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SFFH in Film, TV, and other NonTextual Media

Wednesday 28 August 2002

Different Directions

§ A New York Times essay by Stephen Holden about M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, Mysticism, Miracles and Mush, reacts to the comparisons of Shyamalan to Hitchock and Spielberg, and ends with a provocative suggestion about how the film might have ended...

The exploitation of magical thinking in mass entertainment — the "touched by an angel" syndrome — triggers an almost allergic reaction in me. It strikes me as a sentimental palliative that encourages people to wallow in passivity and wait for miracles instead of doing for themselves. As much as I admired the craft behind the whopper ending of "The Sixth Sense," that movie left me feeling manipulated by a spiritual huckster. And so does "Signs." [...]

Until this point [when an alien is finally pictured], "Signs" has toyed provocatively with the notion that the alien invasion might be one frightened, isolated family's shared hallucination. How much deeper and more challenging "Signs" might have been had the extraterrestrials been depicted as possibly delusional blips — leaving some doubt as to their actual existence. Had "Signs" resisted putting on the final angelic touch and showing its little green men, it might have offered us a mystery worth contemplating about the relationship between faith and fantasy.

§ Move score fans note: MUSIC OF THE SPHERES, PART ONE: A Chronology of Music For Space Travel and Other Worlds, by Scott Bettencourt. This list goes through 1979; a second list is forthcoming.

Saturday 17 August 2002

DVD "Features"...

§ Slate's Bryan Curtis is reviewing DVDs, specifically the features that come on them in addition to the theatrically released films. As Jonathan Strahan anticipated 10 days ago, Curtis finds the bonus features on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring DVD, like those on so many other DVDs, a waste of time:

The makers of Fellowship of the Ring, on the other hand, turned a great film into a bad commercial. The disks' bonus features-endless but uninformative documentaries and ads-are built to sell, sell, sell. Sell the official movie guide; the tie-in video game; the theatrical sequel; even the more souped-up Fellowship DVD, which arrives in November. By the time you've waded through the extras, you're positively grooving on the sweet smell of cross-promotion.

Consider Fellowship's three documentaries and 11 short "featurettes," which look like they've been thrown together by the producers of Entertainment Tonight. There's almost no discussion of the making of the film. Instead, the docs, which played on various TV networks before the film hit theaters, offer what amounts to a preview of the film we already own.
In contrast, Shane Ivey at RevolutionSF loves the DVD, rating it 9/10.
The extras include a long collection of previews and commentaries that appeared on TV and the Internet over the two years leading up to the December 2001 release of The Fellowship of the Ring. Truly hardcore fans will have seen this material already, but most of you will find at least a few new items. There are trailers (of course), but there are also interviews with the director, the cast, and effects people, behind-the-scenes footage, and the "Internet previews" that combined film footage with interviews.

Saturday 3 August 2002

Signs Fission

§ Not all critics have reacted to M. Night Shyamalan's new film Signs as enthusiastically as Newsweek's David Ansen — or as negatively as Locus Online's Claude Lalumière.

Andrew O'Hehir's review in Salon notes both the film's many skiffy flick antecedents, and its portentous theme.

The wholesale homage to earlier films found in "Signs" is a new and not necessarily welcome development in Shyamalan's work. Those viewers who notice how much of the movie is imported from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Night of the Living Dead," "War of the Worlds," "Poltergeist" and "The Birds" (not to mention "Field of Dreams") may find themselves distracted from the things in it that actually work.

... All three of Shyamalan's big-budget Hollywood movies (also including "Unbreakable") are tremendous mood pieces that build an intensely creepy atmosphere, winding the audience up to a pitch of near hysterical suspense, and then squander it all in promiscuous geysers of sentimentality and random New Age brain fog. Two things come to mind: One, Shyamalan is a clever craftsman trying to conceal the fact that he has nothing to say. Two, he's scared of God.
Kenneth Turan's review in the Los Angeles Times isn't bothered by the film's theme, just unpersuaded.
There's a strain of quirky, laconic humor here that is unexpected but effective. Less successful is the film's main theme, the power and even the necessity of faith. "Signs" is finally a B picture at heart, and whatever heartfelt messages the Bs convey is never what's memorable about them. ...It's also true that the bromides about faith the film thinks are profound don't end up playing that way.
A.O. Scott, reviewing in the New York Times, is more troubled.
One name for the belief that everything disguises a hidden intention is paranoia, and Mr. Shyamalan, displaying a sense of humor missing from the rigorous solemnity of his other movies, pokes fun at our dark suspicions even as he shamelessly manipulates them. ...

The lesson that "Signs" imparts — have faith! — is ubiquitous in the culture, from the pronouncements of certain politicians to television shows like "Touched by an Angel." (This version might be called "Mauled by an Alien.") The movie's fuzzy pop-spiritualism carries a disturbing implication. Unless you have faith (in something tactfully left unspecified), it says, you are putting the integrity of your family and the very lives of your children at risk, and you no longer deserve to be called father — as if skepticism, or indeed any but the most literal-minded expression of belief, were a form of child abuse.
Closest to Claude Lalumière's view is David Edelstein, writing in Slate beneath the headline "Signs is a hucksterish religious parable":
As a scare picture, Signs is good enough. As a religious parable, it's scarier—and I don't mean that as a compliment. The story of an alien invasion met with faith, its invaders are symbolic of what happens to people—and their children—when they become cynical unbelievers, writing off both the bad and the good as the product of chance. Shyamalan is saying that when you reject God, you kill your kids. The idea that an atheist or agnostic parent could be good parent-could instill values of skepticism and intellectual rigor—is outside this movie's purview.
In contrast to everyone else, Roger Ebert, who awards the film four stars, seems unconcerned by the film's ideas, focusing instead on its style and technique.
The genius of the film, you see, is that it isn't really about crop circles, or the possibility that aliens created them as navigational aids. I will not even say whether aliens appear in the movie, because whether they do or not is beside the point. The purpose of the film is to evoke pure emotion through the use of skilled acting and direction, and particularly through the soundtrack. It is not just what we hear that is frightening. It is the way Shyamalan has us listening intensely when there is nothing to be heard. I cannot think of a movie where silence is scarier, and inaction is more disturbing.

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