The M. Night Shymalan comeback reached a new peak at the box office this week.
The performances in M. Night Shyamalan’s films have often had a stilted, solemn quality, and Will Smith’s performance in After Earth is no exception. There are a couple reasons for the woodenness this time, though.
First, the story is set in the distant future, a thousand years after humanity has fled the Earth — more on that in a moment — and it stands to reason that speech patterns might have changed in the interim. Indeed, according to co-writer Gary Whitta, the filmmakers “worked with a dialect coach to come up with an original accent, because the idea of the characters speaking with an American accent or a British accent one thousand years in the future, after you’ve left Earth, would seem kind of preposterous.”
Three weeks ago, I noted that the trailers for at least three of this summer’s would-be blockbusters happen to include images of people being blown out of holes in airplanes or starships. But it wasn’t until today that I was reminded of a fourth such movie — namely After Earth, the post-apocalyptic M. Night Shyamalan flick starring Will Smith and his son Jaden. There were very brief images to this effect in the first trailer released in December, and then again in the second trailer released in March, but I somehow didn’t pick up on this until I saw the new TV spot released a few days ago. So here it is!
IT’S a common mistake, but still worth noting: Contrary to what many people seem to think, The Sixth Sense was not M. Night Shyamalan’s first movie.
It was, in fact, his third. But virtually no one had seen his first film, Praying with Anger (still not available on DVD), or his second film, Wide Awake (with Rosie O’Donnell as a nun who really likes baseball).
So when The Sixth Sense came out in the summer of 1999 and wowed audiences with its deeply felt drama and its shocking twist ending — becoming such a big word-of-mouth hit that, for the next couple years, it was one of the top 10 films of all time at the North American box office — it was easy for many people to treat the film as though it marked the debut of a brilliant and brand-new talent.
SIGNS IS a daring bait-and-switch, in which director M. Night Shyamalan seems to promise his audience a movie about aliens and gives us a movie about God, instead. The film, which stars Mel Gibson as an Episcopal priest who has lost his faith following the tragic death of his wife, is about the need to believe that there is someone out there watching over us, and not just some empty meaningless void, and the film cannily plays with — and rejects — the idea that aliens can fulfill this need.
Unbreakable has a lot in common with The Sixth Sense, the surprise spook-story hit that nudged its way into the ranks of the top ten box-office hits of all time early this year. It is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It stars Bruce Willis. And it is a solemn tale about a person who has supernatural powers and must find a way to come to terms with his gift, and use it responsibly.
Willis plays David Dunne, a security guard who survives a train wreck without getting so much as a scratch, while all the other passengers die. David is soon contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic-book zealot who has been keeping an eye out for just such an incident, hoping to find an invulnerable man. Elijah has extremely fragile bones — the kids back in school used to call him “Glass” because he shattered so easily — and he’s been waiting his whole life to meet someone at the opposite end of the vulnerability spectrum.