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Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Signs (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Signs (Blu-ray)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Studio: Touchstone
Year: 2002
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 106 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, 2.0 Spanish, others
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, others
MSRP: $ 34.99

Release Date: June 3, 2008
Review Date: May 23, 2008



The Film

4/5

The remarkable thing about M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs is that it’s a fright picture that deals more importantly with the subject of faith: faith in one’s family, faith in one’s beliefs, and faith in one’s own abilities. The signs we see in Signs aren’t just about the possibility of monsters but the signs that there are reasons for things happening, reasons for things to be as they are. We don’t often understand them: we don’t read or interpret the signs with accuracy often enough. But the signs are there if we look and have faith in what we believe they’re telling us. That’s pretty heady stuff for a film that wants to send chills down one’s spine on a regular basis. Signs delivers in that regard as well.

Mel Gibson plays Graham Hess, a minister whose faith in God has lapsed due to his wife’s tragic death some six months earlier. Now a farmer who specializes in raising corn, he lives in his comfortable Victorian-style home with his two children (Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin) and his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), a one-time promising baseball slugger whose dreams for the big time struck out in the minor leagues. It’s a close-knit family who are startled awake one morning by the feeling of something wrong. After investigating, Graham finds enormous patterned crop circles cut into his expansive cornfields. At first it seems like an elaborate practical joke, even when other patterned circles begin turning up across the globe. But other familiar things are off: beloved dog Houdini goes berserk, the water begins tasting dusty or as little Bo (Breslin) calls it, “old,” an old baby monitor begins emitting strange noises that sound like voices communicating, odd phone calls come from nowhere and are disconnected. Are they elaborates hoaxes or is something else more sinister going on? Forty minutes into the movie, we have our answer.

As he did with The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan can ratchet up the tension without actually showing much. A simple investigative walk through the cornfield at dusk becomes a shuddery experience. The dogs’ erratic behavior keeps us as riled up as they are. And spiraling overhead shots and fast tracking shots keep our equilibrium constantly off center, all the better to tie us in knots once things really start happening. As in the best thrillers, much can be done with tight close-ups on the faces of effective actors, the proper sound effects and lighting (or lack thereof), and just the barest hints of something amiss. In fact, though much of what we see particularly in the climactic portions of the film are in reflections and from the viewpoint of the antagonist, I’d have preferred it if Shyamalan hadn’t shown us even as much as he does face-front. I found it much creepier and more devastating the less I saw of what was present.

The acting from all of the principals is superlative. In an atmosphere as highly charged as this one, the actors must truly run the gauntlet to cover every emotion, and everyone here does it in superb fashion. The best moment in the film is the family’s “last supper,” an evening meal where each person has requested and had prepared his favorite food. Despite this “dream meal,” there is so much raw emotion, such misery and unhappiness present, the tension and turbulence between the family members is unbearable. And yet it ends in such a devastatingly remarkable way preparing us for the final act of the film that it’s perhaps Shyamalan’s best directed sequence in any of his movies. He’s often not given enough credit for his sensitive work with actors since the gimmicks that drive much of his work seem to get greater attention. And, of course, the third act of the movie goes from one inspired crisis to another, keeping us edgily wondering what comes next. It’s a screenplay that’s concise from a director who's firing on all cylinders.

Signs has a few things that don’t work particularly well. The flashbacks that detail the death of Graham’s wife through the carelessness of a sleepy veterinarian (played only passably by Shyamalan himself) are interspersed through the narrative sometimes at effective moments and other times, especially their poignant last words together, inexplicably placed at one of the worst possible times. It’s a scene we want to see, but the scene it interrupts is not one we want interrupted at that moment. A particular book that son Morgan buys and shows his father also contains perhaps one coincidence too many in its illustrations, at least in retrospect.


Video Quality

4/5

The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec for this Blu-ray release. The film looks very good overall with excellent dimensionality, very accurate flesh tones, and color overall being well saturated without overdoing it. There are, however, some dirt specks that are easily visible. I noticed an instance or two of some slight edge ringing present. There are a couple of shots that lose sharp focus, too, at odd moments. And like the Blu-ray release of Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, the blacks are not the blackest I’ve seen. The film is divided into 21 chapters.

Audio Quality

4.5/5

The PCM 5.1 (4.6 Mbps) track is very well delivered in this release with excellent use of the LFE channel and plenty of ambient sounds to keep the surround channels active and interesting. A few of those effects seem unnecessarily processed, though, and not well matched to some others before and after, but this only happens a couple of times and is a very minor problem.

Special Features

3.5/5

All of the bonus features are delivered disappointingly in either 480i or (in the case of the storyboard feature) 480p.

The disc offers 5 deleted scenes. Of these, only the last, the discovery of the unguarded attic trap door and their momentary solution for the problem is a sequence of importance and which would have worked wonderfully well in the finished film. The viewer can look at all of the scenes individually or in a 7 ½-minute whole.

“The Making of Signs is an omnibus documentary divided into 6 featurettes, all produced by Laurent Bouzereau. Of course, the viewer can watch them all together making this a 58 ½-minute feature, or they can be watched individually. The separate sections are called “Looking for Signs” where Shyamalan talks about the genesis for his idea for the movie, “Building Signs” which deals with his habit of building a visual script in storyboard and detailed sketch form and then finding the Pennsylvania locations where the cornfield and house could be built, “Making Signs” in which the director talks us through the filming of the main sequences for the film, remarkably beginning filming on the day after 9/11, “The Effects of Signs” which is obviously about the use of CGI and animatronics in the movie, “Last Voices” on James Newton Howard’s very Bernard Herrmann-like score for the film, and “Full Circle” which goes into the marketing and initial reception for the movie.

The disc offers two sequences which the viewer can flip back and forth between storyboards and the finished scene. The viewer can also watch the scenes/storyboards with the entire 5.1 sound mix, with just the music track, or with just the effects track. The two sequences are Graham investigating the veterinarian’s pantry with a knife and Graham and Merrill chasing trespassers around their home.

“Night’s First Alien Movie” is a little throwaway home movie from Shyamalan’s youth called “Pictures” which lasts 2 ¼ minutes.

The package also contains another of Disney’s $10 rebate coupons which can be used for the next wave of Blu-ray catalog releases: Signs, The Recruit, Nixon, and Gangs of New York.

In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)

Signs is an entertaining and effective combination of fright and faith. It comes to Blu-ray looking very nice and with an effective uncompressed soundtrack that squeezes every bit of tension from this expertly made thriller.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC
 

Travis Brashear

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Here's what I'm dying to know: on the Vista Series DVD, during the scene where Mel and family can hear the aliens clattering about the exterior of the house, trying to find a way in
, there is a P.O.V. shot of them looking across a red wall in the dining room. This single shot had the most egregious example of macro-blocking in a major studio DVD release I've ever seen; it was like the wall was composed of boiling wax--simply hideous. Has that been corrected on this Blu-ray release (please, God, say yes)?
 

Matt Hough

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I'll try my best to check out this scene tomorrow before I start on THE RECRUIT and report here what I see. I think if it looked THAT bad, I would have noticed it, but I will check for you.
 

TonyD

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yes, that wall shot was awful, serious banding going on with that dvd.

i was wondering about this too.
 

Matt Hough

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Travis and Tony,

I think you'll find a major improvement when (if) you view the Blu-ray. The shot displays natural grain structure but none of the artifacts you're describing. I thought it looked very solid.
 

DavidJ

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I agree with everything you just said and I'm looking forward to this one too.
 

TonyD

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watched signs over the weekend.
yes that scene looks perfect on this BR.

in fact the video looks great, especially compared to how bad the dvd was the R is amazing.
the pcm track also is as good as any others i have heard.
plenty of outside sounds going on around the listeners ears.

great job with this one all around.

i really look forward to an eventual relase of thr Sixth Sense.
 

Jrf2

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This is a fantastic film and Shyamalan's best thus far. I'll be picking this up somewhere down the road - my immediate list is too long and my wallet too thin.
Excellent review!
 

Robert Crawford

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I also think this is Shyamalan's best film to date and this Blu-ray presentation was excellent.





Crawdaddy
 

Johnny Angell

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I don't have BR player yet, but I own a couple of discs. I've got the 5 disc edition of Blade Runner and I notice the extras on it are in 480i or 480p, now Signs has it's extras in the same resolution. Is this going to be standard for BR?
 

Robert Crawford

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When new bonus material is being shot, for the most part it's being shot in HD now whether for new releases and in some older releases like the Dirty Harry BRD. There are at least two new featurettes on that disc that are in 1080p.
 

Grant H

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Glad to know I'm not the only one who noticed that with the DVD. I've been griping about it for years. Probably wouldn't even upgrade to the Blu-ray except for the fact the DVD is so inferior in that regard. Glad to hear they fixed it. And if I can pick this up for $20 and get a $10 rebate, it's worth it, even if Gibson becomes more underwhelming for me with each viewing.
 

Jari K

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Just watched my review-copy and it´s definitely 1.85:1. There are clear black bars on the top and on the bottom. It seems, that you´ve some overscan with you monitor Matt?

Japanese PCM/DD 5.1-tracks/subs are also included, but not listed on the back cover, if anyone cares (same thing with e.g. "Hidalgo", where the back cover is missing some dubs/subs).

Damn this is a fine film. I love it.
 

Matt Hough

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No, no overscan using the "Just Scan" mode on my Sammy, but I'll check again.

Those additional foreign tracks weren't listed in the press release either. They almost never are (French, Spanish, and recently Portuguese are usually listed if present but not other languages. I'm not sure why.)
 

Jari K

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Yes, plenty of mistakes on the back covers/press releases, if you want to 100% check all the audio tracks and subs. Only way to make sure is to check them yourself. Sadly. For some people "English HoH" subs are also important, and "Signs" has both "English" and "English HoH" subs.
 

Matt Hough

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I did go back and check the AR tonight, Jari, and getting right up at the TV, I could see the letterbox bar on the bottom slightly. I'd think it might be closer to 1.82:1 perhaps rather than 1.85:1 (which I usually have no trouble seeing from my chair without getting right up at the TV).

At any rate, I have altered the review, and thanks for the notification.
 

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