The Village(Buena Vista Home Video, 1.11.2005)
Right before Signs opened, Newsweek put M. Night Shyamalan on its cover under a banner reading "The Next Spielberg," cementing the 32-year-old's status as the most misunderstood filmmaker of the moment. I sure felt better. It wasn't just stuffy critics or middlebrow audiences or Oscar voters that didn't get Shyamalan, it was damn near everybody. I mean, there are people out there who will look you in the eye and tell you that his worst film, The Sixth Sense, is better than Unbreakable, a pop masterwork if I've ever seen one.
And so it was this past summer with The Village, a film which admittedly stretched Shyamalan's meditative cinema of buried revelations to the breaking point. Nah, I didn't think much of the big twist either, saw it coming a whole valley away. Most genre movies are gimmicky like that. The Sixth Sense sure was, and so was Hitchcock. Shyamalan is not fundamentally a mass-entertainment kind of guy; he made a comic book movie four years before that was cool, without "Super," "Bat," or "Spider" in the title. Tarantino is a more kindred spirit, right down to the penchant both share for talking endlessly everywhere but on their DVDs.
Which makes The Village a typical Shyamalan disc: gushy making-of-docs, deleted scenes (which Shyamalan introduces by saying how much he hated cutting them), a hilariously accomplished home epic Shyamalan shot as a kid, and no director's commentary, which could have been fascinating considering the film's political subtext.
The "Deconstructing The Village" segment breaks down 25 minutes of production footage by category. The best of the lot is "Boot Camp," the 19th Century Pennsylvania commune where Joaquin Phoenix learned to chop wood and Sigourney Weaver tried her hand at blacksmithing. I would have liked to see more on the town's construction, too. Shyamalan built his whole village in the middle of a clearing but, when the cameras start rolling, everything was up. I could have done without "Bryce's Diary," more gushiness about how much Bryce Howard loves her life.
You can't get lost in Roger Deakins' extraordinary haze and candlelight flickers at home the way you could in a theatre but on a good TV, with the lights off, The Village plays more claustrophobic, more like the midnight pulp with a dash of social consciousness that Shyamalan intended. It's no Unbreakable but there's no Haley Joel Osment either. Shudder... -- Joey Tayler