Sunday, December 10, 2006


"I see dead people." Those words marked the coming of age of a bright and exciting director onto the American scene. Unfortunately, they would also mark the highlight of that director's career thus far. We're talking about M. Night Shyamalan.

What's frustrating about Mr. Shyamalan is that he showed such amazing potential in "Sixth Sense". I'll agree the film wasn't perfect, that it had a heavy handed approach at times, but so much promise was on display and there imagry was horrifying, with some moments that made one's heart race with terror. The scene where Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) looks up and sees the corpses hanging from the rafters is the stuff of nightmares. The moment where the young boy sits in a makeshift tent so that he won't have to look out and see the tortured face of a ghost, draws out the horror by making the audience feel his vulnerability. We suspect that it won't take much for a spectral hand to pull aside the security blanket and go BOO.

Shyamalan HAD America. While some would argue the stress of hoping to better himself was impossible to bear, I would say that it instead freed him to do something creative and experimental.

"Sixth Sense" was followed by "Unbreakable". A precursor of the tv show "Heroes" the film stars Bruce Willis as a regular schmoe discovering he is indestructible. And since a superhero must have a villian: Samuel Jackson plays the foil as a disabled man whose body is as fragile and as breakable as Willis' character is unbreakable.

The film worked. It was brilliant. But I think it affected Shyamalan. Where were the roses thrown at him for "The Sixth Sense"? Where were the adoring fans who rushed his car? How fickle. I think Shyamalan felt a sense of desperation. How to recapture the glory of "Sixth Sense?"

He tried getting the audience back with the messy "Signs." While a brilliant work of directing, the film itself is laughably bad. Its appalling plot shoved two glaring flaws that would ruin the film for the serious sci-fi fan: 1) why did the aliens need crop circles to navigate or mark their territory when they had the technology of space travel? and 2) why would intelligent critters who find water is poisonous to them set up shop on a planet which is mostly water? Stupid. "War of the Worlds" mangled and pureed

After "Signs" came the abomination that was "The Village". I could almost hear Shyamalan's desperation: "Okay, they loved the surprise ending in 'The Sixth Sense', that's what I need to win them back: surprise. Forget logic, forget good dialogue, forget good film-making...give them a surprise. The surprise, unfortunately was broadcast early in the film and when it finally came, the filmgoer felt cheated and abused.

So...the score at this point was two to two. A tie. Good, good...bad..wretched. Surely Shyamalan would stop the bleeding and return to his roots. Surely he would stop trying to write scripts and let someone else write for him. Shyamalan KNOWS how to direct. He just doesn't know how to write.

Enter: "Lady In The Water". A critical and commercial failure. A storyline that stumbles around while being buffeted by theme. Bruised and battered, this film is a mess. One feels that this film will surely keep the studios from giving Shyamalan the freedom he craves. He doesn't know how to handle his freedom.

Michael Bamberger in his book "The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M.Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale ", details the deterioration of Shyamalan as well as his deteriorating relationship with Disney. Shyamalan is obviously his own worst enemy. One quote which has been attributed to the director has him saying that Disney "no longer valued individualism ... no longer valued fighters." Saying this, he left Disney for Warner Brothers. Too bad for Warner Brothers.

One of the New York Post's critics, Lou Lumenick responded to this move and to the movie by saying Shyamalan had "turned into a crackpot with messianic delusions who's one more flop away from directing TV commercials." About the film itself: "A charmless, unscary, fatuous and largely incoherent fairy tale."

I agree. One flop away. Only I don't think it's a question. I think it's a done deal. Shyamlan will make his next disaster and then fall into obscurity. If he is lucky, he may have a chance at a comeback in the next several years. Maybe. Probably not.

So what is that next flop? That last drop into oblivion? Well, at one point there was discussion of him directing the next Indiana Jones film. According to the folks at, that was dismissed by one of Shyamalan's press people, who said: "There was interest, but it just felt like they were trying to throw mud against the wall and see what stuck."

Another rumor, passed on by, is that Shyamalan may have received some consideration for directing the next Harry Potter film. Obviously the rumor was sparked by the director's jump from Disney to WB, who churns out the Potter series.

So what is next? The fact that there is no actual word is significant. I will bet that whatever project emerges that 1) It will have a surprise ending 2) It will feature a strong romantic element with subtexts of faith 3) that it will have numerous archetypes at the forefront and finally 4) That it will be the final nail in Shyamalan's cinematic coffin.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

I agree; the sunject of his next movie will be very interesting for observers.

SQT said...

I think you summed up Shyamlan's career pretty succinctly.

I was pretty impressed with the 6th Sense, it make his and Haley Joel Osment's careers at the time. It's a shame to see it all fall apart.

I can imagine there was a lot of pressure to live up to 6th Sense. But he wouldn't be the first director to run into that. I remember after Pulp Fiction everyone seemed to be holding their breath to see what Quention Tarrantino would do next. Jackie Brown wasn't as good, but it had it's moments IMO. (I loved Robert Forster) And I think he lived up to the promise with the Kill Bill movies.

I think Tarrantion got one thing that Shyamalan didn't; take your time. I think Shyamalan felt rushed to throw something out there and forgot to make sure it was somthing of quality.

Irene said...

I loved The Sixth Sense!

That was an on-spot critique of Shaymlan's works thus far. You're very good! ;p

Stewart Sternberg said...

Thanks Irene..and SQT. I think Tarantino had it in his head to run beneath the surface. He had an indi director/producers' sense of film. Shyamalamadingdong, on the other hand, over reached. He had a hook in Disney and wanted to become a marquee director. He wanted his name above the title.

Steven Spielberg unlike Mel Gibson or Shammy kept himself in perspective. You would never see a promo: "Steven Speilberg's E.T."
Spielberg put the film first.

Look at Indiana Jones. He actually had trouble with the director's guild because he started with the action and pushed a good deal of the credits until the end.

A quick word on Gibson: Mel Gibson's Apocalyptica? Allowing his film to be promo'ed that way was a horrible mistake.

swampwitch said...

OK, so now I'm over my head at a place where I have no business commenting, especially about a movie I never saw. In fact, there are very few movies I've ever sat all the way through to the end. So, I may just come back to read but probably will just let everyone who reads this wonder if I'm an idiot, rather than comment again and remove all doubt.

Stewart Sternberg said...

There is no right or wrong, swampwitch. I always tell my students, "give me your whatever argument you want to lay down, just make sure whatever assertions you make, that you back it up."

swampwitch said...

OK, I felt like this might qualify me to visit again and make a comment, on occasion...I did watch "E.T." several times from start to finish. Does that movie fit into the sci-fi genre or am I going to have to go watch 6th Sense?

SQT said...


E.T. totally qualifies. Like Stewart said, there's no right or wrong. Most of us often disagree anyway.

Mostly it's just all in good fun.

Stewart Sternberg said...

If you ever go to a convention, the arguments start around eleven in the evening and will last into the dawn. Conversations like this:

P:I don't think you can qualify that as science fiction. I think it's better to look at it as splatterpunk and leave it alone.
M: Dude..that is SO science fiction. It takes place in the future and they're running around with ray guns and stuff.
P: Yes, but the blood..the gore..the nihilistic sense that even Jack Black can't qualify as a matinee idol...
M: Jack Black..never splatterpunk.Never. Still it's scifi. Scifi.
P:What if we have inadvertantly stumbled on a new genre?
M: No way...
M: We could call it...splatterscifipunk
P: Yes. We rule

Crunchy Carpets said...

Oh Stewart.....I am killing myself here with the conversation at a convention.


My darling husband used to be invited as a panelist at things like Dragon Con...

I usually went to find the closest bar.

And Yeah...M Knight.....ego ego ego.....kills whatever talent he might have.

He believed his own hype and lets hope he stops his cameos too.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I wrote about the convention stuff...or at least my last experience of it...crunch you might enjoy checking this out:

Sarge Charlie said...

My, my, that is just one fine looking family Miss Sqt

The old sarge

SQT said...

Thank you Sarge!

Alex said...

6th Sense was probably my least favorite Shyamalan film (except for that piece of tripe with Mel Gibson, that I don't even count as one of his films). I much preferred Unbreakable, and the Village was also very good.

Crunchy Carpets said... the convention story.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Ooooh Sqt...I LOVE the photo!!!

SQT said...

Thanks Crunchy! I put it up because Bee over at Muffin53 was curious about what some of us looked like.

I'm a little shy about putting it out there, so it probably won't be up long. But I do like the picture.

Stewart Sternberg said...

SQT..the family is very cute, but I'm feeling a little cheated. I expected blue skin.

DesLily said...

Wow! what a great family shot!!!

I love Haley Joel, and he was so darn good in Sixth Sense!! I'm not a "horror" fan but when i happen to see them (television only as I won't pay to see them lol) I guess I think they are ok (since they didn't cost me I can't complain tooo much)

I wasn't fond of the Village, but Signs was.. well.. entertaining enough i guess. But then I'm not one to look too deeply into many movies.. I just either enjoy the story or am there because of certain actors that i like to watch.

SGT DUB said...

Typically, I watch movies for entertainment purposes and try not to think too much. But I do consier Sign just as good as 6th sense. And the family photo is great! Bee has a way with persuasion.

SQT said...

Yeah Stu, it's kind of a let down after the image of blue skin and red hair. That's why I was a little shy to put it out there. The mystery is a little more fun.

utenzi said...

Michele sent me over.

I liked Sixth Sense a little more than you did but I agree totally with your analysis of Shyamalan's career arc. He had such great potential but he seemed to take the best qualities of Sixth Sense and ignore them in his subsequent films. Unbreakable was okay and everything sense has been annoying at best. The Village heavily depended on the surprise ending but it was obvious from the beginning of the movie that it was contemporary. Sad.

Asara Dragoness said...

First, I want to say that I think the title of this post is hilarious, I've been calling him that since Signs came out. Drives the hubby crazy. So far as the movies go, I actually liked the Village, but a lot of people I have talked to about it hated it profusely. Mostly because they were expecting something like Signs, with big scary aliens, and they didn't get it. Once again my "low" expectations win the day for me, lol. I do think that there could have been less hinting about the whole "secret ending" though, it would have made it a bit more of a nailbiter. I'll probably still see his next try in the theater, in hopes that it's decent.
Awesome pic, Sqt :) We're getting family photos done for the holidays, maybe I'll post one on my blog.. but maybe not.

Lee said...

I just always think, "Gee I hope they invested wisely!"

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

I haven't seen The Villiage, though I do know the secret suprise. Seems to me it was telegraphed a mile away, I knew it from the trailers and from seeing the pre-movie hype.

It would be smart of M. Night to "take it back a notch." Get back to what made his first few movies really work and get away from petty stuff like having an a-hole critic getting eaten by monsters in his movies.

Hey there, Skippy said...

The worst thing that happened to me all year was accidentally seeing The Lady in the Water. I honestly don't know what we were thinking, but it was somethign along the lines, of "this can't possibly be as bad as the promo makes it seem"... and it wasn't. It was far, far, worse.

All of the above notwithstanding, I am faintly disappointed that you don't actually have blue skin.

Smalltown RN said...

OH I am not sure what you are all talking about but..great blog you have here...and love the family christmas photo...I came to see what it was all about from Bee's blog!


Mother Jones RN said...

I loved the 6th Sense. I've felt let down by Shyamlan's later movies.