead end and it's stretching and it's not mentioned in the movie and all the other characters went to the lake and yaddayaddayadda. Fluoride is as prevalent in sea water as tap water. They had ships over 274 cities. What's implausible about it in this context is the number of convenient coincidences, including conveniently placed glasses of water from convenient quirks, convenient asthma attacks, convenient last words, and convenient shittiness at baseball. The whole thing strains credulity. If it's about how a family reacts to an alien invasion, and the climax involves a confrontation with the aliens being solved by water, it's not insignificant that the invasion makes no sense. It's not an allergy that gives them the sniffles or anaphylaxis, it eats right into the thing's shoulder. Look. Water is like acid to these things. If you don't buy into the poorly written "signs and miracles" part of it, it goes from being a really good suspenseful alien invasion movie to a really shitty movie about how a family reacted to a poorly planned invasion of unarmed naked aliens in about 5 minutes.
posted by Hoopo at 11:05 PM on February 21, 2011


The twist that you didn't see coming: The aliens were actually here to cure asthma with their special healing gas.

Ooops.
posted by benzenedream at 11:32 AM on February 22, 2011


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