Review Date: December 30, 2006
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 12/19/2006
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
There will always be art film, and there will always be Hollywood movies. It is those movies that fit uncomfortably between those paradigms that often render the most interesting results. Seventies Hollywood was filled with this imbalance between money and auteur driven pictures. The most interesting anomalies though, are when high profile directors get so big that they are basically given free reign by a studio to spend as much as they want on whatever they want, and the results are usually costly flops, but are they ever interesting. Scorsese’s New York, New York
, Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point
, Bertolucci’s 1900
, Spielberg’s 1941
and of course Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate
are just a few examples of when a director’s esoteric vision results in a bloated je ne sais quoi.
In 2006, there was Lady in the Water
. M. Night Shyamalan, one of the most bankable suspense directors in the business (with four consecutive blockbusters), was given whatever he wanted by new studio Warner Brothers (he had previously only worked with Disney). What was Warner investing in? Another ghost story? Aliens? Historic fantasy? Nope. Warner invested a blind 75 million dollars on a convoluted bedtime story M. Night used to tell to his kids. Yeah, it bombed. Hard. History has been kind to those previous personal follies brought on by big directors, so now that Lady in the Water
is on DVD, will it begin to amass such praise?
Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland Heep, a stuttering loser who has the dubious distinction of running maintenance for the apartment he lives in. In the apartment is a motley crew of seemingly unrelated people. We have one guy who works out only one arm, a father-son team of crossword wizards, a fickle movie critic, a bickering asian mother-daughter pair, a group of lazy stoners, M. Night Shyamalan and some guy who stares at his wall all day long. “They represent America,” Shyamalan later tells us in the supplements, but whatever. So how do all these misfits fit together in Shyamalan’s puzzle? Well, they will all help guide Story to the golden eagle. Duh.
Story (Bryce Dallas Howard
) is the unfortunately-named plot instigator of the title. Cleveland finds her one day in the complex pool, and he takes her to his apartment. Shy and introverted, he is very uncomfortable. Imagine his reaction then, when she disrobes in front of him and says she is a lost sea creature. He has a little doubt believing this, but as a man with a mysterious past himself, he quickly accepts her statements as fact and tries to help her. The verbal goulash she’s been feeding him, stuff about “Narfs”, monkeys and Gmork-like wolves, actually turns out to be very similar to this Asian legend that one of the tenant’s would tell her daughter. Cleveland, despite a language barrier (remember folks, this is “America!”), gets the story out of the Asian tenant, but it turns out to be more complex than initially thought. And much more deadly.
A wolf-like creature lurks just beyond the pool, waiting to feast on Story at her most vulnerable (opting to wear some spike-clad S & M garb would probably be a better choice than walking around naked, Story). He attacks, but Cleveland saves her, barely. The story gets more convoluted when Cleveland must find a special mud to rub on her wounds. Okay. But Cleveland needs to send her back to her people, and the only way to do that is if all the apartment dwellers bind together to take on the rolls dictated by the story. (The) Story needs a guardian, a guild, an interpreter, etc. to be free, and Cleveland must jumble the plot puzzle pieces into some sort of manageable order to make everything work out in the end. And oh yes, deus ex machina will make a stop in, too.
It is so easy to ravage Lady in the Water
because of its sheer convoluted Shyamalanisms. It is impossible to synopsize this in a straight manner, so I have trouble believing in the supplements that everyone thought this was some great work of art based on Shyamalan’s initial treatment. The script too, is on the surface silly, derivative and totally preachy. We have Shyamalan, playing a writer not far from himself, who comes to the realization that his work of fiction will change the world by inspiring an unborn child to eventually lead America. So not only does Shyamalan imply that he is of the caliber to do similar things with his own work (my head still hurts from being beaten endlessly with political metaphors in The Village
), but Shyamalan thinks he can achieve this feat by ripping off a trope from Terminator 2
. Nice. Just to make sure the political uncertainty of America’s involvement in Iraq is made obvious here, Shyamalan has Cleveland fall asleep watching old JFK videos with America in flux. You just keep waiting for Story to carve “No Fate But What We Make” in the lobby picnic table.
Shyamalan’s intentions here are so very obvious and inelegant, but there is a great sincerity to Lady in the Water
. Shyamalan obviously wants to evoke change. He isn’t happy just making Hitchcock flicks; he really wants to make an impact. And it is this battle between his previous formula films and his political hopes that make Lady in the Water
such an intriguing picture. The film is incredibly self-referential, much more so as it progresses, with the film critic and various others pointing out the conventions that are unfolding in this apartment. He pokes fun at the fact that he must resort to the narrative device of having Giamatti speak to himself in internal monologues. Or how, in a PG family film, nobody dies, they just learn valuable lessons. The referentiality is again lacking in subtlety, but if you’ve stuck with Shyamalan this long, you know the closest thing to subtlety Shyamalan gets is his last name. He knows his formula is now transparent, that in the end every insignificant fact will come together for some profound wholeness. But here at least he has the wit to satirize himself while at the same time trying to create something so sincere and impassioned. Like a bedtime story made out of Adaptation.
, here we see Shyamalan cathartically grapple with trying to break free of his suspense pigeon-hole and make a profound political statement. He does neither, but his process is sure fascinating to watch.
Warner presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and like all their new releases, this one looks as beautiful as you’d expect. Crystal clear picture, deep blacks, amazing clarity, stunning detail and whatever other hyperbole you can think of, this has it. When you are used to reviewing cheap slashers from 1980, these new movies look 3D by comparison. Colors could use more punch, the greens in the grass or the multitude of colors each tenant wears aren't brought out with near the color definition as one would expect. Still though, Warner continues to prove that, of all the big studios, they are consistently releasing the best-looking product.
Shyamalan’s films are all ones that make intricate use of surround effects, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track here is no exception. There are a lot of pregnant pauses in the film, and when things like sprinklers going off, or pitter patter in the background suddenly kick up the rears, it makes for quite the nerve-wracking experience. While I wish Warner had offered a track that excluded Giamatti’s incessantly annoying stutter (think the lawyer from My Cousin Vinny, but not played for laughs), they’ve delivered a track that actively recreates the enveloping experience it was hearing this in the theater.
For a film that tanked, Warner has put together a fair bit of extras still for this release. The first supplement is a short 4-minute introduction by Shyamalan. Called “Lady in the Water
: A Bedtime Story”, the featurette starts out with Shyamalan telling the story to illustrations as if he were telling it to his kids. That would have been a great feature, considering how esoteric the actual film is. But instead, the piece quickly turns to promotion, with Shyamalan basically telling us what to expect with his new movie. Yawn.
The biggest extra is a 35-minute featurette, “Reflections of Lady in the Water
”, which is broken into six parts. Here’s a breakdown of the sections: “Intro and the Script”, “The Characters”, “The Look”, “The Location”, “The Creatures”, and “Post and Closing”. Each section delivers exactly what you’d expect from the titles, but there are some interesting additions to make this worth a look. “The Look” offers some really eccentric observations from cinematographer Christopher Doyle, whose concepts are nearly as wack as his tie-dyed t-shirt. “The Location” offers some interesting stop-motion footage of the entire apartment complex being built from scratch, which is quite the feat. “The Creatures” offers a little bit of development footage, but not as much as it could have. Most interesting, surprisingly, is “Post and Closing”, which gives an unorthodox look at the scoring process. It shows composer James Newton Howard working with Shyamalan and an orchestra of hundreds, trying to tinker with the music to make it to their liking. This is a side of cinema not usually shown on supplements, so praise goes to whomever thought to include it. The rest of it is mostly just Shyamalan spelling out his script or the producers and talent telling how good he is.
The disc is rounded off with some pretty unfunny auditions and gag reels, the anticlimactic teaser trailer and the theatrical as well. Deleted scenes are also included, and are featured in very poor non-anamorphic letterbox. There are a few minute-long scenes that are variations on the scenes included in the final film, followed by some random establishing and suspense shots and ending with a few little one-liners that were extensions of other scenes. One of the funnier ones is when one of the stoners says in all seriousness, after being told the Narf’s tale, “Is the story of the three little pigs true, too?” Most of the extras on this set are superfluous, but the featurette is at least worth a look for those who enjoyed the film.
Lady in the Water
is a clunky, laughable, and esoteric film by M. Night Shyamalan, but at the same time it offers something truly unique. It shows Shyamalan wrestling with his signature suspense formula right there on the screen, and in the way he battles with (and pokes fun of) his tropes he shows some maturity as a filmmaker. But it’s still really weird. The image quality is expectedly strong, and the sound too, with some great surround envelopment. The supplements are mostly sleeper material, although there are some nice moments in the six-part documentary. If you like Shyamalan as a filmmaker, and are willing to go out on his limb, then you’ll no doubt find the film fascinating. Those wanting his trademark suspense dramas stay well clear though – this is more Mother Goose than The Three Mothers.
Movie - B
Image Quality - A-
Sound - A-
Supplements - C+
- Running time - 1 hour 49 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
- French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
- English Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- "Lady in the Water: A Bedtime Story" featurette
- "Reflections of Lady in the Water" 6-part documentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Gag Reel
- Teaser trailer
- Theatrical trailer