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The Village

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Zombie Violence/Gore and Language)

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson

Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Deconstructing The Village, Deleted Scenes, Bryce's Diary, M. Night's Home Movie, Production Photo Gallery

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (24 Scenes), THX Certified

Released: January 11th, 2005

 

 

Is M. Night Shyamalan really a one trick pony? That's the question many seemed to wonder over the summer of 2004, when the director's latest movie, "The Village," was released. Even though Shyamalan is best remembered for 1999's sleeper smash "The Sixth Sense," his films following it garnered more-than-respectable reviews and decent box office (while "Unbreakable" almost made it 100 million, "Signs" crossed 200 million domestically). But with "The Village," many a critic scorned Shyamalan. The film - and its watermark Shyamalan twist - didn't work for them. Audiences felts the same way. Even though this was Disney's biggest hit of the summer after a terrible few months (they did rebound in the fall with "National Treasure" and "The Incredibles"), the numbers were less than impressive. The movie barely grossed over 100 million, and about half of it came from its first weekend. Perhaps the pressure has been too great for Shyamalan, and that some are on to him?

"The Village" follows a closely guarded east coast community, who still live a simple and old-fashioned life. This isolated community lives in complete fear and dread however, since there is a forbidden forest beyond their borders where "those who must not be named" reside. These "creatures" even sometimes come into the village, scaring off the townsfolk who end up hiding under their houses. Yet some hell breaks loose when one of the more interesting townspeople, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), heads into the woods and beyond. This leads to a twisty turn of events, which ends up giving his fianceé - the blind Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) - an adventure of her own.

As someone who is generally a fan of Shyamalan's work and natural storytelling instincts, "The Village" came as a disappointment. There's no denying that Shyamalan is good at setting up his worlds: visually Shyamalan is more than capable (having Roger Deakins as a cinematographer helps immensely), he knows how to give the audiences impressions of the characters and settings all while James Newton Howard's fabulous music help complete the overall picture. Yet with "The Village," Shyamalan takes the film - its characters, setting, story arc, just everything - way too seriously. At times it's often hard to buy into it, since so much of the movie rests on coincidences, poor justifications and random occurrences that make the story fit too perfectly. The film has a certain kind of logic which does add up some of the time, but the rest of the time it just falters. The movie should have had a warning before it officially started: "Beware of plot holes."

The premise of "The Village" is not a bad one, even if it is an unoriginal one. Yet the movie stretches itself way too thin from the start, and so much about it is flimsy - particularly its characters and the relationships they partake in. The film has many unnecessary moments, which are slightly boring but for the most part dull. A lot of scenes don't advance the story, or even the characters really. There are plenty of portions that should have been cut, especially since the film gets pretty repetitive. So much of it is padded out, and for no good reason either. The story advances correctly, but is pretty uneven and has enough plot for two movies: for the first hour it's one story we're trying to piece together, and then for the last 40 minutes it becomes something else entirely.

Of course, whenever there's a M. Night Shyamalan movie everyone has to analyze the big twist at the end. I have to admit I am a bit mixed on the film's twist: even though it's pretty obvious in some ways (the hints and foreshadows are subtly placed), I thought it was a bit clever and I kind of liked it. On the other hand, I found myself thinking it was incredibly ludicrous and I chuckled often during the last twenty minutes of the movie - I really didn't take it seriously, which is a bad sign. This goes in part what I mentioned before - a lot of the ending is dependent on some coincidences, and that there are parts that wrap the movie up too perfectly. If all this really happened, it'd be incredibly strokes of luck. I will say though I liked how the build-up to the twist did come together through some key characters, and some of its effects (in a way, some of it is a little ironic). As crazy as the twist might be, one of the movie's apparent flaws is that Shyamalan doesn't quite give the audience important to swallow the motivations of certain characters. Rest assured though, the film's ending doesn't top the brilliance of "The Sixth Sense."

Shyamalan also seems to be making a more political statement with the movie, but a lot of that is undermined with his cheap thrills and poorly developed characters. Since his message involves part of the twist I'll refrain talking about it in detail, but what he's trying to say has already been said thousands of times before in movies - only better. Shyamalan even goes for symbolism - the meaning of the colors red and yellow are obvious, and then of course there are flashes of that empty rocking chair.

One thing that cannot be faulted are the performances. William Hurt makes a bold impression as a stern, town elder who dispenses wisdom but has a few things of his own to deal with. Sigourney Weaver is well in-tune for her understated supporting role, and Adrien Brody - following his dark horse Oscar win for "The Pianist" - does a pretty superb job for the town's mentally challenged residence, one who does not really have any dialogue in the story. Brendan Gleeson gives a welcoming presence, the up-and-coming Judy Greer is quite lovely and Joaquin Phoenix - a Shyamalan alum - gives a textured and wonderfully subdued performance as Lucius. Unfortunately, Phoenix is not in the movie as much as you'd think.

The movie's standout star is Bryce Dallas Howard (yes, Ron Howard's daughter - the media has made a big deal about that already) who portrays the blind, lovelorned Ivy. Howard is a real find - and it's really hard to imagine any other actress in the role other than her. She makes the movie work a lot better than it should, and she certainly makes it more bearable. Howard is incredibly radiant, and she seemingly expresses the toughest emotions with ease. She captures the mannerisms of a blind person flawlessly, and gives a lot more depth to her character's relationship with Lucius than what Shyamalan otherwise sets up. I'd even say Howard is Oscar-worthy, and whether or not she scores a nomination (unfortunately that seems doubtful but I'd love to be proven wrong), it's a guarantee that she's going to have a long career in the entertainment industry.

There's no doubt that "The Village" is M. Night Shyamalan's worst movie since "Wide Awake" (and how many of you have seen that one?). His story is ripe with potential, but unfortunately Shyamalan doesn't rise to it - too much of it is standard, lacks crucial development and goes on for too long. Shyamalan certainly has some intriguing ideas and characters, so it's a shame he doesn't articulate the movie more thoughtfully. The director is currently planning an adaptation of the popular novel Life Of Pi, but he's also recently said he has some other ideas for movies. Here's hoping the director returns to full form soon - I'd think that'd be a pretty satisfying twist for a lot of cynical critics and filmgoers.

 

"The Village" is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that's THX-certified. Overall it looks pretty nice, with strong fleshtones, clean source print and no edge enhancement. Detail is pretty nice but probably could be sharper, and color saturation is pretty meaty but at times some of the more bold colors smear. Unfortunately, the picture quality is really distracting due to some shimmering, a whole lot of noise and a ghastly amount of edge halos - the last pretty damn distracting (for a good example of such an annoyance, check out around the 29 minute mark where Ivy and Lucius are talking). If some of the little portions could have been ironed out, this would have been a nearly flawless transfer. Too bad.

 

While there is no DTS option, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track sets the tone and ambience of the movie well. The film's scares and shocks can be aggressive, particularly when they involve "those who must not be named." There are also some other fine moments for surrounds (the wedding party and Ivy in the woods), where the extra channel does really add a little more power for this officially EX encoded track. Dialogue is very clear and easy to hear, while James Newton Howard's really nice complimentary score certainly gives the track extra momentum (in particular, the furious violin solos). This is an effective mix for a more understated film that has jolts of action at times. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix is also on the disc, plus English closed captions and subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

 

Apparently the Vista Series line hasn't died. At once pretty promising with multi-disc special editions, the line hasn't been used too much in the past two years (wasn't the last Vista series release "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"?). Shyamalan's recent films have all gotten the treatment, but if you thought the "Signs" DVD was low on supplements wait until you check this disc out.

The highlight of the disc clearly is Deconstructing The Village which lasts about twenty-five minutes. Presented in full screen and broken up into six chapters, this featurette/mini-documentary/what have you gives a glimpse at the various process into making the film. The first chapter (and the longest) has your typical on-the-set footage, features stills and has interviews with Shyamalan, producer Sam Mercer and a host of the actors talking about the movie. Subsequent sections include Shyamalan casting, the boot camp the actors were put into, editing the movie, its sound design and scoring plus the creation of the movie's antagonists, "those we don't speak of" (if you want some surprises, ignore this part until you have seen the movie). While I'm not a fan of the movie, I certainly enjoyed looking at how the production came together through the efforts of many talented people.

There are about eleven minutes of Deleted Scenes - four to be exact, including introductions by Shyamalan. He doesn't really explain why he made the cuts, but more or less states what's about to be viewed. The scenes are in full screen and look decent, and certainly they didn't need to be in the movie. Actually, in my opinion, a good deal of what was left in the final cut should have been included here.

Bryce's Diary sounds appealing, but at five minutes it's way too short. The film's young star reads (with much fervor) excerpts from her diary - from getting the role as Ivy until her first time seeing the movie. Howard sounds passionate about the movie, but we don't learn much about the production other than she seemed to have chatted with William Hurt quite a bit.

Continuing the tradition, there's yet another Home Movie by M. Night Shyamalan. He introduces it and admits he couldn't find a "period piece," so his little film clip has a young Night more or less playing an Indiana Jones-type character, adventuring in the woods. Finally, There's a Production Photo Gallery which can either be played as a slideshow or can be viewed as individual slides.

 

Unfortunately, "The Village" ranks as one of M. Night Shyamalan's worst, as it plods along only to reveal a ludicrous twist. The DVD on the other hand is pretty solid: the transfer is nice, the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track is effective and the supplements, while slim, give a decent look at the film's production (though it certainly is the weakest Vista Series release yet). If you're a fan of the movie then you'll probably be purchasing it, but if you missed it in theaters than a rental should suffice.