Plot: What’s it about?
One of the unexpected hits of the last year (financially speaking, of course) was the third installment from M. Night Shyamalan; who we know from The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Though I’m not really a fan of his work, I admit that he’s a great writer and director, so it was with some hesitation, yet excitement that I approached the film. I mean when a film rakes in over 200 million dollars domestically, something has to be working…right? The truth is that the pop-cultural phenomenon of these crop circles (that have appeared everywhere, even on a Led Zeppelin album) are about ten years old, and I know they go back further, but it’s just old news. I was, however, intrigued that someone was actually putting a spin on them and would try to make sense of the whole thing. If you’re watching the movie for that reason, then stay away as your questions most likely won’t be answered. Signs is more of an alien movie and about human emotion than anything cultural and mysterious. And here’s why.
Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) has a family in a small Pennsylvania town. He used to be the local reverend, but has since lost his faith since the tragic death of his wife (an event shown in some graphic detail later on in the movie). Graham is still a good person, but doesn’t have his beliefs anymore. Working as a farmer, he, his two kids and younger brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) eek out a living. Graham has had a strange occurrence in his farm though, in the sense that mysterious crop circles have appeared overnight. These have been reported all over the world and he wants to get to the bottom of the whole deal. It’s not long after these circles have appeared that strange alien lights start appearing all over the world "…less than one mile from the places where the circles appeared…". So we wait for the alien ship to appear in Pennsylvania and sure enough, it does. At this point, the town (and the world, for that matter) starts to go bezerk. It’s also at this point that we catch a glimpse of one of the aliens, though not scary we don’t know what will happen.
The film makes no secret of drawing from some cult movies of the past, namely The Birds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Night of the Living Dead. Though these are all far superior movies (does this guy think he’s the next Hitchcock?), Signs does have an audience of its own. Also, in somewhat of an odd occurrence, Shymalan has cast himself in somewhat of a major role. He’s a good actor, better than most directors for sure, but its still rather odd. While the movie left me rather underimpressed, I still struggle to figure out how the film did so well financially. Everyone I’ve spoken to (before and after I’ve seen it) has had mixed things to say about it. And though, as I mentioned before, I’m not the biggest fan of his work to begin with, this seemed more like an internal struggle of humans as opposed to any alien science-fiction movie. Still, the movie has its audience and if you’re one of the legions of fans of M. Night Shymalan, then you’ll buy the DVD regardless of what I have to say!
Video: How does it look?
For a THX certified disc, the transfer for the movie looks awful. Yes, downright bad. The 1.85:1 image is anamorphic, and being a new to DVD movie, you’d figure that it would rank right up there with the rest of Buena Vista’s releases. This is not the case. I saw grain and some artifacting throughout the entire movie and the shots seem very over-saturated, giving everyone a burned look to them. Detail level is good in some scenes, but there seemed to be a slight gauze that the film was shot through (not really, but that’s the closest I can come to describing how this looks). I was disappointed, to say the very least and hope that sometime in the future that they’ll do this film justice (though I won’t buy it even then). This isn’t unwatchable, by any means, but I was expecting a lot more from Disney.
Audio: How does it sound?
Another blow here as well, as most of the Vista Series releases have had dual DTS and Dolby Digital tracks, this only contains the latter. The separation is good, but the film seems a bit on the quiet side. Then again, Shymalan’s films aren’t really known for their audio quality, he seems to make you pay more attention to the details and I suppose that’s what it’s all about. Dialogue is very clean, with no signs of distortion, and while the front channels house most of the action, the rear speakers kick in at the most opportune times to accentuate the action. Though those times are rather few and far between. Not the best soundtrack, but for what it is, it sounds good.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Again, this is labeled as a "Vista Series" release, but the supplements don’t really amount to much. Comparing this to the Pearl Harbor release (which took at least a half a day for me to get through the supplements), there really is no comparison. The hour long documentary is the most prominent feature, but it’s actually six featurettes that compose it. Starting off with "Looking for Signs", "Building Signs", "Effects of Signs", "Lost voices: The music of Signs" and "Full Circle". As you might imagine, this encompasses about everything you’d want to know about the making of the movie and it’s not wrapped up in one little "Making of…" featurette, they actually do explain a lot about how the production was halted due to 9/11 and other things. There are also some deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut, most are short except "Alien in the Attic" which actually was pretty good and should have been in the movie. Some storyboard sequences and Shymalan’s first "Alien Movie" are also included. Though I personally didn’t like the movie that much (it wasn’t bad, just didn’t live up to the hype), the audio and video were sub-par as were the supplements; this won’t discourage die hard fans of the genre. For the rest, a rental is recommended.