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August 16, 2004 5:10 AM   Subscribe

Shyamalan may face legal action over Village - The Village can now join the long list of films accused of plagiarism in recent years. A lawsuit may be filed against M. Night Shyamalan's Blinding Edge Pictures and Disney for alleged plagiarism. Kiddie book writer Margaret Peterson Haddix claims that the movie bears disturbing similarities to her 1995 novel Running Out Of Time. While plagiarism of any kind is no laughing matter, it must be stated that the "disturbing similarity" is a plot twist many of us once used in our own stories back in grade school.
posted by circe (68 comments total)

 
That's a lot of posts.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:15 AM on August 16, 2004


So you are saying that plot twist in The Village is something from the book linked.

And you are saying this for a movie that has been released yet in most of the world.

Well that is just great, thanks a lot.
posted by sebas at 5:21 AM on August 16, 2004


Yeahh. Umm, don't click on any of the links unless you've seen the film or don't care about having it spoiled.
Damn you circe. Damn you and your amazon link.
Although, to be fair, I should have known better.
posted by seanyboy at 5:27 AM on August 16, 2004


So are you telling me I just divulged the twist by posting a news story that is already in numerous publications all over the globe?

Come on now. If you don't want the film spoiled, don't go look up the book and compare the plotlines. Ignore this story. Easy as that.
posted by circe at 5:28 AM on August 16, 2004


Well yeah, I should have known better. But a 'spoiler warning' would have been nice.

On the other hand, I wish they would release US movies a bit earlier over here.
posted by sebas at 5:32 AM on August 16, 2004


I'll never forgive the git who spoiled The Sixth Sense for me. I still enjoyed the film, but it wasn't quite the same.
posted by viama at 5:42 AM on August 16, 2004


Well, yes... I suppose I should have put up a visible warning. My apologies.

I just figured it was quite obvious that the link to the book would have a plot synopsis and reviews. And in that, I figured those of you who have not seen the movie would not click that particular link.

So, uh... Yes folks. All links are okay to visit, except for the one attached to the book title.
posted by circe at 5:45 AM on August 16, 2004


I followed the link to Amazon specifically because I wanted to be spoiled. I loved "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable", didn't think as much of "Signs", and am unlikely to go see "The Village". So I just wanted to know what the twist was, since every critic has said that it was cheap and hackneyed.

Unfortunately, while the Amazon review of "Running Out of Time" reveals the twist (I think), it doesn't explain to me why most critics really hated it.

Anyway, I'm with you, circe: it's hard to see how someone wouldn't expect to be spoiled by following these links.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:13 AM on August 16, 2004


On a related note, did anyone see Shyamalan on "60 Minutes" last night? It was a hilarious story about how internet file sharing is killing the film industry.

Apparently, I can send out a hollywood movie to a million people in one second just by clicking my mouse. There needs to be a "your results may vary" disclaimer, because I can't seem to get those results. It was just below the "Quincy. Medical Examiner" episode about punk rock in terms of alarmism.

Anyway, Mr. Shyamalan feels that he may have to stop making movies because of the horrible, awful pirates. But I'm betting that he'll run out of cheap gimmick plots first.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:15 AM on August 16, 2004


Actually, considering Shyamalon's age, my bet is he (unconsiously) picked up the concept as a kid watching "The Starlost", which itself was "lifted directly from the novel "Non-Stop" by Brian Aldiss."

Naturally, if you want the Whoopie-do surpise ending, don't click.
posted by Perigee at 6:19 AM on August 16, 2004


Ethereal, I believe the displeasure with the twist is due to the fact that many think it was there only to have a twist.

Did that make sense?

I can agree to an extent... Because of the incredible response to The Sixth Sense, I think Shyamalan feels every movie he makes has to have some sort of mindbending ending to shock everyone. It would be nice if he makes a film here soon that is simply a good straight-forward story.

His ideas and attention to detail are great, but it doesn't always make for a good movie. Signs is a perfect example... I thought the overall concept was good, but it was painfully anticlimactic (and hell, I'm one of those weirdos who likes slow movies).
posted by circe at 6:28 AM on August 16, 2004


I didn't see that, Curley (because I don't watch TV at all), but it doesn't surprise me. On the other hand, it's gotten a lot easier in the last year or so to get movies online if you have broadband, and it's hard to imagine that it doesn't have some impact on theater attendance. But the movie industry thought that video rentals would kill them—so what do they know?

About Shyamalan: I'm really disapointed in him. Surely I'm not alone in thinking that "Sixth Sense" was masterful—perhaps a masterpiece destined to be in the "great film" canon. "Unbreakable" was definitely a flawed movie, but it was ambitious (give it points for that) and it had more than a few moments of brilliance. Two scenes stand out for me: the way he framed the shot of the camera at the beginning with Willis on the train (he really put the audience in the same space as Willis—that is, on the train, which was crucial) and how he handled the creeping terror of the moment of realization that the train was about to crash (and not showing the crash). That really, really impressed me. The other scene was Willis walking into the train station, getting a sense of people's private lives, and the horror of the realization of the hidden evil in the world along with the terrible weight of a responsibility to do something about it. Someone else would have made that a triumphant scene; Shyamalan understood that to someone in Willis's position it would be very frightening. (But he had Willis underplay it.)

"Signs" had some great moments of atmosphere, certainly. And the story was interesting, actually; it was just badly realized.

I suppose he's a good example of what happens with wunderkinds: it's easy for them to overestimate their abilities while simultaneously forgetting to successfully exploit their true talens. He needs a reality check either psychologically, or by way of a producer that will keep him in rein.

On Preview: yeah, makes sense. I agree about "Signs". I think that the twist thing isn't so much about Shyamalan feeling the need to follow in the footsteps of "Sixth Sense" as it is Shyamalan being too clever for his own good. His talent is a certain cleverness—but that's a talent that easily becomes a vice.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:33 AM on August 16, 2004


This is what happens when you let people believe they own ideas.
posted by Blue Stone at 7:00 AM on August 16, 2004


EB:
Except The Sixth Sense wasn't as good a movie as the one it copied it's twist from, Jacob's Ladder.

Shyamalan's is definitely a talented director. However, he is a godawful writer. Someone needs to take the pen away from him, his borrowed "twists" are only going to get worse.
posted by malphigian at 7:30 AM on August 16, 2004


"The Village" is spoiled by itself. Easily one of the worst movies I've seen recently, and I like his films, even "Signs".
posted by costas at 7:34 AM on August 16, 2004


Anyway, Mr. Shyamalan feels that he may have to stop making movies because of the horrible, awful pirates.

Yay, pirates!
posted by rushmc at 7:34 AM on August 16, 2004


a plot twist many of us once used in our own stories back in grade school.

and that makes this movie different from all the other movies how?
posted by quonsar at 7:36 AM on August 16, 2004


I guess I've seen too many movies.... I always seem to guess Mr. Shamalamadingdong's 'suprise twists' immediately upon hearing what the story is about. I don't want to say out loud what the twist in The Village is, but if you think about the story line, it could really only be one of two things. And I doubt he'd be ripping off The Truman Show, so that really only leaves one...
posted by spilon at 7:48 AM on August 16, 2004


Shyamalan's is definitely a talented director. However, he is a godawful writer. Someone needs to take the pen away from him, his borrowed "twists" are only going to get worse.

Shyamalan's next film is an adaptation of the popular Canadian novel, Life of Pi.
posted by Evstar at 8:00 AM on August 16, 2004


I figured out the plot "twist" about 2 minutes into the film and spent the rest of the time wondering if I was being tricked by Shyamalan and there would be an actual surprise at the end. I'd like to get my two hours back.

That children's book seems like it might have made a better movie.

I saw the movie via torrent*. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't have seen it at all, or rented it. I might have watched it if it was on HBO and there wasn't something better on another channel. So I did not take any money from Shyamalan's children's trust funds.

Shyamalan's comments on 60 Minutes shows the backwards thinking of the movie industry. I think an iTunes like release of downloadable 'screenings' of films shortly after the theatrical release could curb the piracy. Studios need to take downloadable revenue into the picture just as the music people are now.

And in this time of the "global village" simultaneous release of films across the planet. Although in the minority, there are several foreign film I'd like to see that get released in the US later --if at all.

* for the record, I do not advocate the stealing of copyrighted works. I was curious as to what the hubbub was about the film but not curious enough to see the film in a theater.
posted by birdherder at 8:09 AM on August 16, 2004


Except The Sixth Sense wasn't as good a movie as the one it copied it's twist from, Jacob's Ladder.

malphigian: Except Jacob's Ladder wasn't as good a movie as the one it copied it's twist from, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. (Well the book was good, the movie I don't remember too well, having seen it over 20 years ago)
posted by bashos_frog at 8:14 AM on August 16, 2004


Another example: the plagiarism claims over Groundhog Day (self-link). It somewhat undermines the plagiarism theory that two writers, Leon Arden (also mentioned here) and Richard Lupoff, both claimed their plots had been ripped off, suggesting writers overestimate the originality of their ideas. It would be interesting to to put Lupoff and Arden in the same room.
posted by raygirvan at 8:18 AM on August 16, 2004


35000!


w00t
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:23 AM on August 16, 2004


Just a quick question quonsar - has there ever been a good movie in your mind? I understand you often state the written word is superior but is there truly no film you believe is in any way entertaining at all?

I read a fair amount and I don't see any major difference between reading a book and watching a film - both are artistic endeavours designed to entertain the masses and reward the author/distributor with hard cash.

If all art is for profit why pick solely on film?

(p.s. my missus' first post was more popular than mine... grrr)
posted by longbaugh at 8:25 AM on August 16, 2004


Well, okay, I figured out the plot twist in The Village, fairly early on. (Actually narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities.) It didn't spoil the movie for me at all. Anyone who grew up on The Twilight Zone and old EC comics, will be able to guess most of these types of twist endings. (The Sixth Sense was an exception just because we didn't yet know that Shyamalan was going to make the twist endings his signature. If we had been looking for a twist, it would have been fairly easy to spot.)

My wife and I enjoyed the movie just for the cinematography and characterizations. Deciding which twist was coming up was only a mild distraction.

As far as the lawsuit - there are probably enough other stories out there using the same idea that it could probably be classed as a little mini-genre of science fiction. If I were a defense lawyer for Shyamalan, I'd go searching to collect a couple dozen instances of prior use to extablish that the concepts were in general use before Haddix ever wrote her book.
posted by tdismukes at 8:32 AM on August 16, 2004


I understand you often state the written word is superior

As long as that word is properly retromingent.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:39 AM on August 16, 2004


This makes me think of Coupon: The Movie
posted by rocketman at 8:42 AM on August 16, 2004


malphigian: hmm. I thought "Jacob's Ladder" was pretty good; but, like bashos_frog, I read and watched that in school as a kid and that seems much more like "Jacob's Ladder" than does "Sixth Sense".

I'm not sure what else has used that idea—it seems quite original, astonishing, and frightening—besides "The Others", which is also recent. But I may be missing something important.

I have quite a few DVDs and love film—I'm pretty picky about movies. But I think "Sixth Sense" was very, very good. That comes from repeated viewings. That's just my opinion, though. It's not necessarily one of my favorite movies, but I think it's very good.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:48 AM on August 16, 2004


I'm not sure what else has used that idea—it seems quite original, astonishing, and frightening—besides "The Others", which is also recent. But I may be missing something important.

Carnival of Souls sorta kinda did.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:50 AM on August 16, 2004


Is this as good a place as any to complain that the end of Unbreakable was the shittiest Paragraph-Compresses-What-Would-Have-Been-Fun-Cnema-Bull-Shit you've ever seen?

I mean did they run out of money? What's with ending the movie with a plot summary of what might've been the best stuff to watch? Bull-oney.

Was my thought.
posted by Peter H at 8:55 AM on August 16, 2004


The Village's plot twist was pretty transparent. I think the movie was well made but disappointing.

Oh yeah also 35000!
posted by riffola at 8:58 AM on August 16, 2004


Peeing backwards Stav? Why that's just elephantastic!

It somehow scares me that you know that word - I had to look the damn thing up.

And yes Peter H, goats were blown at the end of Unbreakable which wins my vote as biggest waste of a great story concept. An everyman superhero movie? Could have been a contender.
posted by longbaugh at 9:14 AM on August 16, 2004


Goats were blown? Was that in the un-rated version?
(jokes) heh/ sorry, sorry..
posted by Peter H at 9:19 AM on August 16, 2004


You mean the village was dead the whole time?
posted by 2sheets at 9:25 AM on August 16, 2004


You mean the village was dead the whole time?

No, the village was terrorized by aliens who were alergic to water and walked around with canes because they're bones shatterd easily.
posted by prodigalsun at 9:52 AM on August 16, 2004


It would be nice if he makes a film here soon that is simply a good straight-forward story.

He already did that with his first movie and it was a complete piece of shit. I walked out after about 45 minutes of mind-numbing boredom.
posted by dobbs at 10:05 AM on August 16, 2004


THAT'S why that girl had the cane. OK, that clears it up.
posted by emelenjr at 10:10 AM on August 16, 2004


I agree that Unbreakable sucked.

I disagree that the Village sucked. With or without the plot twist(s) I thought it was an interesting film. Very spooky during the beginning, and then when the plot twists hit, it moves from being a traditional horror movie into more of a take on reaction to fear. Very aprops in these times. Of course in the Village, the retreat from fear seems to be working, and that's not really possible for most of us in these times
posted by Windopaene at 10:24 AM on August 16, 2004


Post 9/11 hippie commune.
posted by wfrgms at 10:46 AM on August 16, 2004


Unbreakable sucked.

I strongly disagree. I think it's his best film, because it has an interesting story and - unlike "The Sixth Sense" - the big twist holds up to scrutiny.
posted by braun_richard at 10:48 AM on August 16, 2004


How does the twist in The Sixth Sense fail to hold up under scrutiny? I've always considered scrupulous self-consistency to be one of the admirable aspects of that film.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:01 AM on August 16, 2004


I figured out the plot "twist" about 2 minutes into the film and spent the rest of the time wondering if I was being tricked by Shyamalan and there would be an actual surprise at the end.

... equals The Sixth Sense for me. it would have helped if that "i see dead people" thing wasn't in the freaking trailer! *that* would have been a great surprise about halfway through the movie, and then i might not have made the other connection so easily.

as for The Village, i guessed the twist (been now confirmed) when i saw the trailer. that doesn't mean it's not a good idea for a movie, it's just not a twist. twist-dependent plots are only good when you don't expect a twist. twist is also a funny word if you say it over and over ...
posted by mrgrimm at 11:30 AM on August 16, 2004


I this like the "surprise" ending in Signs? Cos that was a real shocker. Wow.
Did anybody not figure it out like in the line to go see the movie?
posted by signal at 11:47 AM on August 16, 2004


Hmm, a backwards village under scrutiny by a higher civilization.

Star Trek: Insurrection, 1998.

Looks like this woman has a whole bunch more suing to do. Anyone have any idea how successful such lawsuits (claiming theft of plot points, not actual text) have been?
posted by mischief at 12:01 PM on August 16, 2004


I enjoyed the village, especially Bryce Dallas Howard, but I felt the directing was hackneyed and the writing was uneven. The pacing moved all wrong and we (the audience) ended up wandering around in the woods a la Blair Witch. The crucial guard character at the end lacked even the slightest smidge of motivation or believability. The monsters were lame, as were the reason behind the monsters. All in all, a good, but poorly written and executed idea.

And the 'thesis' of the film just sucked. Sucked more than the 'thesis' behind signs. I hate how M Night Shamalalalala inserts these thoughts about society, faith and fear without having the balls to really make an interesting statement. I saw each of his films as a missed opportunity. I geuss I did'nt really enjoy the village, just the hot blind chick. She was hot.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:03 PM on August 16, 2004


How does the twist in The Sixth Sense fail to hold up under scrutiny?

For starters, we see Bruce exactly one year (says so on screen) after he was shot. Why do we skip a year? (Other than to set up the anniversary dinner scene?) Most of the time, the little boy sees dead people soon after they die. But at the school he sees way old dead people hanging. Inconsistent seeing of dead people.

If a writer has to show a time jump using subtitles (i.e. AI ending , Cast Away, etc.), they're either lazy or not wanting to deal with details.

On preview: agree heartily with elwood re: thesis. I hate movies where "everything happens for a reason." Gag.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:13 PM on August 16, 2004


She was hot.
And isn't she Opie's daughter?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:16 PM on August 16, 2004


Well, she's hot anyway.

I don't mind movies that roll around a central point or theme, but when a movie attempts to create some kind of meaning or moral statement the need to be detailed and tight is of the highest importance. M Night tries to inject a moral into his films, but fails because he seems afraid to say anything that might offend anyone.

Signs is a good example. The movie is about faith. Faith is deeply personal and could be said to be rooted in our personal relationships. Faith is what makes it possible to love, survive and forgive. In Signs, however, faith is just the realization of coincidences that couldn't really be coincidences. That, in my opinion, is a bucket of crap.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:48 PM on August 16, 2004


mischief Star Trek: Insurrection, 1998

Harry Harrison's Captive Universe. As tdismukes said, a trawl of SF - conceptual breakthrough subgenre - is likely to turn up many more.
posted by raygirvan at 12:57 PM on August 16, 2004


Shyamalan's next film is an adaptation of the popular Canadian novel, Life of Pi.
A little bit ironic, maybe.
posted by transient at 12:57 PM on August 16, 2004


Karma. Disney has had this coming for a LONG time. With any luck, the judge will display the same lack of sympathy for Disney as he displayed a lack of sympathy for proper copyright terms.
posted by shepd at 1:24 PM on August 16, 2004


I liked The Village, but I think I would've liked it even better without the twist ending. If it was just a movie about a village surrounded by monsters, it would've been pretty kick-ass. And it was, until about 30 minutes from the end.

Still liked it, though.
posted by graventy at 1:59 PM on August 16, 2004


mrgrimm: Yes! That was my biggest problem with Sixth Sense - the fact that the trailer spoiled the first half of the movie, and hinted at the twist.

What's wrong with these people?
posted by wilberforce at 2:41 PM on August 16, 2004


Umm, I don't really mean to be an arrogant movie viewer, but this is just another instance of derivative, formulaic media repeating ideas that were successes in the recent past. I blame movie producers who look for evidence that a film is saleable by forcing screen writers to pitch their works, rather than turning over a finished script.

This is just another permutation of the Truman show and a half a dozen other things, retold as a horror show. Yes, the writer may have gotten this idea from a children's book, but I think she got her idea from Bradbury. Neither kettle should be calling the other black.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:11 PM on August 16, 2004


Here's the way I see Shyamalan's cinema: an hour's worth of thudding dialogue, horribly obvious symbolism, appropriation of religious iconography just for suspenseful effect, precocious and well-groomed kids who exhibit a bizarre tendency toward father-lust, and a cameo appearance by the director in homage to Hitchcock (to whom Shyamalan is easily compared only because there is a dearth of Suspense these days). Then you get a surprise ending that is supposed to amount to payoff for having suffered all that.

Is the Village like that at all? I'm looking for a dark, cool place to get some sleep on a summer evening.
posted by eatitlive at 3:15 PM on August 16, 2004


Most of the time, the little boy sees dead people soon after they die. But at the school he sees way old dead people hanging. Inconsistent seeing of dead people.

No way: you're pulling this entirely out of your ass. Most of the dead people the boy sees (the middle-aged suicide victim in his own house, the ghost he's locked in with in the attic, the people hanging in the school, the fire victim in the school at the end of the movie) have been dead for many years (but still a wide range--from several years, to decades, to centuries). The Bruce Willis character has been dead a year. The two other ghosts we see--the little girl and the bike accident victim--are recently dead. So the boy sees people who have been dead for varying periods throughout the movie. And the plot in no way relies on some "rule" that the boy can only see the recently dead. This is entirely in your own head, man.

Why do we skip a year? (Other than to set up the anniversary dinner scene?)

Why not skip a year? One of the most important themes in the movie is about the disintegration of relationships: Shyamalan draws a parallel between the ending of a relationship and a death. This is illustrated, in part, with Willis' character's widow's involvement with another man. This subplot, and the attendant thematic development, would not have been credible had Willis' character been newly dead. We would not have believed that his wife would have taken up with a lover so soon after his death. In the context presented, however, the character's actions are easy to accept. This kind of sensible characterization is, by the way, something that was sorely lacking in The
Village


If a writer has to show a time jump using subtitles (i.e. AI ending , Cast Away, etc.), they're either lazy or not wanting to deal with details.

This sounds like something that a high school English teacher told you once, and now you're just parroting it back. You can have good movies with expository subtitles, and bad movies with expository subtitles. Next thing, you're going to be telling me that voiceover narration is always bad...

If you're looking for cause to criticize Shyamalan, go to the dialog. That's without a doubt his weakest point.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:49 PM on August 16, 2004


domo ariggotto, mr roboto
posted by iamck at 4:39 PM on August 16, 2004


The most painful part of the movie was Adrien Brody. I think Sean Penn should sue him for ripping off I Am Sam.
posted by graventy at 7:08 PM on August 16, 2004


Just curious: is plagarism actually illegal? I know it's unethical in academic circles. What does Peterson think she's going to get out of this other than free publicity?
posted by electro at 7:59 PM on August 16, 2004


It's copyright infringement, electro. A civil tort. Peterson could conceivable ask for all the revenue from the film, plus punitive damages, I think.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:20 PM on August 16, 2004


Yep. Check out the wordIQ entry. But I can't recall an example of a successful charge of plagiarism based on similarity of plot (as opposed to identifiable chunks of text). It always comes down to "you can't copyright an idea"; and even point-by-point plot similarity, which is supposed to be the criterion when judging such cases, doesn't seem to wash.
posted by raygirvan at 8:42 PM on August 16, 2004


Doesn't surprise me that Shyamalan is accused of yet another rip-off.

His most famous movie, Sixth Sense, was a 100% rip-off of Giuseppe Tornatore's 1994 film A Pure Formality (starring Gerard Depardieu and Roman Polanski). Many movie reviewers caught him out on it immediately, but he churlishly refused to acknowledge it -- although I read one reviewer say that Shyamalan had told him that it was an "homage".
posted by timyang at 10:02 PM on August 16, 2004


A question for other UK MeFites - do any of you remember The One Game with Patrick Malahide? There was some talk of David Fincher's The Game being based of this. I recently bought it on DVD and there are some startling coincidences between the two.

On the subject of plagiarism - was there not an idea that there are only 7 basic stories and that all other tales are simple variations on these? If that truly is the case then can plagiarism really be seen so negatively? Isn't everything going to be derivative? If that is the case then all we really have left is minor variations in delivery and presentation.
posted by longbaugh at 12:40 AM on August 17, 2004


The monsters were really the elders of the village dressed up in costumes. They didn't want people to leave the village because they're not really in the 19th century, they're in modern times. Sur-fucking-prise.

If you didn't know that, I just saved you two hours, not to mention money for tickets, drinks and popcorn. Someday you'll thank me. It was the worst movie I've ever seen in my life. Worse than Signs, even.
posted by reklaw at 1:28 AM on August 17, 2004


Art Buchwald successfully sued Paramount for stealing the basic plot for the film Coming to America. So it does happen on occasion.
posted by ssmith at 6:51 AM on August 17, 2004


timyang: however, as this page on An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge points out, the 'deathdream fantasy' plot is commonplace in film, and there are examples prior to A Pure Formality. Once you've got the premise that the main character is dead, the potential plot turns are fairly predictable.
posted by raygirvan at 6:58 AM on August 17, 2004


I heard The Village is actually a sled.
posted by dogwelder at 1:53 PM on August 17, 2004


No, it's Marion Davies's clitoris.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:06 PM on August 17, 2004


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