M. Night Shyamalan
Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver
, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, John Christopher Jones
M. Night Shyamalan
Run. The truce is ending.
The Village depicts the thrilling tale of an isolated town confronting the astonishing truth that lies just outside its borders. At first glance, this village seems picture perfect, but this close-knit community lives with the frightening knowledge that creatures reside in the surrounding woods. The evil and foreboding force is so unnerving that none dare venture beyond the borders of the village and into the woods. But when curious, headstrong Lucius Hunt plans to step beyond the boundaries of the town and into the unknown, his bold move threatens to forever change the future of the village.
$50.746 million on 3730 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Runtime: 108 min.
Release Date: 1/11/2005
• “Deconstructing The Village” Documentary
• Deleted Scenes
• “Bryce’s Diary” Featurette
• “M. Night’s Home Movie”
• Production Photo Gallery
• Sneak Peeks
• THX Optimizer
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The Village (2004)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 23, 2004)
Many folks know about the “even/odd” curse that allegedly affects Star Trek movies. Maybe the same hex sits over the head of director M. Night Shyamalan. In 1999, his first major movie - The Sixth Sense - emerged as a major sensation and heralded the young filmmaker as a notable talent. He followed it up with 2000’s Unbreakable, a flick that fell far short of its predecessor’s level of success. While Sense raked in a remarkable $293 million, Unbreakable mustered a less impressive $94 million, and much of that was front-loaded. The movie made most of its money in its first couple of weeks – it snared nearly a third of its gross in its opening weekend - and didn’t maintain strong legs.
Shyamalan rebounded with 2002’s Signs. No, it didn’t prove as big a smash as Sense, but it came as close as anyone might hope. It got a better audience response than Unbreakable and pulled in a very satisfying $227 million.
With his fourth film, 2004’s The Village, Shyamalan returned to the pattern seen with Unbreakable. Largely due to the director’s reputation, it scored well right out of the box, but apparently moviegoers didn’t think a lot of it, as it sputtered fairly quickly. It ended up with a gross of $114 million, almost half of which entered the coffers opening weekend; that’s another pretty good haul, but it didn’t live up to expectations.
Perhaps that’s because The Village itself fell short of expectations. Warning: my discussion of the film will include some potential spoilers. I prefer to avoid such material, but it’s tough to discuss a movie like this and not reveal plot points. If you’d like to skip them, jump to the technical section now.
The Village takes place in a small secluded town in an unestablished time period that seems no more recent than the late 19th century. The villagers keep themselves far removed from outsiders, apparently because of a monstrous menace that lurks in the bordering woods. We hear that creatures referred to as “Those We Don’t Speak” of reside there and they’ll slaughter any humans who enter. The two sides seem to have maintained a truce for some time now, however.
Without modern amenities, some villagers die unnecessarily. After the son of “elder” August Nicholson (Brendan Gleeson) passes due to illness, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) wants to travel through the forbidden woods and go to the nearest town to retrieve medicine to prevent similar tragedy in the future. The elders - who also include Edward Walker (William Hurt) and his mother Alice - decline this request, as they think it’s unwise for anyone to venture out of their boundaries.
Despite the apparent truce between the two sides, some weird occurrences start to happen. Small animals turn up skinned, and eventually we see that one of Those crosses the borders and puts red stripes on the doors to some homes. A few addition incursions take place and leave the villagers scared.
In the meantime, we get to know some of the characters better. Blind Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) falls for Lucius, and once her older sister Kitty (Judy Greer) gets herself a man, Ivy’s free to snare Lucius. The pair engage in a rather low-key romance that bothers her friend, village idiot Noah Percy (Adrien Brody).
He becomes jealous and takes it out on Lucius. The mentally-incapacitated Noah stabs Lucius and leaves him near death. Ivy pleads to be allowed to head toward town to get medicine to save Lucius, and her father eventually agrees without the consent or knowledge of the other elders. The rest of the film examines the twists and turns that accompany her quest.
After four movies, Shyamalan risks turning into a one-trick pony. With The Sixth Sense, he set himself up as the director who startles the audience with an unexpected surprise at some point during the flick. This restricts his ability to shock since we always expect such an event to occur.
Perhaps to subvert these expectations, Village utilizes two separate major twists. Actually, one of these counts as an “un-twist”, for it deflates certain audience expectations. The other comes as a more impressive surprise. The movie may offer some clues, but I didn’t see it coming.
Unfortunately, all the turns act as too little, too late. The “un-twist” really does puncture the movie, partially due to expectations caused by promotion. We’re caused to see that the movie will follow a certain path and genre, so when it doesn’t, we feel let down and misled.
I suppose I can’t blame Shyamalan for the advertising related to his movie, though I’m sure he signs off on it. Nonetheless, even if I try to view The Village outside of that context, it fails to turn into anything very interesting. I get the sense that Shyamalan has become trapped by his success. He’s so well-known as the guy with the major twists that it’s tough for him to make a movie without any.
In the case of The Village, this leads to events that don’t meld naturally with the story. The interpersonal relationships are its main component, and I feel like Shyamalan really wants to make a movie in that vein but he can’t break away from expectations. He’s turned into a brand name with all the requirements that go along with such a status. That’s good in that it gives him much more clout than one might expect from a still relatively inexperienced director, but it’s bad because it pigeonholes him.
The Village leaves the impression that Shyamalan needs the gimmicks because he can’t tell a compelling character-based story. That may be unfair; Sixth Sense and Signs succeeded for reasons not solely connected to their twists. However, both offered intriguing plots, something largely absent from The Village.
Sure, the concept of the town surrounded by monsters sounds cool, but the movie does exceedingly little to explore the subject. Instead we focus on the characters, almost all of whom seem uninteresting. Ivy fares the best, and Howard makes her quirky enough to stand out from the crowd. She does a bad job at playing blind - I never believed that she couldn’t see - but Howard manages to make her slightly more than two-dimensional.
Unfortunately, despite a cast with two Oscar winners and two others who’ve received nominations, the rest of the actors don’t bring much life to their roles. I suspect the blame remains with Shyalaman, since he’s not great with the character elements of his movies. He can move a plot along nicely and create an intriguing mystery, but when he attempts to tell a human drama, I want to pull out a pillow and nap.
I got that impression much too frequently with The Village. It promises thrills it fails to deliver, and it lacks the depth to allow it to prosper as a drama. The twists in its third act aren’t enough to redeem this slow-paced film.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+
The Village appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie failed to provide an exemplary transfer, but it usually appeared good.
For the most part, sharpness looked positive. Some wider spots displayed a smidgen of softness, but nothing terrible occurred. Instead, the flick mostly came across with nice definition and clarity. While I saw no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, mild to moderate edge enhancement popped up during the movie. No source flaws occurred. A little grain crept into the image, which was to be expected in the darker shots. That was it, as no defects were visible.
The story required a restricted palette, and the movie delivered one. Reds appeared only during specific times, as more somber hues dominated. Yellows and greens came to the forefront and looked very good. The occasional examples of reds or other tones also worked well, as the colors seemed distinctive and lively. Blacks looked dense and dark, while shadows were appropriately opaque but not too thick. Without the sharpness and edge enhancement issues, this would have been an excellent transfer.
Given the film’s lack of much action, the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack remained subdued most of the time. The mix emphasized general atmosphere and only occasionally kicked into higher gear. The movie’s scares brought out the best in the track, as they added some dimensionality to the proceedings. These didn’t occur frequently, though, so don’t expect much in the way of showy audio.
The surrounds usually just supported matters and didn’t contribute much unique material. In the front, we got a nice sense of environment, however, and the mix blended well. It didn’t dazzle, but it created a reasonably effective setting for the story.
Normally that wouldn’t be enough for a “B+” rating, but the quality of the audio impressed me enough to warrant that grade. Speech consistently came across as natural and crisp, with no signs of edginess or issues connected to intelligibility. Effects sounded concise and accurate, and they boasted nice depth when appropriately. The most impressive elements came from the score. It seemed unusually robust and bold, as the music played an active and dynamic role in the proceedings. Although the soundfield never becomes very aggressive, the track worked well enough as a whole to get a “B+”.
As we launch into the DVD’s extras, we start with Deconstructing The Village. In this 25-minute and eight-second documentary, we see movie snippets, shots from the set, and interviews. We get notes from writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan, costume designer Ann Roth, producer Sam Mercer, associate producer Jose L. Rodriguez, re-recording mixers Robert Fernandez and Michael Semanick, supervising sound editors Steve Boeddeker and Frank Eulner, editor Christopher Tellefson, creature designer Crash McCreery, composer James Newton Howard, and actors William Hurt, Celia Weston, Brendan Gleeson, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cherry Jones, Judy Greer, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, and Sigourney Weaver. We learn about the movie’s genesis and development, the choice of time period and setting, finding a location and creating the sets, the flick’s visual design and cinematography, working with the actors and bonding on the set, the costumes, problems with the weather, shooting in the woods, casting, the actors’ “boot camp”, editing and storyboards, audio design, the score, and the movie’s creatures.
”Deconstructing” follows the production in a rather jagged manner. It flits from topic to topic without much logic and occasionally comes across like a series of loosely connected featurettes. It tosses out some good information at times, and the elements from the set offer nice insight. It’s cool to see what Howard went through on the set, such as when they dumped mud all over her. I like the part about “boot camp”, as it shows the background training for the actors. The final component that shows the various designs for the creatures also works well. However, the lack of coherence combines with too much fluff and happy talk to make this a mediocre documentary.
After this comes a collection of four deleted scenes. When viewed via the “Play All” function, these fill 11 minutes and three seconds. These include “The Drill”, “August’s Story”, “Pre-Wedding”, and “Pipes”. All of them come with introductions from Shyamalan as he tells us about the sequences and why he cut them. These mostly consist of additional character moments, though the first shows us preparations for creature attacks and the last adds to the climactic sequence. Given the movie’s slowness, I don’t miss any of these.
An interesting component appears via Bryce’s Diary. In this four-minute and 59-second piece, we hear excerpts from the actor’s journal. She reads these snippets that give us a look at her perspective on her experiences related to the movie. A lot of these comments tend toward general fluff, such as when she praises her costars or babbles about her excitement. There’s not a lot of content on display here.
For the final video feature, we get M. Night’s Home Movie. We’ve seen similar elements on prior Shyamalan DVDs, as the three-minute and five-second snippet gives us a look at one of the director’s childhood works. Here we see an amusingly cheesy take on Raiders of the Lost Ark.
A Production Photo Gallery presents 38 pictures. They mix shots from the set and some promotional images. We also get a look at a few sets on their own. Nothing exciting pops up here.
A few ads open the DVD. We get promos for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Ladder 49, and Mr. 3000. These also appear in the package’s Sneak Peeks domain along with a trailer for National Treasure.
Lastly, 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 or the Optimode. 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.
Hopefully director M. Night Shyamalan will rebound with his fifth film. Unfortunately, his fourth, 2004’s The Village, stands as his worst effort. The movie lacks a coherent feel and relies too much on its twists to satisfy the audience. The DVD presents generally strong picture and audio plus an unexceptional smattering of extras. I didn’t think much of The Village, as it’s a disappointment from the generally reliable Shyamalan.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.0428 Stars|| Number of Votes: 70|