Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Script Review – “The Happening”

An Inconvenient Plot

Okay, so, there were two guys playing golf. They both hit tee shots. One ball went one way, the other went the other way, and neither landed anywhere near the fairway.

They decided to split up and meet at the green.

The first guy found his ball buried in a field of Buttercups. He pulled out his 7-iron and started whacking away at the Buttercups to get his ball out (but having no luck).

Well, SUDDENLY, Mother Nature emerged from the ground and said to the man, “Excuse me. I created this beautiful field of Buttercups and now you’ve ruined them! You’ve no respect at all, and I’m going to punish you for this. Since these are Buttercups, your punishment is that you cannot have butter for one year.”

“What about my buddy?” he said. “Are you going to punish him, too?”

“But of course I am,” she replied.

The man looked at his buddy, laughed, and went back to whacking the Buttercups.

“What do you find so funny?” she asked.

“My buddy over there – he’s in the Pussywillows.”


And that little joke, my friends, is better than 105 pages of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest drivel of hack screenwriting called The Happening.

But screw Shyamalan. Here’s a picture of Zooey Deschanel:

“Someday… you’ll be cool.”

THAT, Mr. M. Night, is exactly what you should be telling yourself.

It’s amazing how far this man has fallen. He was livin’ large following the global phenomenon that was The Sixth Sense. Newsweek put him on the cover and declared him to be “the next Spielberg.” Everyone heaped praise upon praise upon him. He believed every word, too. He told Esquire he knew the exact recipe for summer blockbusters.

By the way, The Sixth Sense wasn’t his first film. His first film was Wide Awake, which lost its funding in the middle of production. Then he banged out Praying With Anger, the story of an Indian-American who returned to his homeland, India, to go to college. No one saw it. Then he finished Wide Awake, which told the tale of a fifth grader who lost his grandfather and searched for God. Everyone hated it. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly said, “Wide Awake has no higher power, no dramatic conflict, no characters, no scenes. It's a series of wispy anecdotal fragments Scotch-taped together by (the young boys) lispy-cute narration.” He gave it an “F.” That whole debacle was so humiliating to Shyamalan that he has since disowned the film.

He then took an assignment job writing the Stuart Little script, which actually got greenlit miraculously enough, and it was at this point, the story goes, that Shymalan really dug deep and came up with something big to wow the world and finally realize his dream of becoming a real, live, honest-to-goodness FILMMAKER. It took something like 7 drafts before he came up with the big twist at the end, and that story was, of course, The Sixth Sense. Disney bought the script for $1.25 million, which included director duties. Joe Roth pushed Bruce Willis into doing it, and the rest is cinema history.

Except history is now writing about Shyamalan's creative decline.

Oh, look. Someone morphed Shyamalan’s face onto Michael Jackson’s body. How funny.

Quickly, let's go through his decline:

Unbreakable was decent and had a plot that actually advanced (unlike The Sixth Sense, which was all smoke & mirrors until we got to the big revelation). While it had its inspired moments that were, indeed, worthy of repeat viewings, let’s face it, the ending was anti-climactic and less than satisfying.

Signs is on my personal list of worst endings ever. I mean, COME ON. The aliens die from being exposed to WATER? Are you kidding me? Why would they come here in the first place? The earth is predominantly COVERED in water. They didn’t notice that FROM OUTER SPACE? What? They had no windows in their big space ship? For God’s sake, they should’ve turned back by the time they got to the moon! I mean, these aliens are capable of SPACE TRAVEL but they don’t know how to create a damn waterproof suit? Pfft. Whatever. He’s slacking.

With respect to The Village, I believe everyone on the planet hates it. I haven’t spoken to everyone about it yet, still working on that, but I’m pretty sure they all hate it. Ebert called it “a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn. It's a flimsy excuse for a plot, with characters who move below the one-dimensional and enter Flatland.” I got news for you, Ebert. His characters have always been one-dimensional, but we never noticed because we were so focused on the plot twist.

And then there's Lady in the Water, which deserves some special attention. Before Night could even get this project off the ground, he threw a gigantic, childish tantrum at Disney because Nina Jacobson had “concerns” about his script. Apparently, at a dinner in Philadelphia, she delivered a frank critique and told him that she and her boss, studio Chairman Dick Cook, didn't “get” the idea of his story. Shyamalan was “heartbroken.” Things only got worse when she lambasted a scene ridiculing a film critic and told Shyamalan that casting himself as a visionary writer out to change the world “bordered on self-serving.” Well, that was it for him. He left the studio in a giant fit. He got his script sold to Warner Brothers AND orchestrated to have a 278-page hardcover book, The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale (buy it now for the low, low price of $6.99!), written to stick it real good to Nina Jacobson and get released one day before the premiere of Lady in the Water.

The film was released and bombed and Shyamalan was quite literally torn limb from limb on the web. First, there was... oh, wait a sec...

Zooey, honey, please cover your ears.

First, there was Sir Lancelot from Aint it Cool News who wrote, “Lady In The Water is a diarrhea splat of storytelling so haphazard, ideas so undernourished, dialogue so banal, and characterization so criminally lifeless that if you'll be able to lift yourself out of your torpor you will be truly amazed. You will be truly amazed because here is a young filmmaker who has, in one fell swoop, transformed himself from a flawed and fortuitous studio darling into an irritating film school geek with no right to advancement. I can only assume the Warner Bros suits were so stunned by the celluloid catastrophe that developed in front of their eyes day by day that they forgot that it was their job to rein in this monstrous piece of self-indulgent crap.”

The critics had a thing or two to say, as well. Jim Emerson (subbing for Ebert at the time) wrote: “But any con man or storyteller must, at the very least, convey to us the sense that he buys his own con, and Shyamalan is too afraid to commit. The low star rating isn't just for pretension or ineptitude, its for hypocrisy and cowardice, too.” The New York Post called it, “An act of spectacular (if unwitting) self-immolation.” Here’s Cinematical: “Shyamalan tries here to take a storyteller's approach to telling what should be a visual tale, thus violating one of the chief tenets of filmmaking: Show, don't tell.” Entertainment Weekly: “Shyamalan's most alienating and self-absorbed project to date.” New York Observer: “Hollywood cannot pollute the ozone with anything more idiotic, contrived, amateurish or sub-mental than Lady in the Water.”

Say, has anyone noticed that Shyamalan’s creative deterioration is in direct proportion to his inflating ego? Just an observation.

Newsweek, which had once proclaimed Shyamalan as “the next Spielberg,” had to finally acknowledge the giant egg on its corporate face and wrote: “What remains to be seen, though, is how [Shyamalan] will react... ‘Will he be one of those guys who self-destructs,’ asks an Oscar-nominated producer, ‘or will he pick himself up and reinvent himself?’ The solution, most suggest, is for him to break out of his self-imposed cocoon. ‘The smaller you make your world, the less of an artist you can really be,’ says an indie exec. ‘Look at Stanley Kubrick. If you see 'Eyes Wide Shut,' it's clear he hadn't left the house in 20 years.’ Others think Shyamalan should take a break from writing screenplays. ‘He could direct some big, great script that a studio is trying to get to someone like Spielberg,’ says the agent. Interesting thought, but this time let's leave the real Spielberg out of it.”

Yes. Let’s.

Okay, Zooey, give me a smile.

Thanks. I love your smiles.

So now we’ve come full circle. It’s as if we’ve returned to the early days when Shyamalan was a nobody with two failures under his belt and he had to dig deep to come up with a story to wow people all over again. And we finally got to see what it would be. Last January, Boy Wonder came to Hollywood with his new script under his arm, which was called The Green Effect, the very draft I write about today. Every studio in Hollywood rejected it and sent him packing to Philadelphia.

And with good reason. It was, first of all, so poorly written, it was embarrassing. “We see,” “we hear,” in almost every action line. Obviously, WE SEE, M. Night, it’s a damn movie. That's the WHOLE POINT, isn't it - TO SEE? You’d think a five-year-old wrote this script. But let’s talk story. In his plot, (just like the photo at the top AND the stupid joke), Mother Nature has decided to throw a tantrum regarding mankind’s disrespect for the planet (and little things like Buttercups and Pussywillows), and the plants of the earth have begun releasing dangerous toxins into the air to kill the majority of humans. But not the animals. Just the humans. (She’s a smart one, that Ms. Nature. Or is it Mrs. Nature?) Anyway, there’s no place humans can go to hide. Because it’s all in the air. And thus, all we get in the script is about 70 pages of... people… running… from… air.


The biggest mistake in the script is that concept and message took precedence over characters. We’re given a weak protagonist in Elliot (played by Mark Wahlberg) who has this forced, contrived conflict with his wife, Alma (played by the lovely Zooey Deschanel). We were never given the real reason behind their conflict either. It’s just thrown in there without any thought at all. Plus, like many male leads in Shyamalan’s films, Elliot is passive, timid, and weak, although in the end, he does figure out the solution to the toxins-in-the-air problem. According to Elliot, the plants are like mood rings. When they don’t like the energies humans give off, they will now release toxins. Oh. That sucks. And in the climactic third act, Elliot and Alma, who have been separated and are trying to reunite, courageously choose to step out into the open air (??) and channel as much positive feelings for each other as they can – dare I say, love? - and then they just… live.


I think what bothers me most about the script beyond the ridiculous ending and innumerable plot holes and weak characters, is that the concept itself was rooted in ego and designed to invoke praise for Shyamalan. “Oh wow, isn’t he an amazing filmmaker? He used no special effects and made us all afraid of AIR! Isn’t he incredible?”

No, because in screenwriting, CHARACTER will always be king.

Last March, Shyamalan returned with a revised script (re-titled The Happening) and 20th Century Fox signed up to distribute his film. Believe me, no revision can fix this inconvenient plot.

At least, don’t hold your breath.


David Alan said...

What’s funny is that I didn’t think The Sixth Sense was all that great. A good ending doesn’t make up for a boring ass story. Also, it’s just amazes me at how much good faith one hit will buy someone. It’s equally amazing at how bad scripts can’t be saved by good actors. A bad script is a bad script. I mean, must we go back and look at Hitman? By the way, that gem is at 6 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Anyway, I don’t root against people...I want people to succeed...yet, I wouldn’t mind watching him fade away.

Christina said...


I don't know if you ever read Final Cut by Steven Bach? This Night guy reminds me of the guy who wrote/directed Heaven's Gate. I'll take a small, low-budget film by Woody Allen or even someone like Ethan Hawke any day over ego-bloated crap...

GimmeABreak said...

Don't let MicMacMovieMaker (TS) read these bad words about M. Night Shymalymadingdong. I dared voice an opinion that the "fair-haired boy's" writing was on a fast sled down a steep hill and was nearly beheaded.

Personally, I'd like to see both MNS and Charlie Kaufman go skydiving with defective parachutes (in the proverbial, not literal, sense). Okay, maybe there's a little part that wouldn't object terribly to a more literal interpretation...

Mystery Man said...

David - Is it? I haven't checked. I am actually going to see Hitman just because of my script review. I can't wait to compare notes. Great comments. I completely agree.

Christina - Yes, I read that one, and you're absolutely correct.

Pat - The simple fact is, the ones we used to admire SO much are washed-up. It's time for the new guys to take over. At least, I think so.


Joshua said...

"No, because in screenwriting, CHARACTER will always be king."

Oh my God. I think I just wet my pants, heh-heh.

Yeah, Night got full of himself, he really did. I liked SIXTH SENSE - but he got the idea from an old tv show (check out the chat thing on imdb) and executed it very well.

But he certainly lost it - you gotta really be in touch with who you are before you get to doing this, and comfortable with it. Becuz fame and a lot of money ain't gonna make you a better person -

btw, I have a huge, huge crush on Zooey, ever since 2000 - she's the best, have you seen ALL THE REAL GIRLS? Mein Gott, she's something.

Christina said...

MM, Joshua -

I have a big girl crush on Zooey! She's one of my favorite actors. She was the only good part of Failure to Launch - the movie was actually worth watching to see her parts. And don't get me started on her part in Elf!



crossword said...

Zoiks - it's really too bad.

I didn't mind the water-thing in SIGNS... what killed me was the dichotomy between a storyteller wanting us to believe in aliens (which is fair enough) AND at the same time someone's steadfast belief in god.

The VILLAGE I guessed even before I bought a ticket... or rather I joked about it to my wife. lol

So... the decline continues, hey?

Thx MM!

bob said...

First of all THAT was a damn funny joke. So you might have set the bar a little too high for Mr. M.

Secondly, your comment about the rise in ego corresponding to the decline in quality is a cautionary tale for ALL of us.(by the way, any person who uses their first intial as part of their name already has built in ego issues)

The day that I believe my work is above reproach and that I don't need help or feedback is the day I should be locked in my garden shed over the winter.

I must admit I don't have much of an opinion about his films because I generally don't have a pleasant feel for the tone of his stories and therefore haven't seen any of them except "Sixth Sense".

Jason said...

Great blog MM. As always. Happy Thanksgiving. JU

Micmac said...

Wow. I don't know what to say. I'm speechless. I feel so betrayed, so hurt. So pained.

It's like my wife left me for my best friend. And his name is Mystery Man. It's like the President lied an no one does anything about it. It's like my dog would prefer to play with the cat rather than me.

It's like...someone I respect is totally off base with Shyamalan with his totally ludicrous comments.

And now all the sheep will come out of the woodwork and toss in their spiteful jabs.

How sad.

Don't worry M. Night, I got your back covered in this dark, dingy corner of the internet.

Now I think I'm going to go get a few bottles of wine and watch "Lady in the Water".

Christian M. Howell said...

Now I think I'm going to go get a few bottles of wine and watch "Lady in the Water".

You may want to make that liquor. A guy who works out half of his body? I liked the Sixth Sense, but none of his other movies.

Hopefully, I don't suck that bad.

Jim Endecott said...

I liked Sixth Sense because I was riveted to the boy's struggle.

Signs was a let down because of the water thing and he didn't use the crop circles enough.

I think MNS suffers from viewers knowing there will be this huge plot twist at the end and not being satisfied when he doesn't deliver.

I don't believe there is any reason to hate the man. I want to see him get back on his feet and make good movies.

Bob: I sign my name V. James because I don't like my first name Vaughn. I don't believe I have an ego issue.


Mystery Man said...

Josh - In the great debate of Story vs. Character, I will always stand on the side of character. Story and structure is always debatable. Having great characters is NEVER debatable. Ya know? And I do love Zooey. If this bombs, I hope she doesn't get caught in the crossfire.

Christina - I love her. She's beautiful, and yet, she has a lot of range when it comes to acting, and she's not afraid to make herself unpretty, although that's kinda hard to do. And she can be really fun.

Cross - I completely agree with you about Signs. It was weird that way he tried to make that connection.

Bob - I do feel compelled to post articles about the destruction that comes with unchecked vanity. I know - I KNOW - so many friends will be successful and I'm fearful how they will change. I've been working on an article about success. So help me, if anyone goes off the deep end like this, I swear to God, I will rip you to shreds.

Jason - Thanks, man. Great to see you.

Peter - I was warned you'd be upset about this. Let it be said that I don't hate the man, I believe he has talent, and I do honestly wish him success. But his story right now is a cautionary one about the creative deterioration that can come with unchecked vanity. Success is a damn beast that must be managed with care. You can't believe the hype. You have to remind yourself that you're just a student of the craft and stay focused on studying the craft. Ya know? After your breakthrough spec, you have to work harder, not less, with every new draft you write or you will be publicly humiliated. Night's capable of greater things than this.

Christian - You don't suck, man. Even if you do, so what? Just keep studying the craft.

Jim - You bring up some really good points. Your first major script is an important one, and I think it's good to avoid the trap that Night fell into with the surprise endings. I do feel the same way in that I really do want to see him get back on his feet and make sensational films. But if you're not going to call a writer out on the ridiculous things that are preventing him from accomplishing that, it's all for nothing. One of the advantages of being "Mystery Man" is brutal honesty.


Emily Blake said...

I agree about most of those movies and yeah, the guy's got an unreasonable ego problem, but I really really liked Unbreakable.

I think it's a completely underrated film.

Mystery Man said...

Hey, Emily. Great to see you. Of all the films Shyamalan has done, Unbreakable is the one I most prefer and can watch again and again. Does the ending bother you? I don't think it's the idea behind the ending as much as the execution, which felt so... shoddy. Is it me?


Matt said...

First off, I have some bones to pick: the Sixth Sense is a great script. Character, Plot, and Theme all work as one, in harmony. The reason the ending works so well is not because it's particularly clever (it's not - and not only that, has been the twist in many lessers films, novels and TV shows), but because it has resonance: that twist is perfect for THAT film trying to send out THAT message. I also take issue with the SIGNS haters: I won't argue that the logistics of the ending are somewhat under-cooked, but I don't see why Manoj gets blasted when he basically lifted it from WAR OF THE WORLDS wholesale, and substituted "water" for "air."

After for the script itself, this review makes me very sad. I won't argue that M. Night is a great filmmaker, but I like him. I think he's genuinely interested in trying to reach out and effect people in a significant way: his films are about connecting with loved ones, yourself, a higher being (without ever delving into the specifics of religion, something I personally appreciate it). The message that seems to be at the heart of the new script - that we treat each other poorly, there are bad vibes in the air - yeah, maybe it's a little trite. But Shyamalan strikes me as a guy who's willing to put his thoughts, fears, and hopes out there on a big scale: and it's usually stuff that mainstream films ignore. I haven't seen TRANSFORMERS, but I doubt that it's ultimately about being more careful with how we treat ourselves and others.

This is Matt Jordan from TS, by the way.

bob said...

My apologies V. James. I meant to say anybody who uses an initial within the first half of the alphabet.

Do accept my apologies though,

B. Bob Thielke (he of unchecked ego too!)

Christian M. Howell said...

The best thing about The Sixth Sense was NOT the twist. There wasn't a twist, he just left out the scene that said whether Dr. Crowe(?) died.

MM, I was just kidding. I think I'm pretty good at this. Characters and dialogue are my specialty with scene transitions running a close second. Wait, that's all you need.

I read an interview today with Noah Baumbach and his latest film bears some resemblance to one I wrote.

It's not particularly "clever" but you will remember these girls. Oh yeah, it's a female-driven character drama.

Mystery Man said...

Matt - those are great comments, and I won't argue much about it. I think you're absolutely right in that it's incredibly admirable that he is willing to put himself and his feelings out there for public scrutiny. And there's no question he's got talent. In fact, Ebert said in his review of "Signs" that Night was a "born filmmaker" and I completely agree. I don't have any major objections about anything he's trying to say in his films, although I think message can get in the way of story, that you can force a message too much down the public's throat, and in this early draft of "The Happening," I'd have to say that he overplayed the importance of his message, which wasn't that original to begin with. On the other hand, I do think this is an important, albeit a cautionary, article, because there's no question that his creative output has been perverted by vanity. In that respect, DO NOT emulate him. This is really, really important for writers, because if you hit it really big, you gotta stay focused. Otherwise, you'll think you can do no wrong, that you're free of everything you thought you knew, and you're not. And then you'll make the mistake of putting yourself into a role about a writer who will change the world and the world will tear you down.

Bob - The problem isn't with the name. It's with FADE IN. If you fail to write FADE IN at the top of your specs, you will be cursed by the great movie goddess Pelicula. I'm telling you! The biggest failures of Hollywood were almost always caused by the writer who failed to write FADE IN. I've been planning on writing an article about that.

Christian - I'll have something for you this weekend. I promise. I'm honestly looking forward to it.


Mim said...

Poor Peter. I feel bad for you.

I can't believe this all happened today while I was discussing plot and character with my partner about our Christmas story.

Poor M. Night.

Mystery Man said...

Hey look, if this film comes out and it's a gigantic hit and I'm completely wrong, then I'll certainly do something fun, like post a pic with egg dripping off my face or something. I'm not above that. But ya know, I am an obsessively devoted and you just know when it's bad.

If anyone wants to read the script and compare notes or post an opposing viewpoint about it, just e-mail me. I'm not against differing opinions in other reviews. I'll say this, the opening was very exciting when people were suddenly and randomly killing themselves in big cities. That'll definitely get your attention.


Mim said...

I'm Switzerland on this, MM.

But I will cast my vote for Zoey. She is lovely.

Mickey Lee said...

About 10 years ago I dated this girl that looked EXACTLY like Zooey. I mean, it's scary. And my fondest memory of that girl was this one time when we were hanging out at Barmacy (on Ave B and 14th St.) and she dragged me into the ladies room for a late night delight in one of the unoccupied stalls.

So every time I see Zooey, that's what I think about. Hot Bathroom Sex in a Public Place.


Oh, where was I? M. Night. Yeah.

"Unbreakable" is my favorite of his films. I thought the father and son relationship was very well done and that's what I like about the film the most. "The Sixth Sense" is one of those films that I see once and then never again. I liked "Signs" -- I didn't have any problem with the water thing at all, it's just a riff on "War of the Worlds" as someone said above. I mean if you want to complain about that, then I guess we humans have no business going to Mars since we can't breathe methane....

But starting with "The Village", things started to go awry. It's the whole auteur thing -- you just end up surrounded by yes men. I always thought Spike Lee was best when he was directing other people's scripts, and I think the same would be true for M.

AlCielo said...

Gee, I kind of liked Wide Awake. A sweet, unpretentious film, worth watching on basic cable on a quiet Saturday afternoon. A lot of people who are impressed with twist endings don't make the mistake of seeing the movie twice. If the characters are complex and multi-level, then it won't matter if you know the twist--there'll be something new to think about. But the few post-Wide Awake M. Night films I've seen haven't had enough to sustain a second watching. Even thinking about the plot afterwards is a little painful. The Emperor doesn't have any clothes, but M. Night isn't the Emperor--he might write another good Saturday afternoon script one day; the Emperor is the system that keeps funding his projects on the wispy hope that audiences will stupid enough to mistake iron pyrite for gold.

Mystery Man said...

Mickey Lee - That's hilarious. Now I'll never think the same of Zooey. Thanks. Hehehe... Does Mystery Man compare notes? I probably shouldn't. But ya know, while I do love Zooey, I don't know if I can be with actors. They're all so tiny. I'm afraid I'd accidentally break them in half or something. Hehehe...

"War of the Worlds!" Now THERE is a movie with a terrible ending.

I hate to come across as so negative, but I've really grown impressed lately how important it is to show aspiring writers the consequences of bad scripts and other failings, like vanity. They write whatever, and they fail to think it through. The world is a tough place, and really bad PR, as in the case of Shyamalan and this tantrum-book against Disney, will inevitably put you in the firing range no matter how good the movie is. We have to be very, very careful, ya know? Writers can be very reckless. Okay, stepping off my soapbox.

Alcielo - Thanks so much for that. With respect to "If the characters are complex and multi-level, then it won't matter if you know the twist--there'll be something new to think about it", I couldn't agree more. CHARACTER always comes first and that's the thing that brings people back again and again and again... A plot with a twist might pull people back for a second viewing, but rarely more than that. It's the CHARACTERS that give a film its staying power, ya know? Thanks for that.


Micmac said...

Actually, I read the book and I wouldn't classify it as a "tantrum". It's not even written by him. Sure, it was commissioned by him, but someone else wrote it. It's not that flattering a portrait, which I think is a testament to his non-inflated ego for allowing that.

The book is just an interesting look at his process, the history of "Lady in the Water" and the fall out Disney. Both sides of that fiasco are interviewed, allowing for a pretty balanced look.

It's well worth the time if you like any of his flicks, appreciate his career or even just enjoy some "behind the scenes" of big movie productions. I devoured it in less than 24 hours.

***This ad paid for by the M. Night Shyamalan Defense Fund***

Mim said...

You're the man, Mickey. I've been trying to get my husband to have sex in some public place for years. I even tried to get him to join the mile-high club with me, but no go.

But back on topic. War of the Worlds is a great example of good script-writing gone awry. It hit all the beats at exactly the right time, but missed the mark. The main character wasn't very heroic. He mainly just reacted to what was going on around him.

It's not enough to just get the structure right. You've got to consider the characters who make that journey, and all that other stuff.

Mystery Man said...

Peter - Oh please, the book was so one-sided even the NYT wrote, "the book so echoes its subject’s point of view (he’s the sensitive artiste, misunderstood by his old studio, Disney) that it reads like an act of ventriloquism."

But that's not the juicy thing to discuss. What's your view on Lady in the Water and Shyamalan casting HIMSELF in the role of the sacred chosen vessel who would write the book that would change the world? Did not vanity ruin his story?


Emily Blake said...

The Ending to Unbreakable is the part I remember best, actually. I like the whole film.

I think what gets me is that it's very much in line with the things I love most in stories. I love a story about a superhero in a real world, and I love dark stories, and I love stories where the bad guy really believes he is the good guy And I like bittersweet endings. None of my stories ever end up with a perfectly happy world, but there's always hope. So yeah, the ending worked for me.

In fact, I think this movie may have been written with me in mind.

Micmac said...


Did you read the book or are you just going off of that one sound bite?

My opinion of Shyamalan taking an acting role? I genuinely think he's a decent actor, nothing extraordinary, but decent. I was however, distracted by him on the screen this time. His bit parts in past films were one or two liners but here, it was a full blown role. That did take me out of the story. However, I have no problem with the type of character he played.

Christian M. Howell said...

But that's not the juicy thing to discuss. What's your view on Lady in the Water and Shyamalan casting HIMSELF in the role of the sacred chosen vessel who would write the book that would change the world? Did not vanity ruin his story?

Tell me about it. If you want to be an actor that's fine, but you should only give yourself small roles.

Let SAG do their job.

Another thing I noticed about him is that he never really has any well-developed bad guys.

Not some fantasy spirit creatures but an egotistical, never-regretting antagonist.

That's the first thing I do, juxtapose the protag with the antag and then contrast a few support characters on either side of the coin.

I actually hate "clever" plot twists because as M.Night found, once you get famous for a plot twist you have to keep coming up with them.

I'd rather work on situations and dialogue.

Matt said...

Christian, I totally disagree with the idea that Night doesn't have standard antagonists in his films. Liberal spoilers for most of Night's films apply.

Elijah in UNBREAKABLE is certainly a never-regretting antagonist. A guy who's killed hundreds, and prepared to hurt many more, all for the sake of his ego, and looking for a sense of purpose.

SIGNS has the relentless aliens, but maybe THE VILLAGE has the most interesting antagonists (that's right, I'm going to say something positive about THE VILLAGE): these are leaders - in the community, in the family - who have let their own fear overwhelm to the point where they're damaging and murdering by default their children - remember, the inciting incident of that film is that a 10-year boy has died because the elders wouldn't go into town to get medicine.

LADY IN THE WATER doesn't have a traditional antagonist, but I think the SIXTH SENSE does, in the various forms of society that's...closed mind, for lack of a better term.

And I say, if Woody Allen cast himself in relationships with Elizabeth Burkley, Tea Leoni, and Tiffany Amber Theissen, Ed Burns can do likewise, and Peter Jackson can play the pilot that shoots down King Kong (aided by Frank Darabont!), Night should be able to play a writer whose work will chance the world.

Joshua said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and mention that I actually LIKED War of the Worlds . . .

This is a bit of a long one, MM, so forgive me, but I didn't bring it up first, heh -

But yeah, I think WOW is better than people here are giving it credit for . . . it may have helped that I like the original material, I dunno, but me liked it, and I'd say that the tripods coming out of the street in Jersey was a far fucking out sequence, truly fantastic.


And the ending works for me (though this is one instance where I believe the Voice-over was unnecessary) . . . the ending is how the book works and to me, it worked . . . we didn't stop them - they were brought down by a simple cold - genius.

People felt it should have been Tom Cruise defeating the aliens, which may work in Transformers but not here (and of the two films, I liked WOW better, and I liked Transformers) . . . Cruise's mission was never to defeat the aliens - his mission was simply to save his family . . . get them to Boston at all costs.

His goal - save his family. It wasn't Independence day - this was a film about our world torn apart by war - really pertinent given the times, right?

The aliens weren't people, per se . . . they were forces of nature, like an astatroid or hurricane or the wave that overturned the Poisiden, etc . . .

So the script was about a negligent father saving his family from a terrible catastrophe . . . that was what the movie was about.

It was never, KILL THE ALIENS (though he did when Dakota was taken up into the pod, I'd note) . . .

So the script, by Josh Friedman and David Koepp, works . . . works really, really well . . . I think there are many, many fine moments in it (and here's where I inject that any movie with Cruise in it as to work overtime to make me like it, because it's hard for me to like him) . . . and I think the script served the audience well.

Not only that, I think there's only ONE problem with the script . . . other than ONE problem, the script is perfect.

The problem? Do you know what it is?

The son LIVES. Cruise's son defies him, runs off to fight aliens and right into an explosion . . . looks like certain death. Blown up.

Then we don't see his son anymore, Cruise gets locked in the basement with a psycho Tim Robbins and aliens (another great sequence) and is forced to murder one of his own in order for he and his daughter to survive - then comes his daughter's abduction -

Cut to the end, after everything, Cruise makes it to Boston and there, on the steps with his mother, is his son - no bruises, no muss and no fuss . . . not only did the brat survive certain death at the hands of the pods - he managed to make it to Boston in one piece, on foot, before his dad did.

Pulleasse . . . total crap - kid shoulda been killed and not only are we not shown how he survived and got there, it's not even really remarked upon . . . that one point really hurt the story . . .

But it's only one thing out of all the other things that worked, including the ending . . . becuz like a lot of natural catastrophe's, they end . . . and we watch characters not only for what they achieve, but what they endure . . . Cruise endured a lot in that film, he suffered and fought against something he had no chance of winning against . . . and came out the other end . . .

To have him go up against and be the one person (the Neo) to defeat the aliens would have made it a different movie, and I'd argue not necessarily a better one (for every MATRIX there are many BATTLEFIELD EARTHS and MATRIX: REVOLUTION) this was a movie about normal people surviving something terrible, and that's why it worked, and why the source material has worked for just about a hundred years or so . . .

That's my view.

Okay, I'm probably getting another slap, right? Heh-heh.

Christian M. Howell said...

Christian, I totally disagree with the idea that Night doesn't have standard antagonists in his films. Liberal spoilers for most of Night's films apply.

I can admit that I haven't seen all of his movies (I'm more grounded in my movie choices), but with the two talked about here; Lady and Sixth, there is no real antagonist.

I vaguely remember Unbreakable and I always remember strong characters. I kind of remember the Samuel L character, but not much.

Let's just say that I was never really impressed in that regard. It's not like I know anything, I just have an opinion.

Mystery Man said...

Emily - Ya know, I love those things, too. Thanks for that.

Peter - But that's a really great quote! I don't know how I remembered it and found it, but that's how my brain works. I skimmed through the book (and read quite a bit of it) over a latte at Barnes & Nobles once. I just couldn't bring myself to buy it.

Christian - I don't think any of his characters have much depth.

Matt - Thanks for that. I'm not sure how much I agree. It's great you can identify what those forces are, but how well developed they are is another debate, I think. I'd say the aliens in Signs were probably the strongest antagonist in his films so far? Would you agree? But they certainly didn't have any depth. For that, I'd say Elijah was probably the most developed antagonist. Or really, the only developed antagonist.

Josh - Of course not. When I mean bad ending of WOW, I'm not necessarily complaining about the aliens dying from the cold. And we got to see Cruise take down one of the tripods, which is great. But this business with the son and seeing momma with grandma and grandpa - AND THEY AREN'T EVEN DIRTY - makes me want to heave. You're dipping into Razzie Award territory there. It's like what Lucas said, "One bad idea can undo thousands of good ones," and that's what WOW's ending really does. I have it. I love watching it, and I do appreciate the ending, because it always serves as such a good reminder to me how much a bad ending can ruin everything that precedes it. Are you with me on that?


Joshua said...

Okay, so it sounds like we're in similar territory, as that my problem with the ending was that the son lived, and you also point out that grandma and grandpa are untouched, as is their house, and it's not commented upon, right?

In that instance, I would agree . . . I don't know that it derails the movie as much as you say, but I agree it definitely hurt the overall impact of the film . . .

Much better would be if Tom and Dakota wandered into Boston and saw the house and walked in and we don't know what they find, right?

Like the ending of LIMBO or THE CELL . . .

Okay, so we're in agreement, for the most part - other folks who complained about the ending usually bitched that it wasn't Tom who killed all the aliens, but I shoulda known your game be better than that . . .

Mystery Man said...

Josh - I think so. I think we are basically on the same page. I remember watching this film with friends and one had a mentally-challenged cousin staying with her in town for the weekend. (True story, honest to God.) When we got to the ending, her mentally challenged cousin was the FIRST to throw a fit and say, "What?! How did they live? I don't get it." Sad commentary on Keopp's writing skills.

There should've been some serious deaths in that family. I'm not sure which ones I would've picked. The son, for sure, and grandma and grandpa, too.

I remember reading an interview of Koepp at the time WOW came out, and he was making analogies with the war in Iraq and this alien invasion, which brought about the scene where Cruise was telling his boy, "You don't have to fight! You don't have to fight!" These scenarios do not beg for comparison, if you ask me. True, we didn't have to fight in Iraq. On the other hand, if you've got an alien invasion going on and they are clearly set on the TOTAL annhilation of the entire human race, I think it might be okay to do something to fight back. But that's just me.


Van said...

A friend once told me that watching M. Night Shyamalan in "Lady in the Water" was like walking in on your college roommate masturbating to a picture...of himself.

So true.

Mystery Man said...

That's hilarious.


Anonymous said...

I agree with everything in the review, Shyamalan has declined in quality. To me he has interesting premises but they get bogged down in trite messages and sentamentality. There is nothing wrong with having a love story in the middle of an end of the world movie but to have it be what stops the apocalyptic event isn't hitting the audience over the head with the message, it's bludgeoning it to death with it. As a matter of fact a marriage in crisis coming together again during a world threatening crisis isn't a new idea but in a story like this the movie needs an emotional center. But unfortunately Shyamalan's abilities with dialogue and characterization has declined significantly since Signs. Is there one person who didn't want the aliens to kill that entire family in Signs? Signs to me is the most infuriating of Shyamalan's films because of the water killing the alien. The sole reason the little girl left water glasses everywhere was to make the alien easier to kill. And that's just awful characterization because it turns a character into a plot device. And if notice that plot hole the entire movie falls apart, the crop circles in the movie suggest the aliens have watched earth for centuries wouldn't they know about the water and figure out some way to guard against it? And with Lady in the Water, Shyamalan should take a lesson from Hitchcock, he came to hate his cameos and had to do them sooner in the movie because audiences came to look for him and he felt it took them out of the movie. And I will admit that plants releasing a human killing toxin, but a movie can have the most ridiculous plot in the world but if the director sells it the audience will buy. Look at E.T., on the surface the story of a boy befriending a frog like alien is stupid, but Spielberg sold it through the characters. I've always thought that a shaky plot can be saved by strong characters, which are unfortunately not Shyamalan's strong suit. And if the characters aren't strong the actors, no matter how strong, can't save it. Mark Wahlberg is a good actor and Zooey Deschanel I believe continues to be underrated and I hope this movie does two things, like you Mystery Man if it bombs I hope she dodges it and 2. Gets her more roles in bigger movies, if she is underrated, Portman and Johannson are overrated.

Murari said...

There seems to be a lot of detail in this post but I didn't care to read through till the end because of all the hatred..

What is with people and hatred?

Why spew venom on an individual instead of providing your opinions or analysis??

thecount said...

@ murari

Why? Because Shyamalan suggests that perhaps the human ego isn't the most intelligent/most powerful being on the planet. And that offends many big ego's out there who feed off the idea that the human ego (especially their own) is the epitome of evolution.

Fact is, nature is a living entity.. fully conscious, and fully aware of all lifeforms living within the domain we call the planet. Only thing is, one species in particular (as evolved as it likes to think itself) has run amok and created an imbalance in the equilibrium of the planet's ecology (due to greed and bad decision making).

So, what is nature to do? Why, of course, restore the balance! ;)

The saying "Only the strongest survive" now becomes, "Only the strongest survive IF they are mentally and emotionally sane enough to maintain balance and harmony with their external environment." Unfortunately, as history demonstrates, that cannot be said for human beings, which is why there is a very high probability that human beings (the defective species) will be wiped out by nature so that other (not so strong, yet sane/balanced) species may live and evolve.

Mim said...

I think it's very sad that murari would mistake honest criticism for venom and hatred.

We critique each other, including our professional peers, in the spirit of friendship.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk, and they certainly don't let each other write bad screenplays.

Anonymous said...

He has had more success than all of you. Quit your sniveling and get over yourselves. Theodore Roosevelt once said that a man who points when a strong man stumbles is not a man at all...

Anonymous said...

Since I haven't seen The Happening yet, I can't comment on the specifics of this film. However, within this review are several unflattering comments about previous films that I strongly disagree with. These comments leave me wondering what the real purpose was for writing this review. They also seem to suggest that the reviewer just doesn't get what this filmmaker is trying to say. For one, the ending of The Sixth Sense was completely satisfying and I don't know why anyone who thinks CHARACTER IS KING would find fault with this film. It was a character-driven script that did not rely on special effects to make it great. Each character was fleshed out and we came to love, respect and understand them all. For another, Mystery Man brings up the movie Signs. Mystery Man, if you didn't like the ending, then you just didn't get the film. That's fine, but if you did the ending would make complete sense. Basically what Shyamalan was saying is that our conscious and subconscious thoughts conspire to create the events in our lives. In other words, what we think - we create. Further, these thoughts create our demons and personal dramas, and sometimes, our individual dramas and fears join together to create a collective paranoia. This paranoia takes on personal characteristics that each individual carries with them inside. This was conveyed brilliantly at the beginning of the film with the single shot of the car driving on a road. The one car on the road represents the individual journey. The camera zooms out and we see other roads converging creating a new traffic pattern - more complex and involving more people. This is repeated and we see how a simple thought becomes something mightier and part of a bigger picture. Thus, we have an alien invasion where the creatures are never shown since the creatures exist in each person's consciousness. They are formed by the experiences, fears and thoughts of each individual, but each individual's fears are causing the whole notion of an invasion to transpire. For Mel Gibson, water becomes central to killing the aliens since he was a former priest and somewhere "holy water" is thought to banish demons. The baseball bat becomes a central theme for another since baseball and failing at baseball is central to his thinking. There are numerous other concrete examples where the plot and alien creatures exhibit actions that are prompted by the what the individual fears. Think of any recent or historical event where people get caught up in ostracizing a group and thinking they are the cause of problems. The group itself is rarely the problem or actually doing what the mob mentality is accusing them of doing. It is the mob that alleges the overall crime, but it is the individual that creates the story about how they are personally affected by this self-created enemy. Practically every failing is blamed on - the group. Now as far as MM reaching back into someone's humble beginnings, I'm not sure what's going on there. Is the reviewer saying we are not allowed failures or to fail? Why? People who try often fail. The notion doesn't bother me, but I wonder why it bothers the reviewer and why it's even mentioned. It really has no logical merit in this review and doesn't mean the current film is good or bad. It merely means the events occurred. My ending? I hope no one who aspires stops trying because they are afraid to fail. Imagine if every child in the world stopped trying to walk because the first time they took a step, they fell.

Stan said...

I like how the vast majority of people here are willing to bet their views off stuff they see on the internet. whether it is early reviewers like this one or from what they hear on forums. Do you really all believe everything and are you really unwilling to wait for the actual reviews to come out? I know that he isn't showing for reviewers early on and that bodes poorly for him...but come on. Most of the early reviewers have had sucky reviews in my opinon. Many trashed the new Indiana Jones. I'm not a big fan of it but it didn't deserve the drubbing. and quite a few said that Batman Begins was not so me it was one of the best action titles in the past decade.

Honestly, I think most of the people here like to drub Shyamalan because its the current cool thing to do.

One of the people here mentioned how all it takes is one hit to have people fawn over him. And just like that all it takes is one real let down for people to hate him. Sure village was silly, but it made money because of his name. Lady in the Water was the first real flop... and everyone would like to insult him at the first chance.

Good going fellow interneters nothing like knowing the vast majority who troll blogs are nothing if not without at spine

OBQC said...

What does it mean that the movie is a hit anyways? That a lot of people bought a ticket to go and see it? , who are these people? Americans? , I’m sorry … but I must say that M night is just a film maker with all the opportunities that no one on this forum has had to print his own message in film.
By the way, discussions that actually matter and are worthy of having are the ones who have Ideas on the table, not a person. Why don’t we charge at what we think Shyamalan tried to say and the way he said it. Why don’t we take deeper discussions about why is he so interested in sending out the messages he wants to send. Because we are film makers? , or because we are interested in Entretainment rather than art?.
Yeah , that would be true, if you want to keep your average popcorn-fat-numb-idiot-eater-happy, yes Shyamalan fails BIG TIME. If you want to have a very nice and Hollywoodesque reason of why Trees kill people with wind, … yes Shyamalan fails again, … he always did. But if you want to find in Shyamalan a tool for debating human fear, the alienation of human identity and the loss of unikeness, … yes you might find in Shyamalan what you are looking for.
Then again, America needs everything under THE FORMAT , otherwise its wrong and “Fails to Deliver”. If Kim Ki Duk was called “Jason Jones” he would be a self indulgent morbid filmmaker. I think MNS’s problem is to do American Movies with an outsiders point of view.

Anonymous said...

What does it mean that the movie is a hit anyways? That a lot of people bought a ticket to go and see it? , who are these people? Americans? , I’m sorry … but I must say that M night is just a film maker with all the opportunities that no one on this forum has had to print his own message in film.
By the way, discussions that actually matter and are worthy of having are the ones who have Ideas on the table, not a person. Why don’t we charge at what we think Shyamalan tried to say and the way he said it. Why don’t we take deeper discussions about why is he so interested in sending out the messages he wants to send. Because we are film makers? , or because we are interested in Entretainment rather than art?.
Yeah , that would be true, if you want to keep your average popcorn-fat-numb-idiot-eater-happy, yes Shyamalan fails BIG TIME. If you want to have a very nice and Hollywoodesque reason of why Trees kill people with wind, … yes Shyamalan fails again, … he always did. But if you want to find in Shyamalan a tool for debating human fear, the alienation of human identity and the loss of unikeness, … yes you might find in Shyamalan what you are looking for.
Then again, America needs everything under THE FORMAT , otherwise its wrong and “Fails to Deliver”. If Kim Ki Duk was called “Jason Jones” he would be a self indulgent morbid filmmaker. I think MNS’s problem is to do American Movies with an outsiders point of view.

Spencer H. said...

Wonderful post, made me laugh quite a bit and I couldn't agree with you more about M. Night. The Village ironically was and is currently the only movie I have ever walked out on, and for God sakes I was on a date even. I havn't seen The Happening but after seeming reviews saying that M. Night has "hit rock bottom", then I will be sure to stay far away.

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