Our review of Signs (Blu-Ray), published May 30th, 2008, is also available.
It's not like they didn't warn us.
From out of nowhere came director/writer M. Night Shyamalan and his financially lucrative filmmaking talent. In 1999 the guy had a major hit on his hands with the spooky Bruce Willis thriller The Sixth Sense. While his follow-up—the 2000 comic book drama Unbreakable—didn't destroy box office records, it still did respectable business. 2002 saw his alien invasion thriller Signs gross well over $200 million at the box office, due in no small part to the superstar status of leading man Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon, We Were Soldiers) and a creepy promotional campaign ("It's happening"). Signs is now available on DVD as part of Disney/Buena Vista's highly touted "Vista Series."
Facts of the Case
Ex-pastor Graham Hess (Gibson) has had a tough life. First he losses his beloved wife in a car accident. Then aliens invade his farm. Some guys just can't get a break.
Graham lives in his Pennsylvania farmhouse with his two children, Bo (Abigail Breslin) and Morgan (Rory Culkin), and his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator). Suddenly Graham and his family begin to notice crop circles in the middle of their cornfields. The strange thing is that these don't seem to man made…and what's with the weird guy hanging out on the Hess's rooftop? The answer, it seems, is far more terrifying than anyone could have imagined: all over the world crop circles and space ships are showing up which can only mean one thing—aliens are attacking our planet! With little time to spare, Graham must figure out a way to keep his family safe from the monstrous green visitors or risk what may possibly be a deadly "close encounter" with this third kind.
Did you ever see a movie you knew you weren't going to like? I'm not talking about Delta Force VIII or Seduce Me: Pamela Principle 2; no one walks into those kinds of flicks with high hopes for great cinema. No, this time around I'm talking about M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 blockbuster Signs. At RottenTomatoes.com, the film raked in a 77% approval rating, though many friends I talked with thought it was lethargic and boring. After seeing Shyamalan's very looooooooong winded Unbreakable, I had little hope of enjoying Signs.
And so I was a bit surprised to find myself really digging this sci-fi drama. Signs isn't really a movie about aliens (though there are elements of that in the film); that theme is more of an afterthought. What it really focuses on is spirituality and relationships with those we love. Mel Gibson takes a real chance here as Hess, a man who has lost his faith in God through personal tragedy. Gibson is, for me, one of those rare superstars who has box office clout and is also a joy to watch. His performance is often done in silence and facial expressions, and he comes through with shining colors. He's complemented by wonderful performances from Phoenix and youngsters Rory Culkin (brother of Macauley and Kieran) and Abigail Breslin. They all do a great job of displaying the fear and anxiety that might come over anyone should their planet be thrust into hostile alien takeover.
The most fascinating thing about Signs is that it's about aliens taking over the world, yet it doesn't show what most films would. In the action hit Independence Day (a fun popcorn film in its own right), the battles between man and extraterrestrial take place on a gazillion dollar budget—aircraft shoot outs, big explosions, and lots of gooey effects. In Shyamalan's story, the action takes place on a farm in the middle of nowhere. This time around it's all psychological—the fight is in the character's heads. The director often admits that his style is a throwback to Hitchcock, and here the comparison is justified; like the master of the macabre, this story is filled with creepy, tense moments and lots of good scares.
I realize that while Signs was a hit, there were many complaints that the climax and pace were a letdown. True, the film is a bit slow at times, even plodding. Though I was riveted to see what would happen next, I will admit to being more than disappointed at the film's ending. It's as if Shyamalan worked his way on up, then didn't know how to go any higher. For those looking for lots of twists and turns ala the director's last two films, Signs will once again disappoint. But for those searching for a subversive, even meditative science fiction movie, I can wholeheartedly recommend this film.
Signs is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very nice pleasing print, save for a few inconstancies in the image. The biggest was a lack of detail and a small amount of grain that shows up every now and then. Otherwise this is a fine looking transfer that features solid black levels (the film is often very dark and ominous) and bright colors. Overall Buena Vista has done a nice job at making sure this picture is good to great.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Ah, the wonders of a home theater system. Signs utilizes both the front and rear soundstages well with many directional effects and surround sounds bleeding through all of the speakers. There are some tense moments in this film, many of them punctuated by some well placed sound effects. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any hiss or distortion, making this an excellent recording for any TV or sound system. Also included on this disc are English subtitles and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track in French.
While Signs is officially a part of the Buena Vista "Vista Series," I wouldn't really consider this disc to be jam-packed with extra features. A rundown of the supplements that are available on this disc is as follows:
Making Signs: This 58-minute documentary was produced by Laurent Bouzereau, who also worked on Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and the Back To The Future DVD set. The documentary is broken up into various sections: "Looking for Signs" (6:11), "Building Signs" (8:02), "Making Signs" (22:33), "Effects of Signs" (8:31), "Last Voices: The Music of Signs" (8:26) and "Full Circle" (4:48). As you can see, each section lingers on various aspects of the film's production. This is definitely one of the better DVD documentaries out there with interviews by the director, stars Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, production designer Larry Fulton, producers Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Mercer and Frank Marshall, composer James Newton Howard, and more. Some behind-the-scenes footage, info on the creature effects and more pepper this much better-than-average feature.
Deleted Scenes: Five deleted scenes are included, each presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. I think that the director was smart to have trimmed most of these. While somewhat interesting to see, none of them would have added much more to the final cut of the film (and most of them are just quick blips that wouldn't have mattered anyhow).
Multi-Angle Storyboard Presentations: There are three scenes to choose from here. During each scene you can either listen to an isolated score, an isolated effects track, or a final mix, all presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. This was, for me, the best supplement on the disc—I have to admit that Night has a great way with sound effects.
Night's First Alien Movie: Starting with an introduction by Night himself, this is a short one minute clip from Night's first alien themed film called "Pictures." Needless to say, it's crude and boring (the "alien" in question is a Halloween mask set on top of a remote control robot). This may be interesting for you M. Night completists; for the rest of us, it's a skipper.
As Jim Nabors might say, "Surprise, sur-PRISE!" I was bowled over by Signs and how enthralling it was. It almost wipes away the bad memories of Unbreakable…almost. Buena Vista's work on this disc is good, though not great.
Shhhh! Did you hear that…outside…in the corn…
Signs is acquitted on most charges stemming from its creepy atmosphere and fine performances.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
• "Making Signs" Featurette
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