Studio: Buena Vista
Film Length: 106 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
A message. A warning. A sign...of things to come.
I have come to enjoy watching any film directed
by M. Night Shyamalan. From The Sixth Sense
to Unbreakable, the director has an uncanny
talent for making a highly detailed film where every
shot is deliberate and with purpose. He takes his
time telling his story, slowly building the suspense.
His latest effort, Signs, is perhaps his most
deeply serious thought-provoking film yet.
Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), is a man who has just
lost his wife in an auto accident leaving him to
care for his son Morgan (Rory Calkin) and his
daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin). Graham's brother
Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) joins the group to help
out and live with the threesome. One morning
Graham awakens to the screams of his children from
inside a corn field. When he arrives, he finds
a large number of geometric figures carved into the
family farm. At first pranksters are suspected.
In time, however, signs turn up in a number of
other cities as far away as Bangalore and the family
finds that they are truly not alone.
To say more about this film to anyone that has
not seen it would ruin the surprise. There is no
argument that Shyamalan is a modern-day Hitchcock,
using every camera angle to build tension. The angles
make you feel off-balance, slowly heightening your
fear. In addition, the director brings a wonderful
sense of mood to the screen, accurately portraying
human emotion, with slow determined pacing, and
believable dialogue that is both humorous and touching.
The problem is, the film's payoff is unfulfilling,
with a final conflict that is anti-climactic, almost
unoriginal, and full of a few too many implausibles.
How is the transfer?
Most of you will find this transfer to be very
warm. The picture is rather soft, not very sharp nor
detailed, with a warm color scheme that is void of
any brilliance. This is just fine, as it really sets
the darkened mood of the film. The print is very
clean, although I did notice a low level of grain
amongst the darker scenes and in day lit blue sky shots.
Most of the film takes place in dark surroundings
and I was disappointed to find that these scenes
were a little too dark, and not very detailed. Since
I did not see this movie theatrically, I have no
idea if this was the original intent of the director
to bring such a low level of brilliance or detail
to the transfer. Fortunately, with this kind of
movie, the effect can work in your favor.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is very good, but somewhat
lacking. On the plus side, the rear channels are
used for an amazing degree of spookish sounds. As
the film begins, Graham (Gibson) races through a
cornfield towards the sounds of his screaming
children. The front speakers crisply reproduce the
sounds of brushing stalks as the sounds of insects
penetrate the left and right channels. At the same
time, the sounds of barking dogs can be heard through
the left and right rear channels. The viewer is
ultimately placed in the middle of the action. In
another scene later that night, there's a rather
amusing chase with Graham and Merrill (Joaquin)
across the front yard that ends with rustling noises
on the roof that are eerily reproduced in the rear
channels. It is well directed sounds like these that
add to the film's heightened fear factor.
What is missing here is the effective use of the
film's soundtrack, which stays primarily in the
front channels. In fact, rarely did I notice any
of the film's music surrounding the listening area.
This is a real shame, because doing so would have
made this a top-notch mix even despite the fact that
DTS was considered here.
Signs has been released under Buena
Vista's heralded Vista Series label, which
is a little confusing for the fact that this disc
is nothing out of the ordinary for a DVD release.
It has always been my understanding that this series
would contain a wealth of supplemental material very
much like New Line's platinum or infinifilm
series. Wasn't this amongst the biggest grossing
films of this past year? Why is there an omitting of a
commentary track or even trailers?
So what do we have left?
The DVD begins with a rather spooky animated
menu that shows a family sitting on the couch with
aluminum foiled cone hats and interrupting static.
Making Signs is an entire area devoted to
the film's production broken down into individual
featurettes. Let's look at them....
Looking for signs begins with director M.
Night Shyamalan (who had a cameo in the film) talking
about his process of creating new ideas for his next
film at the same time he is wrapping up a current
project. Excecutive Producer Kathleen Kennedy is just
as much intrigued with the idea of making a movie
based on real life crop circles as was Shyamalan.
Through this film, the director pays homage to
Hitchcock and films like Invasion of the Body
Snatchers, and goes into great detail about the
style and techniques he used to tell his story.
(length: approx. 6 minutes)
Building Signs takes us through a pre-production
meeting in a conference room, thumbnail sketches and
storyboards, to location scouting. All of this is
part of the controlled process that Shyamalan goes
through for all his movies, making sure his movies
are as accurately detailed as possible.
(length: approx. 8 minutes)
Making Signs: A commentary by M. Night Shyamalan
brings us up-and-close to the director who talks about
what it was like to start shooting this film the day
after 9/11. A candlelight vigil was held shortly
before filming began, and Shyamalan was about to meet
Mel Gibson for the very first time. Suffice to say,
it was a day that the director will never forget.
In an interview with Mel Gibson, the actor talks
about the joys of working with Shyamalan as we go
behind the camera and look at some of the film's
most complicated shots. Using storyboards, location
footage, and cast interviews, the director really
gives us a detailed look at how he pieced this film
together. This is one of the most detailed and
interesting production pieces I have watched on a
DVD in a long time. This certainly makes up for
the loss of additional content.
(length: approx. 22 minutes)
The effects of signs examines the subliminal
method of storytelling the director uses in this
film. Though what you see throughout most of this
film is vague, this featurette brings out the details
of creating the aliens. We see many of the earliest
sketches and ideas that were presented, and told that
the creatures were further developed as the film was
being shot. With storyboards, blue screen and CGI
shots we get an idea of how the effects were carefully
(length: approx. 8 minutes)
Last Voices: The music of Signs takes us
on the scoring sound stage where the final process
of the film is now in gear. We watch Shyamalan
work alongside composer James Newton Howard. James
talks about scoring in advance of the filming with
the help of the storyboards he was sent. This is
a fascinating look at how a composer and director
may agree or disagree with a piece of music. While
the composer may see flaws in the way a piece was
performed, the director may love the rawness and
energy that is presented. From that point on, both
men must come to terms on what they feel is the
(length: approx. 8 minutes)
Full Circle begins with Shyamalan talking
about the importance of making a film with a message,
and even just as important, promoting it in the
proper manner. We are taken to Lincoln Center
for the film's premier, and then through the after
shock of the film's success.
(length: approx. 4 minutes)
There are nearly 7 minutes of deleted scenes
that are very short, in raw form, and add no real
value to the film. Actually, I take that back.
There is a rather tense sequence with an alien that
is trying to break through the attic.
Storyboard: multi-angle features takes
us through three primary scenes where you can use
your remote to switch between viewing a sequence
in its final form, in an animated storyboard, or
as originally conceived by the director. You can
also switch between the various sound mixes of
Night's first alien movie may be pretty
awful, but nonetheless, interesting to watch. I
give a lot of credit to Shyamalan for having the
balls to show some of his experimental film work
that he made as a kid. Here, the youngster is
being stalked by a toy robot with a Halloween mask.
(length: approx. 2 minutes)
While some will consider Signs a masterpiece
of mystery and suspense, others will find that the
film's conclusion is rather disappointing in light
of the terrific build-up that led up to it. Perhaps
most all can agree that this is a film that
continually keeps the viewer on the edge of his seat.
It's rather odd that Disney did so little with
a title released under its Vista Series banner.
On the other hand, the quality of supplemental
material here is outstanding -- certainly more
in-depth coverage of the production than seen on
Worth adding to your collection.
Release Date: January 7, 2003
All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality