Posts Tagged ‘M. Night Shyamalan’

Do not go gentle into this bad M. Night Shyamalan

July 1, 2010 1 comment

So the ego that is M. Night Shyamalan released “The Last Airbender” upon the world, and it has been summarily trashed like a sorority pledge during Rush Week. My friend The Ohioan and I had discussed this thing extensively, as we’re both fans “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” while also acknowledging that his films had become successively more and more flawed.

We agreed for a long time that it wasn’t a lack of talent. Certainly, Shyamalan possessed an amazing eye for angle and detail, for knowing how to build suspense and how to make us care for the characters. Hell, he’d even made a cool credit card ad.

But the law of diminishing returns was becoming evident, and The Ohioan and I agreed that maybe what Shyamalan needed was to start playing in someone else’s sandbox. Though it was his script for “Sense” that everyone remembered, subsequent scripts were getting weaker and weaker.

“The Last Airbender” was going to be different, since this was the first time Shymalan directed anything that wasn’t entirely of his own creation (based on a Nickelodeon cartoon, the mythology of the story already existed, but it was Shyamalan who wrote the script, and yeah, it would seem it sucks). As The Ohioan said, Ebert gave “Van Helsing” three stars and only gave “The Last Airbender” a half-star, and “Van Helsing” was really just two hours of the worst CGI imaginable, combined with a script stitched together from a dozen different bad comic books, Kate Beckinsale rocking a horrible Romanian accent in history (I’m pretty sure history will bear me out here, but I doubt Romanian women of this time were known for shiny hair, perfect teeth, and leather), and the single worst version of Dracula ever.

So can you imagine just how bad “Airbender” must be? When the opening weekend numbers come in,  my sense is that the autonomy Shymalan has grown accustomed to (he shoots everything in Philadelphia so that he can go home every night) is going to fade away and he’s going to have to suck it up and do a for-hire gig or two the way Brian de Palma used to have to and rebuild some box office cred.

But then I started thinking about it: What if Shyamalan is completely a one-trick pony? His first two movies (“Praying with Anger” and “Wide Awake)were completely buried and are apparently pretty terrible.

“The Sixth Sense” was different, thought, that perfect alchemy of a strong script (the twist wasn’t massively original but the way he played everything else it worked), a star willing to shake off his image and work a little, and a brilliant kid performance.

I will always love “Unbreakable,” and it works up until the end. In truth, there are holes in the script (seriously, this guy survived this thing and not one media outlet tries to talk to him outside of the night at the hospital? CNN should have been camped outside his house), but Willis does some good, soulful work, and Jackson is very subtle and creepy, and there are beautiful little moments of suspense out there. Like “Sense,” “Unbreakable” shows Shyamalan’s willingness to do long takes, to let the scene play out in real time and not a series of insane quick cuts; think of it as the anti-Michael Bay.

“Signs,” same thing: a great Gibson performance, some strong thrills, giant plot holes (alien race: “Sure, water kills us and all, but let’s go invade a planet that’s more than two-thirds water ANYWAY!”) and everything generally works until the alien shows up in the house.

“The Village” is a good movie if you ignore that stupid twist at the end and Brody as the town idiot; William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver are just heartbreaking, truly, and I like Bryce Dallas Howard and Jaoquim Phoenix, though they’re far less interesting than Hurt and Weaver.

“Lady in the Water” was really Shaymalan flipping off the critics who didn’t like “The Village,” and “The Happening” … well I’m not sure what the hell that was about.

I’ve seen better line delivery on “Saturday Night Live” when they’re reading off the cue cards. Maybe Wahlberg thought he’d use Ryan O’Neal as inspiration.

But think about it … what if EVERYTHING in “Sixth Sense” was just synchronicity, a series of happy accidents. It’s a film filled with solid actors, Shyamalan hired an excellent DP, he used all the tricks he could think of, and that’s it. I know that no movie is truly that, but it looks more and more like Shaymalan has lost whatever he did have.  After recycling twist endings and separating his movies from anything resembling reality, Shyamalan has seemed to stay past his welcome.

Where once his movies possessed a sense of wonderment, movie versions of an urban fantasy novel, now they feel like stale exercises in ego, basically saying to the audience we should be grateful for whatever he throws our way.

It’s disheartening to watch promise fade and wither away, but I think the best days of Shyamalan are far behind him.