Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

M. Night Shyamalan: WATER Baby

At least Uwe Boll has some sense of humor about the bad reviews he gets. (A twisted, bullyboy sense of humor…but it’s there.)
M. Night Shyamalan, however, has no no sense of perpective –or humor — whatsoever: in his next film, he mauls a movie critic.
Still smarting from the bad reviews and not-so-great fan reactions he got for THE VILLAGE, Shyamalan moaned about how Disney executives — who’d backed his breakthrough movie THE SIXTH SENSE, his follow up film UNBREAKABLE and the spooky/ridiculous/aliens-sans-culottes saga SIGNS, didn’t “get” his vision for THE VILLAGE.
Casting himself as a wronged auteur–but one unable to cope with the possibility that upon his shoulders fell the responsiblity for this disappointing, derivative movie- Shyamalan collaborated with writer Michael Bamberger in the whine-all book, The Man Who Heard Voices, Or How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale. (Penguin USA, $27. 50) It’ll be out the same week as Shyamalan’s new film, THE LADY IN THE WATER, the don’t-mention-Splash drama in which Paul Giamatti finds a “sea nymph” (not at all a mermaid) in his swimming pool.


I have only one hope for this book: that it might become this decade’s equivalent of the Klaus Kinski autobiography ALL I NEED IS LOVE. (1988), The late actor’s petulant, crazy-ass, unintentionally hilarious monomania monologue classic, first published in 1988, was republished in the in the US as KINSKI UNCUT (TK, 1997). (Cintra Wilson writes of the Kinski experience in Salon. Sample quotes: “I am like a wild animal born in captivity, in a zoo. But where a beast would have claws, I have talent.” and “I VANT AMAHNDA!” (Amanda’s roommates: “Amanda’s not here, Mr. Kinski? She’s not here.”)
Fingers crossed. But an actor on a lifelong sex tour doesn’t quite compare to a profound business and creative disagreement between film studio executives between a talented writer-director who hasn’t heard the word No lately.
Which voices does the title refer to, when the only voice Shyamalan listens to is his own?

In the LA Times story, it’s astonishing to read about how a major director takes criticism from those who would put up the $70 million to make his movie. These studio executives aren’t throwing out obnoxious ideas about whom to cast, or saying “can’t we make it more of a love story?”–they’re not even saying, “This sounds too much like Splash, and mermaids aren’t scary.” It sounds as though what they wanted was one rewrite. And for all those millions, that’s not much to ask for. As for the gratuitous mauling of a character who is a movie critic/story analyst with the LADY IN THE WATER plot: it’s a petty, inside baseball thing — so on the nose/obvious that any director, writer or studio executive who read the script might laughed and then said, take it out in the next draft.
It’s like in a disaster movie, where the tornadoes have already hit the city, and the dumbo-blowdry weather forecaster is throwing suns with smiley faces on the map, calling for for “Sunny skies, with no chance of showers–a perfect beach day!”” And whammo, a killer wind tears through, destroying the building, killing him. Ha ha. Because everyone hates stupid weathermen–they’re always talking and being wrong! Juvenile.
Because some shit floats, and some sinks like a stone, and audiences can figure out the difference.
The preview audience with whom I saw The Village was desperate to “get” the movie-indeed, we were, as a group, enchanted — for about fifteen minutes — by the beauty and mystery of the film. Right up until the appearance of a frankly ridiculous looking figure wearing a red, woven wool cape with claws and a bony spine. What the fuck? Apparently Those We Do Not Speak Of are semiprimitive , homicidal monster-people, but they’re doing fabulous, ingenous things with textiles this season.
Those of us who weren’t sitting there in stunned silence were either groaning in disappointment or trying to suppress laughter. A collective bullshit alarm had gone off, and we’d all been awakened. That the plot resembled an episode of The Twilight Zone and (as was subsequently revealed) a popular young adult novel) didn’t help matter. The spell was broken.
Yet anyone who casts himself as an auteur, as Shyamalan has, had better be prepared to accept total blame as well as total credit when a movie goes over poorly. Like the crybaby he is, Shyamalan blames studio executives–even though he famously refused to let them read his script for The Village.
Maybe if he had, someone would have pointed out that how flawed it was? No matter how beguiling the first fifteen minutes of THE VILLAGE is, with its painterly, tense portrait of an isolated, Luddite community in late 19th Centuy garb– don’t give the audience a full hour to wonder why those characters — rural Americans — made had a hysterical conversation about germs and how they need Penicillin to cure someone of an infection. That’s a forty or fifty year fast forward and a big cultural shift: and the movie’s not half over. (Also: Those We Don’t Speak Of: Claws. Ridgeback. Must have been tough to customize that red cowl)
Claudia Eller writes Sunday in the Los Angeles Times that Shyamalan fell out with Disney producer Nina Jacobson and her studio boss Dick Cook when she (Jacobson) gave the director a “frank critique” of his script for LADY IN THE WATER. Writes Eller, “Shyamalan was heartbroken. Things got only worse when she lambasted his inclusion of a mauling of a film critic in the story line and told Shyamalan his decision to cast himself as a visionary writer out to change the world bordered on self-serving.”

10 Responses to “M. Night Shyamalan: WATER Baby”

  1. Stan Heck says:

    I loved the Sixth Sence. The rest of his movies I hated. Upon reviewing the Sixth Sence again I remember on how slow that movie was. Then I remember all his movies got longer and longer with the “twist ending”. I will not ever go see one his movies ever again. I will waite for a DVD rental. I hated “Unbreakable” “signs” and “The Village”.

  2. Stan, you’ve summed up in 3 sentences how many people feel about M. Night Shyamalan’s movies: burned long, slow build to a disappointing twist ending. An O. Henry/Twilight Zone reversal works fine in a short story or a 25 minute TV episode, but in a full length feature film it feels as though time has stopped. I do remember the good performances in SIXTH SENSE and SIGNS…but like you, I’m getting that “wait for the DVD” vibe off the next movies.

  3. kojled says:

    yes, agree with you both. ss was brilliant – there’s no denying. but subsequent mns movies have gotten ridiculous and superficial (and self-important). i didn’t even bother with ‘the village’ (at the theater or on disc). i just don’t have the time for mns holier than thou “you need me, you know you do” movie making.

  4. KS says:

    I loved the Sixth Sense as well. I didn’t see Unbreakable and therefor cannot comment. The rest of his movies sucked. Might have liked Signs but I was to bothered by the weird dialogue and obvious plot holes. The Village and Lady just blew beyon beleif.

  5. KS says:

    I loved the Sixth Sense as well. I didn’t see Unbreakable and therefor cannot comment. The rest of his movies sucked. Might have liked Signs but I was to bothered by the weird dialogue and obvious plot holes. The Village and Lady just blew beyond beleif.

  6. Matthew says:

    Why, why, why? Why do you spend your time dissing people? Just because you didn’t like M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t mean that you need to talk all bad about him. People are stupid. The whole water thing in Signs is very simple to understand. But the ignorant critics are too focused on bashing Shyamalan, to understand it. It seems that’s the new hip thing among critics nowdays. “Hey! Let’s go watch a Shyamalan movie, not pay attention like we always do, and then review it!”
    In Signs, (Spoiler) yes, the aliens were allergic to water, but were you paying attention to the film? Obviously not. If it wasn’t for the water then earth wouldn’t be any life on it, thus they wouldn’t have any need to invade.
    Bullets kill people. But soldiers march into the battlefield every fucking day! Is this so hard to see?
    This is what happens when you watch a movie that makes you think. Nowdays people are too focused on how cool the action scene is or how much blood there is. When you watch an M. Night movie you will have to think. Get. Over. It.

  7. Matthew, it’s LADY IN THE WATER that needs the passionate defense, not SIGNS.
    The Mel Gibson movie had some wonderfully subtle suspense scenes, like the unseen figures creeping through the corn after dark. Unforgettably creepy. And beautiful acting, too, from Gibson, Phoenix and those kids.
    Until the aliens made their hilarious, pantsless appearance (sorry, it was their naked bottoms that I couldn’t stop laughing at), I was truly unsettled by SIGNS.

  8. Matthew says:

    I didn’t mean to come across so agressive in my comment. But M. Night is my hero. Just like anyone else, they don’t like to see their idol’s get negative attention. My comment was less towards your article and more towards the coment that is above mine.
    As strange as Lady in the Water is, I still love it. It’s just one of those films that only a select few people can accept as a serious movie. But, most people seem to forget that this is a Fantasy movie. Strange things happen in fantasy movies. A lot of people thought it was weird that Cleveland found Story in his pool. They also thought it was stupid that everyone took it so seriously. But the movie’s moral is beliving. Even when you aren’t quite sure about it, you need to belive. That’s what I got from the movie. Once again, I would like to apologize for barging in on your blog and acting so rude before.

  9. Justine_FilmFatale says:

    No problem, Matthew…I appreciate your comments. I’m glad your reading the site.
    I hope M.N.S.’s next film is challenging, ambitious, and weird.

  10. I admire M. Night. He may not be able to produce a movie that’s horrifyingly intense as the posters and titles of the movie suggest (“The Village” sounds sort of like a gory slasher flick), but he has such an artistic touch that makes me admire him. “Lady in the Water” was sweet and touching, and it was interesting to see who fit into each category. “The Village” kept me at the edge of my seat (of course I was about 12 at the time haha), and I was slackjawed with awe when I saw the ending. I haven’t had a chance to completely see “The Sixth Sense” or “Unbreakable”, and I didn’t really care for “Signs”.
    I guess what I admire most about the man is his style. He has so much imagination, quirks and talent that easily make him stand out. It makes me angry when movies like “Saw” gross more than something so artistic, because probably the only effort put into horror slashers are with the special effects. And I bet the crew spends more money on fake blood than on actors or scriptwriters.
    It’s just so refreshing to see such an artist.

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“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch

To me, Hunter S. Thompson was a hero. His early books were great, but in many ways, his life and career post–Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail is a cautionary tale for authors. People expected him to be high and drunk all the time and play that persona, and he stuck with that to the end, and I don’t think it was good for him. I always sort of feel mixed emotions when I hear that people went and hung out with Hunter and how great it was to get high with Hunter. The fact is the guy was having difficulty doing any sustained writing at all for years probably because so many quote, unquote, “friends” wanted to get high with him … There was a badly disappointed romantic there. I mean, that great line, “This is where the wave broke, the tide rolled back … ” This was a guy that was hurt and disappointed and very bitter about things, and it made his writing beautiful, and also with that came a lot of pain.
~ Anthony Bourdain