Our review of The Sixth Sense (Blu-Ray), published October 13th, 2008, is also available.
"I see dead people."
The Sixth Sense accomplished something that isn't all that easy to do these days, in these times of media saturation, commercial blitzes, and intense marketing. There were no obvious hooks in this film, no plethora of heavily publicized huge names, special effects houses' work, or even a marketing campaign with amazed children in a museum. Rather, The Sixth Sense achieved the elevation of cultural phenomenon because of a wizardly directorial effort by newcomer M. Night Shyamalan (Wide Awake).
At the time of this writing, The Sixth Sense has put itself into the number ten spot on the All Time North American box office lists, displacing The Empire Strikes Back to do so. That's an amazing achievement for a film that wasn't really on radar prior to its release. It represents a deep satisfaction with the film, as all the films on the top of this chart are considered treasured films by most. To do so with such alacrity is simply magical.
Newcomer Shyamalan had an extremely difficult job when he came in to handle this script, which he also wrote. The story ultimately required him to produce performances, situations, and intentions that could be validly interpreted in two different ways. Because of the film's "secret," it needed to play out a certain way as the audience watched it for the first time. Once the film has been viewed in its entirety, viewers watch it again, or think back, and see the dualism laid bare for them to enjoy.
The result of The Sixth Sense was a very skillful directorial effort from Shyamalan. It's really a shame he was recently passed over in favor of Sam Mendes (American Beauty) for a directorial Oscar, because it can be argued to bring a film to market in this day and age without "spoiling" the story and plot, or without tipping the direction off in the telling, is almost impossible.
Regardless of any thoughts one way or another on the 1999 Oscars race, The Sixth Sense is a compelling story told on the back of one little boy. Haley Joel Osment (Forrest Gump, TV's Murphy Brown) was only eleven when he auditioned for, and won, the role of Cole Sear. The character was complex, far more complex than those almost always offered to child actors. To be more specific, the complexity of Cole was right up there with the best of roles many adult actors receive.
As the film was based entirely on Osment's character, it easily could have come off as a farce, without credibility, drama, or even charm, had Osment been just another child actor grinding it out on the face of child cuteness. Instead, Osment stepped up with an Oscar nominated performance that has earned him praise from many quarters of Hollywood, and ensured his name will be on casting lips for years to come. Paired with Bruce Willis (Die Hard, Armageddon) as child psychologist Malcolm Crowe, and Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding, Emma, Velvet Goldmine) as his mother, viewers are placed in the world Cole lives in.
Cole has a secret. He sees dead people. Discussing The Sixth Sense is always difficult for critics, because to fully discuss it entails the very real possibility of spoiling the film for those who have managed to avoid taking in a showing of the film yet. To risk telling viewers too much, and therefore perhaps tipping them where they should be giving extra attention during the film. For those who have not yet seen The Sixth Sense, it should merely be said the point isn't to try and figure the plot twist out before its revealed, but rather to simply enjoy the magnificent storytelling effort.
The Sixth Sense marks a possible turning point in Disney's relationship with DVD consumers. Up until now, the association has been very turbulent, marred by mispackaged discs, poorly mastered discs, sets lacking in additional material, and high prices. As a major release receiving a high level of media attention, Disney had a chance to really step up to the plate for DVD.
Gladly, Disney made a good call with the disc, and has finally delivered the full treatment DVD enthusiasts have been hungering for. It begins with an absolutely perfect anamorphic transfer of the video. As a recent film, there's no excuse for the transfer to lack in any way, and it doesn't. Colors are very defined, edges are crisp and natural, and there aren't any instances of degradation or pixelation. Paired to this is a very clear, distinct audio transfer. The soundstage is pretty full and expansive, using the surrounds very discretely to provide atmosphere, while the rest of the system provides a clear stage for voices and dialogue to come forward to the viewer.
However, Disney didn't stop there, as they have so many times in previously released discs. The Sixth Sense comes with a variety of extras, additional material for the consumer to enjoy. Also included are a discussion featurettes titled: Storyboard to Film comparison, The Cast, Music and Sound Design, Reaching the Audience, Rules and Clues, Deleted Scenes, and an interview with director Shyamalan. Each uses interview footage, and leans heavily on comments by the director and producer to provide clarification, illumination, and a more detailed understanding of the nooks and crevices of Sixth Sense's story and production. This footage is enthralling, and is a welcome addition for fans. Also included are publicity materials (trailers and commercials for the film), and also biographies on the cast and filmmakers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While there are many nice things about this disc, there are a few points of contention. Primarily, it is unfortunate a commentary track with director Shyamalan, or the stars (Osment, Willis, Collette) couldn't be included; for a story with such depth as The Sixth Sense, it really could have been extremely enthralling to hear it discussed in detail. Also, while the soundstage is nicely done, it could have stood a bit more depth, to have made more expansive use of the speakers and surrounds to widen it around the listener. This isn't to say the above comments praising it are wrong, the sound is very well done, and quite enjoyable; but it would have been nicer to hear it with slightly more dynamic presentation.
Fortunately, these complaints are tempered by the so many other things that ended up done well on this disc. It's a pleasant experience to have such wonderful fallbacks to assuage thoughts of what could have been.
The Sixth Sense is, again, a cultural phenomenon. It represents a wonderfully told story, a story with depth and subtly hardly seen in today's Hollywood. Osment is beginning what hopefully will be a long and fruitful career. Both Willis and Collette are receiving well-deserved recognition, which will further their future efforts. The entire cast is to be commended, as are the filmmakers for keeping their fingers out of the cooking long enough for a masterpiece to be created. The story will live on with us for years to come.
Disc and film are acquitted on all counts, and the court thanks Disney for showing what it can get done when it decides to put a properly made DVD out. Here's hoping the trend continues in the future.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
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