Saturday, June 14, 2008

M. Night Shyamalan: Visionary Or Dweeb?

So my co-worker wanders over to my cubicle the other day and starts ranting about how annoying it is that reviewers and fans keep throwing unnecessarily harsh sentiments M. Night Shyamalan's way: "So, fine, maybe he's made a couple of failures but at least he's trying to make an interesting, creative movie each time. I mean, why do people rip on M. Night Shyamalan when a guy like Michael Bay's movies are ten times worse?"

I will personally confess that I do not rip on M. Night Shyamalan. To be fair, I have only seen two of his films: The Sixth Sense and Signs. I will say, however, that given the career path he has decided to take after the success of The Sixth Sense, and given the types of stories he has decided to tell, I feel like, even though I have not seen most of his movies, it's safe to say that M. Night Shyamalan and I do not share the same ideas about great cinema. Over time, he's revealed himself to be a more conventional and genre-oriented director than The Sixth Sense might have suggested he'd be. I mean, for all we knew, he was on his way to becoming the next David Lynch. Instead, he's gunning for more of a Dean Koontz sort of trip. I tend to gravitate (though not always) toward directors who make fiercely personal, emotionally naked films. I suppose you could say that Shyamalan's films are fiercely personal and emotionally naked in their own way, but to me they just seem like that guy in the fiction writing workshop who's trying too hard to come up with something totally weird and amazing when he should just write a little more from his soul. Which is all just to say that I may not admire the man's work, but I don't feel any particular animosity toward him.

I mean, what exactly is at the root of people's "ripping" on him? Is it because his films display so much promise but then consistently "squander" it? Is it because he is a master of certain aspects of filmmaking but inept in others? What say you, oh opinionated reader?


yoggoth said...

What promise do his films display? His films are bad because of their heavy handed moralizing and reliance on cheap parlor tricks.

Let's look at Shyamalan's influences:

Aliens invade but they have a weakness to a common earth substance - War of the Worlds, The Puppetmasters, etc.

There's a monster/ghost..oh wait it's not really a monster/ghost. (cleverly reversed in 6th Sense) - Scooby Doo

The plot twist in Unbreakable is kinda neat, and that's the only Shyamalan film I'd consider watching again.

yoggoth said...

Oh, and Shyamalan's take on "faith" makes Tom Cruise look like a paragon of rational thought.

Herr Zrbo said...

Why do people rip on him? Have you seen the Robot Chicken episode parodying him? Go to youtube and type in 'what a twist'. It's because all of his movies end the same way. At the end there's just a big twist, and the whole movie is built around the twist. Like yoggoth said - oh wait, Bruce Willis was a ghost the whole time! Oh wait, those monsters might be different than they appear! (the Village) I mean, the movies are sorta fun the first time through, but once you know the secret it's like watching Empire Strikes Back and trying to be surprised with the whole father/son reveal. Really, go watch 'what a twist', it's hilarious.

jason said...

I think Shyamalan perfectly embodies the old cliche - you have your whole life to make your first album/movie/etc, and 6 months to make your second.

From what I remember, The Sixth Sense is a near-perfect movie. Not only a great genre movie (one of the few 'scary movies' that actually scares me), but it has touches of brilliance. I remember a scene where the kid's mom is pushing him in a grocery cart in the parking lot (after they went grocery shopping), and she starts to speed up. Then the kid stretches out his arms and smiles. It's one of those perfect, subtle scenes that adds a lot to a movie, and that only 0.1% of directors would think to include.

That said, every movie he's made since than has sucked big time, each more terribly than the last. Unbreakable was almost good. My opinion of "signs" is best summed up by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who said, "The aliens may have well been wearing turbans." And I haven't even bothered to see anything after The Village.

Why people are suddenly turning on him? I think it's because the Sixth Sense was so good we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, that he would eventually get back on his feet. But with his 5th failure in a row, everyone's saying, "That's it, he's a hack."

By the way, I saw on IMDB that he wrote the script for Stuart Little. I'm curious to watch it now, to see if there's a twist ending (The mouse was a human all along?!)

Little Earl said...

Some excerpts of Happening reviews from Rotten Tomatoes (21% on the Tomatometer):

"M. Night desperately needs to find that special someone whose opinion he'll listen to when they say,'No! BAD writer-producer-director! NOT a good idea!'" - Kevin Ranson,

" ...bad in more than just an everyday, sure-does-suck kind of way." - Kurt Loder, MTV

" Shyamalan's latest film is the first in a long time that I can't defend." - Josh Larsen, LarsenOnFilm

" You feel like you're not watching the end of the world but the end of a career." - Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Hate to break it to you Ty, but The Happening grossed $30 million at the box office. My hunch is that this is not the last we'll be seeing of M. Night Shyamalan.

Again, to be fair, I have not seen the movie. And Ebert gave it three stars, writing: " I suspect I'll be in the minority in praising this film. It will be described as empty, uneventful, meandering. But for some, it will weave a spell."

ninquelote said...

In a sea of bad movies this summer, 'The Happening' is sinking faster than most. There were a couple of decent individual scenes, but not enough to save the picture. It was definitely uneventful and meandering, but I think that is because it was so unlike his other movies. And not because it didn't have a twist at the end.

I am a big fan of M. Night, also not because of the twists at the end of his movies, which is what most people seem to focus on. I think I have had this discussion with LE on a previous blog, or maybe over the phone; I don't remember. Anyway, his movies for me are about making heroes out of the least likely characters. A little boy saving ghosts, a has been becoming a superhero, a blind girl defeating monsters and saving a town.

I could go on and on about this, but I should leave room for people to refute this comment. I'm just saying that I think M. Night usually writes what he enjoys writing about and 'The Happening' was him writing about what he thought people wanted him to write about. And it sucked.