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M. Night Shyamalan
Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones
Writing Credits:
M. Night Shyamalan

It's Not Like They Didn't Warn Us.
Box Office:
Budget $62 million.
Opening weekend $60.117 million on 3264 screens.
Domestic gross $227.267 million.
Rated PG-13 for some frightening moments.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, French

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 1/7/2003

• “Making Signs
• Deleted Scenes
• Night’s First Alien Film
• Storyboards Multi-Angle Feature
• THX Optimizer

Score soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Signs (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 23, 2002)

On any list of the All-Time Crummiest Songs, 1971’s “Signs” by Five Man Electrical Band merits a high ranking. Along with the film Harold and Maude from the same year, this clunker tune flaunted the worst tendencies of the hippie movement. With its smug extolling of absolute freedom and no recognition of personal responsibility, the track makes me sick.

”Signs” enjoys no connection whatsoever with Signs, the 2002 film from M. Night Shyamalan, but man, do I hate that song!

In Signs, we focus on Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a single father whose wife died in a gruesome car accident six months earlier. A former clergyman, Graham abandoned his faith after her demise. He lives with his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) – a failed baseball player who could pound the long ball but who struck out far too frequently to become a star – plus kids Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin).

Life in their rural world takes a turn for the weird when the kids discover a massive crop circle on their farm. Initially, Graham assumes that this occurred due to the shenanigans of some local goofballs, but he eventually learns that more extremes powers are at work as additional circles crop up (ha!) all around the world. Many believe that aliens created them, but the firmly earth-bound Graham refuses to accept that until he can’t ignore the signs (ha again!)

From there the film follows the actions of the aliens and their impact on Graham and his kin. The movie takes a fairly limited focus. We see the outside world only via TV; Shyamalan maintains a heavy emphasis on how the family deals with the threat. This allows for much introspection as well, as Graham tries to deal with his rejection of God after the death of his wife.

All of that sounds pretty heavy, and Signs indeed presents some reasonably deep theological and philosophical issues. None of these receive terrific exploration, but it nonetheless seems refreshing to find a summer blockbuster that even bothers to bring up such topics at all.

Not that Shyamalan makes Signs such a think piece that it comes at the expense of fun. He sets up the film in a clever manner that leaves the intentions of the aliens obscure until the last possible minute. Will they offer the gentle, friendly kinds found in flicks like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET the Extra-Terrestrial or will we find the much more malevolent sorts seen in Independence Day? Shyamalan won’t tell until he absolutely must.

Cleverly, he quotes those films fairly directly, which further messes with our expectations. For example, the alien vessels take up residency over the world’s cities in a manner very reminiscent of ID4, while a near meeting with a space monkey in Graham’s fields heavily echoes a segment from ET. This alternating tone helps keep the viewer off-guard and makes the expository elements of the film go by more effectively.

Shyamalan also sprinkles the film with some nice humor. Given the flick’s core debate about faith, it needs some comedy, and these moments integrate well with the drama and tension. Shyamalan doesn’t seem to toss them in gratuitously, and they remain so low-key that they never threaten to distract us.

Actually, “low-key” may be the best word to describe Shyamalan as a filmmaker, as his movies always seem to be fairly quiet and subdued. This works for the fairly stoic community seen in Signs, and I really like the emphasis on the small-scale impact of the alien presence. Rather than go for a global viewpoint, we just see what happens to the Hess family, and Shyamalan nicely avoids the natural tendency to make them key elements in the worldwide reaction to the aliens. Their roles stay local, and that makes the film all the more effective. After all, not everyone will become the person to save the planet.

While The Sixth Sense likely will always remain M. Night Shyamalan’s best-known movie, I think Signs provides a more satisfying experience. It provides a solid look at an old subject as it toys with audience expectations. Those components – plus an underlying depth most films in the genre lack – help make Signs quite fresh and involving.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B+ / Bonus B

Signs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though much of the movie looked fine, some problems occurred that made the picture less than stellar.

Sharpness varied but usually remained acceptable. At times, the picture seemed softer and fuzzier than I’d expect. These instances didn’t happen frequently, and they also didn’t appear major, but they popped up periodically and made the film seem less defined than normal. Neither jagged edges nor moiré effects caused concerns, some light edge enhancement seemed present at times. As for print flaws, the movie was a little grainier than normal, and I also noticed occasional examples of specks and grit.

Colors looked a bit dense at times. Parts of the movie showed a nice balance, but on other occasions, I thought the tones came across as moderately thick and muddy. For the most part, the colors were accurate and distinct, but some of these concerns did occur. Black levels seemed nicely deep and solid, but shadow detail was somewhat erratic. Most low-light shots showed appropriate definition, but a few others looked a little too dark and opaque. In the end, most of Signs looked positive, but the mix of small concerns knocked my grade down to a more average “B-“.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Signs seemed more positive. It presented a soundfield that generally emphasized the forward channels, but it opened up very well at times. The mix showed good stereo music along with a clean and accurate atmosphere from the front. Much of the time, the movie featured simple environmental audio; the low-key nature of the story didn’t require much from the surrounds, though they demonstrated solid ambience during the shots in the fields. The rear speakers really added to the film whenever the aliens became more active in the story. Those critters scampered all around the spectrum cleanly and effectively, and those elements helped make the movie creepier.

While the film’s soundfield usually seemed somewhat subdued, the high quality of the audio made Signs work better. Dialogue always sounded natural and warm, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects appeared lifelike and accurate, with no signs of distortion. Music presented the strongest elements of the mix, as the score appeared bright and lively, with excellent dynamics. Across the board, bass response sounded tight and deep. Ultimately, the soundtrack of Signs fell short of “A” level due to a lack of ambition, but it still worked well for the movie and also sounded great.

For this VISTA series release of Signs, we find a mix of extras. First we encounter Making Signs, a documentary split into six sections. These can be viewed as individual featurettes that last between four minutes, 48 seconds and 22 minutes, 33 seconds, or you can take them in all at once with the “Play All” option. Totaled together, the whole program lasts 58 minutes and 52 seconds. The pieces mix a few movie scenes with shots from the set and interviews. In the latter realm, we hear from writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan, producers Frank Marshall and Sam Mercer, executive producer Kathleen Kennedy, storyboard artist/second unit director Brick Mason, production designer Larry Fulton, visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig, composer James Newton Howard, and actors Mel Gibson, Cherry Jones, Joaquin Phoenix, Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin.

Overall, “Making” offers a good look at the production. It covers the film from the beginning, as Shyamalan relates his approach to new projects as well as his take on the concept and some of his influences. We then go through the visual planning for the movie, location scouting, developing the house and crop circles, and other elements. After that, we see elements that relate to specific scenes and different parts of the shoot, and we also get segments that focus on visual effects, the music, and reactions to the flick. I particularly like the parts that explore the creature effects as well as Shyamalan’s requirements for the ad campaign. The documentary seems satisfying and informative.

The Deleted Scenes area includes five clips. These rune between 21 seconds and five minutes, seven seconds for a total of seven minutes, 46 seconds of footage. Nothing particularly exciting appears here, though the single long sequence adds a little more tension of the family’s attempts to deal with the aliens.

We find a mix of options in the Multi-Angle Storyboards area. For two different scenes, you can flip between the filmed storyboards and the shots from the final film. You can also select from three different audio options: 5.1 final mix, 5.1 score only, and 5.1 effects only. The first clip – “Graham, the Knife, and the Pantry” – lasts two minutes, 58 seconds, while the other – “Graham and Merrill Chase the Unknown Trespasser” – runs two minutes, 13 seconds. The varying choices make this a nice addition to the set.

You gotta give Shyamalan one thing – he’s not afraid to have a laugh at his own expense. As with the first DVD of The Sixth Sense (but not the VISTA version) as well as Unbreakable, Signs includes a snippet of a flick taped by Shyamalan as a kid. Here we find 77 seconds of Pictures. The director provides a 60-second intro and then we watch the movie segment itself. When he denigrates the product, he ain’t kidding; this is some hilariously bad stuff, especially due to the presence of the slowest-moving alien threat ever seen. Still, it offers a fun and entertaining extra.

In addition to a booklet that details the disc’s supplements, we find the THX Optimizer program. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.

When I saw Signs theatrically, I found it offered a pleasant surprise in that it seemed more tense and exciting than I expected. The same went for my second screening when I got the DVD. Signs held up quite well to an additional viewing, as it continued to present a taut and well-executed tale. The DVD features somewhat bland picture along with fairly solid sound and a somewhat small but reasonably interesting set of extras. Nothing about the DVD of Signs hits one out of the park, and it certainly seems like a lackluster release compared to other VISTA titles like Pearl Harbor, but the combination of generally good quality and a fine movie makes it a winner.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9112 Stars Number of Votes: 124
26 3:
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