Posted January 09 2005 - 11:50 AM
|RunTime:||108 minutes |
|Aspect Ratio:||16x9 encoded 1.85:1 |
|Audio:||5.1 DD EX English, 5.1 DD French |
|Subtitles:||English, Spanish, French |
|SpecialFeatures:||Deleted Scenes, Deconstructing the Village (making of Documentary), Bryce’s Diary, M. Night’s Home Movie, Photo Gallery |
|ReleaseDate:||January 11, 2004|
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village
is another successful, if not perfect, installment along his film-career journey. It creatively combines elements of period storytelling, cinematic style, suspense, innocence, and courage into (what I consider to be) an achievement that is moving, provocative, and disturbing. On one level, The Village is a story of human love, presented with an almost-unusual tone authenticity seldom felt in modern film. There is something uncommonly “pure” about the way in which Shyamalan’s characters express themselves both in manner and in speech. The gentleness of the character story is uncomfortably set against the shadow of an undefined perversity that becomes more chilling as the story unfolds. In typical Shyamalan fashion, expect to have your conclusions turned upside down…several times.
Acting is superb, and some rather well-known folks (Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Adrien Brody, Joaquin Phoenix) do an outstanding job of disassociating their appearances in the film from the “baggage” of their many previous roles and perfectly fuse into the community of characters in this story with understated performances that are exemplary. Their performances are so solidly “real” that the viewer is easily able to let go of the association-agenda that usually plagues such attempts to meld well-known figures into unassuming roles; their effectiveness gives the viewer the opportunity to appreciate these fine actors in a fresh and like-new manner. The lead character of Ivy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), a sight-impaired girl, is played impeccably, and Bryce effortlessly draws the viewer into the relationships that construct the story, resulting in an emotional involvement that develops naturally without feeling forced.
So what’s The Village about? Like Shyamalan’s other films (Sixth Sense), the less you know about The Village the more effective the film’s impact will be. So please allow me to suffice to say that the story centers around a rural 19th Century town and the unusual, and unsettling, circumstances surrounding its inhabitants. The film is not perfect, and there were a few instances where I found myself at odds with the manner in which Shyamalan chose to present certain story elements and events…in most cases my misgivings had to do with decisions about timing rather than content:
For instance, when the one ‘of whom they do not speak’ falls down into the pit, I found it disappointing to discover the creature’s identity in that same scene…I would rather have had the tension and sense of anxiety maintained until the end of the film…which would have, in my opinion, been more effective and been more “Sixth Sense”-like. Also, the end “hurrah” where everything suddenly falls into place and all mysteries are revealed seems a bit less-elegant than the Sixth Sense’s epiphany and may not provide such a leak-proof summation. Though, none of this dispels the successfulness of the film…it only hints at how it might have been improved.
In any case, much like Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense
, The Village is very good about keeping true to its own set of rules (though not quite as rigorously as the Sixth Sense), and the various layers of perception that can be used to interpret the events as they unfold (again, like The Sixth Sense) make rewatching the film almost as rewarding as the first-time virgin experience. In my opinion, that’s what sets Shyamalan’s suspense films so distinctively apart from so many other mystery films…his ability to portray events that can be legitimately viewed through multiple lenses of interpretation…one feels compelled to watch his films more than once to see if the premise “really works” once the connective threads of reality have been revealed. The Village has the potential to entertain viewers as an entirely different film upon each viewing, as audience members draw more and more information out which provides a new basis for interpretation each time through.
While I still view The Sixth Sense
as Shyamalan’s best film, I rank The Village a close second…flowed more distantly by Signs (which I honestly found a bit disappointing) and having not yet seen Unbreakable, I cannot comment. Some folks think that The Village is Shyamalan’s weakest film but I heartily disagree—I think that The Villiage is a film that takes more cooperation to enjoy…The Sixth Sense was excellent but allowed the viewer to remain comfortably passive, whereas The Village seems to demand a bit more mental participation and a more open-mind to fully enjoy. Shyamalan’s writing and direction breathe a welcome wind of creativity into modern film-making with a real manifestation of suspense
founded on intelligent presentation (like the classics of this genre—avoiding the Hollywood-temptation to fall prey to shallow devices of gore and violence). If you enjoy suspense/mystery films, thought-provoking storylines, period films, or simply cannot decide which title to put next into your NetFlix queue, I’ve got your answer.
In reading HTF member Dave H's comments, I found myself resonating with his perspective of this film and wanted to include those comments here for first-time review readers:
HTF member Dave>H:
| I found this a very enjoyable film but it was not a suspense film in my opinion. Sure there are some suspenseful moments but I found it to be much more of a morality tale and at its heart, a love story. |
After seeing Signs, which I went into expecting some sort of twist, and was ultimately disappointed with the film on first viewing. Subsequent viewings have made me appreciate the film much more. I went into the Village without any expectations for a twist ending or anything and didn't try to "figure it out", i just let it flow over me, let myself get immersed in the story and characters and the cinematography and the sound. And I was transported to a far simpler time, where love in a community meant something to people and there was rules to courtship etc etc.
Viewing the film on that level, I found this film truly amazing. The performances are subtle and realistic, there aren't any egos in this film. The ending was what I expected actually, given where the film was going. And I think the reveal was properly timed as this is not supposed to be a twist film or a suspense film, I think it really is a love story. And to be a love story, the reveal needed to be early to take the viewer out of that "what will happen next" mind frame. That is my opinion anyway.
Impressive. More impressive than what usually comes to me from Buena Vista. From about 1.6 screen-widths away from my 106” image (BenQ 8700+ Projector fed via DVI from a Momitsu 720P-scaling DVD player) the image is lush and film-like. Detail appears a bit filtered on the big screen (you wouldn’t confuse it with a reference WB production) but don’t lose heart—I was surprised to note that the DVD image of The Village looks more detailed
than any non-animated Buena Vista title I’ve come across in recent memory. Ok maybe that’s not saying a lot…
but it honestly does seem better
in this regard than the B.V. titles I’m used to reviewing…enough so that I actually took notice (also noticing that this comes from Touchstone rather than Miramax…wonder if that helps?).
Despite the mild HF filtering, the image maintains a rich three-dimensional look and mid-ground details (the faces of actors who are not front-stage, for instance) are still comfortably discernable (something you can not say for most live-action Buena Vista DVD transfers). I’m finding that this is the real threshold that works for me regarding whether a DVD “satisfies” in the detail department—if my eye can focus on a mid-ground faces and see enough semblance of facial features to not cause me to cognate “I’m watching low-resolution video” then the film-like spell can persist unbroken—my minimum standard for what is “acceptable”.
In addition to the more-than-average-Buena-Vista-image-detail, the picture quality of The Village excels
in most other regards. Black level is deep and solid, and shadow-detail is silky-smooth, revealing a palette of picture information unmarred in dark areas of the image—an important achievement given the overall “dark” character of much of the film’s look. In spite of the somber film-style, colors (especially greens) are surprisingly saturated, and have a burnished-velvety character that conveys a slightly other-worldly look that serves the story’s tone. I didn’t notice any obvious instances of color-banding…at least nothing that stood out to the point of distraction. Compression seemed well-handled in other regards as well…no blocking or mosquito-noise that stood out as an “artifact” to distract.
Aside from the very minor HF filtering (again, for the most part forgivable but needs to be mentioned for wide-angle viewers), the only other real fault that I can discern is some very mild edge-enhancement. I don’t think viewers watching from more than 2 screen-widths away will see it, but on the large-screen there were times when halo-ringing could be seen on roof-tops and other hard-edge transitions. Ringing is apparent in both vertical and horizontal axis (can be seen surrounding vertical and horizontal lines) and it bother’s me on principle that it’s there at all, but I also want to stress that at my 1.6 screen-width viewing distance, for the most
part I was able to watch the film in visual-peace and only a few times did it draw attention to itself and draw me out of the movie-moment. I suspect that most folks watching conventional televisions and even HDTVs…which are typically viewed from greater-than two screen-widths away, won’t be bothered by the EE (but please post here if you have such a viewing system and find it distracting) but let’s all say a prayer that Buena Vista will learn how to properly master a film image for video before their image-mastering-crew get a hold of BluRay…
Shyamalan’s visual style in The Village is remarkable and this DVD communicates the subtleties of his work with excellence. From the slightly altered color-palette, to the saturated green, yellow, and red hues, to the texture of the gray-brown tones of the film’s dark imagery, the nuance of the film’s look and feel are maintained. If the image had just a bit more detail and just a bit less edge-ringing, it would be a perfect transfer. Even with these minor caveats, the image was beautiful to watch on my projection system.
Picture Quality: 4 / 5
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|SCORE ||Description |
|1-2 ||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid. |
|2-3 ||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain. |
|3-4 ||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos. |
|4-5 ||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE). |
I had the luxury to screen this disc (the first viewing…also viewed on my own system later to keep my perceptions consistent with other reviews) through my buddy’s Lexicon system with full 7.1 decoding…meaning I was able to fully extract the impact of the 6.1 EX-encoded Dolby Digital soundtrack. Amazing. The multi-channel audio for this movie is outstanding, and admirably demonstrates the profound effectiveness of capable multi-channel hi-fidelity soundtrack recording for films of non-action genres (usually considered by most to “not need” dramatic multi-channel mixes).
Surround use is seamless, in a “DTSish” sort of way, and the acoustic environment fuses into a 360-degree soundfield without a conventional (and artificial) segmenting of “front/rear”. If you’re familiar with what good live-mic two-channel recordings can sound like (and the life-like sense of acoustic space that they preserve), imagine that sonic character replicated in a full 360-degree sweep. Echoes from the woods ring eerily through the room and appear to emanate realistically from far distances that convey a tangible sense of space—with a feeling of vulnerability that results. The seamless use of the surround channels is critical to this…the surround never comes across like a facsimile or a localizable “effect”…it just comes across as a bone-chilling 360 degree acoustic reality that you’ve been privy to fall into. In this way the audio supports the film more than a mere “device”, it becomes a critical tool
for conveying information, and I’d suggest that just like you can’t watch Star Wars through your TV speakers and think that you’ve really experienced the film, so you need to have at minimum a good 5.1 audio system to begin to experience what The Village has to offer.
Bass is deep and solid as it can come. Just from the opening scene, with the credits rolling against the foreboding silhouette of the trees against the night sky, the score enters and delivers some very extreme low-frequency energy that, in no uncertain terms, communicates this to be an audio presentation lacking in all timidity. What the mix does it does. What it does not, it circumvents out of choice—it’s clear that the folks responsible for the audio presentation are true craftsmen who knew exactly what they were doing (and are true artists
who made the right decisions). The mix is confident and masterfully engineered. The sense of acoustic space…the believable and realistic use of the 6.1 canvas is the kind of mix I hope for (but rarely find) regardless of film “genre” and the effectiveness of the mix at eliciting goose-bumps and chills in just the right places is flawless.
Sound Quality: 5 / 5
We’ve got a nice wrap-up of special features for a single-disc movie edition, and I was surprised that the fair bit of bonus content here didn’t have a more detrimental impact on the feature-film’s compression. Bear in mind that because The Village is a suspense-mystery, it’s advised not to “peak” at any of the special features until after
you’ve viewed the film to avoid spoiling any of the fun.
[*] Deleted scenes:
There are several presented here…in 4x3 lbxed “video” form (as opposed to film source) and I have to say that I’m disappointed that most of these scenes did not appear in the feature film. Several of them subtlety, but meaningfully, expand on character relationships or add to a sense of discovery as Ivy’s walking through the woods. In any case…with almost each deleted scene I found myself saying “darn…that would have been such a good scene to have had in the film.” Shyamalan gives a presentation for each deleted scene and describes his reluctance to cut them and his rationale for doing so…though I still found unhappy about their absence in the feature. In any case, great to have them here, and whether you’re a Shyamalan fan, love or hate the film, you’ll probably enjoy giving these a look-through.
[*]"Deconstructing The Village" documentary:
This marvelous making-of documentary chronicles all aspects of making the film…from writing the story to selecting the cast to physically constructing the town (with which I was amazed…I assumed the team had utilized existing structures given their very authentic appearance) to difficulties facing photography…it’s all here and presented in great form. The full feature is dissected into several categories and you can opt to “play all” or select just the topic that interests you. This feature should have broad appeal to casual and serious viewer alike and provide good re-watch value for both.
[*] M. Night Shyamalan early home movies:
We get to watch Shyamalan as a late adolescent take on the challenge of shooting what appears to be his own version of Indiana Jones…Raiders of the Lost Arc. Picture quality is abysmal 4x3 dubbed-VHS-level just as it should be. Shyamalan fans will enjoy this and honestly I found it somewhat entertaining on a more casual note. I challenge you not to laugh…
[*][b] Bryce’s Diary:
Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Ivy (arguably the lead role) in the film, reads excerpts from her journal recording her experiences on the film. Set against a backdrop of still imagery the effect is quite artful, and though a bit self-purporting in the sense that she’s performing her own dramatic reading of her own private words, the disclosure feels authentic. The narrative begins with her audition for the role, describes meeting the other talented members of the crew and acting team, and communicates the beauty of her experience in a way that is accessible by the viewer. An uncommon feature and one that surprised me with its tone of purity and innocence…not unlike the character that she played.
[*][b] Production photo gallery:
A fair number of images (30+) from production and behind the scenes scenarios. Curiously, this feature is presented in 16x9 format (where all other extras, including deleted scenes, are presented 4x3 encoded). There is the usual “decorative border” around each image needlessly wasting potential resolution—a practice that I habitually criticize. The photos themselves are a fun still-frame visual document of production for those of you who enjoy photo galleries.
Watching The Village was an uncommonly rewarding film experience for me and my two comrade viewers…none of whom had seen the film prior to reviewing for this DVD. Picture quality is not quite up to reference Warner Brothers standards...as witnessed by a very mild bit of HF filtering and EE ringing. However, given those usual “Buena Vista” caveats, detail does seem to be better than B.V.’s usual fare and every other aspect of the image is flawless and presents a sumptuous image faithful to the source. The audio boldly exhibits the rare and sought after “speaker-free” acoustic presentation placing the listener into a virtual 360-degree world, and there is a healthy dose of quality-bonus features for a single-disc presentation to please avid fans and “what are we gonna watch tonight” viewers alike.
Though I still regard The Sixth Sense as Shyamalan’s best work to date, The Village is a successful effort, and one of the more effective and intelligent suspense/mystery films I’ve come across in a long time. Though criticized by some, my suspicion is that The Village’s most egregious “fault” is that it’s not a film composed for a broad audience spectrum and it demands that the viewer let go of a few movie-watching conventions in order to make a meaningful connection. Take the risk, make the connection, and I think you’ll be rewarded.