What’s Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

Published 1 year ago by , Updated June 5th, 2013 at 6:57 am,

Signs

signs gibson shyamalan Whats Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

Mel Gibson and Rory Culkin in ‘Signs’

Signs marked a turning point in Shyamalan’s career in many regards. The alien invasion drama/thriller was proudly headlined by Mel Gibson – talk about a different time – and sold as “M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs.” Newsweek infamously dubbed him “The Next Spielberg,” while others compared his talent level to Alfred Hitchcock.

The film grossed $408 million worldwide and – upon its initial release – earned a respectable critical reception; though, nowadays, film buffs in general seem less generous towards Signs than when it originally hit theaters over a decade ago.

Personally, I was never a fan of Signs and – looking back from the present – I can now better explain my problems with the film. Signs marked the first time where Shyamlan’s (sorry to say) tin ear for dialogue started to become quite apparent to me. However, on a more significant level, this was the film where it became clear that Shyamalan’s work had started to become strictly allegorical – which explains why Signs is, nowadays, frequently mocked for its lapses in plot logic (to mention nothing of that infamous climactic plot twist).

On a final note: Signs was also the film where Shyamalan upgraded himself to an important supporting role – and, frankly, his performance speaks for itself (as far as explaining why that’s not a good idea:

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The Village

village shyamalan howard Whats Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

Bryce Dallas Howard in ‘The Village’

If Signs was a practice run, then The Village was the true test of the bankability of Shyamalan’s name. Despite having some acclaimed acting talent attached to the project – Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver – this was a movie whose success really depended on the interest of the moviegoing public in seeing what new twisty tale the Sixth Sense director could come up with. Similarly, the casting of Ron Howard’s daughter (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the lead role was not at all the focus of marketing.

You can’t really blame Shyamalan for the way The Village was sold and marketed – as a mysterious and scare-a-minute thriller – when it’s really a slower allegorical drama – punctuated by creepy moments – that taps into the post-9/11 mindset of fear about the world. However, despite some excellent filmmaking by Shyamalan, the movie does suffer from two issues:

  1. People fixated so much on guessing the Twilight Zone-style twist ending that having one at all simply did more harm than good. 
  2. Some of the kitschier elements (again, see the questionable dialogue) were beginning to weaken Shymalan’s thought-provoking and thematically-rich storytelling.

However, despite my own personal bias – I’ve long been a Village apologist – the fact remains: this is the film where the tide started to turn against Shyamalan. Sad to say, the director’s ego had begun to rear its ugly head, and that became all the more apparent on his followup to The Village (which was a solid box office success, taking in $256 million worldwide).

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Lady in the Water

lady in water howard Whats Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

Bryce Dallas Howard in ‘Lady in the Water’

Shyamalan publicly broke ties with Touchstone Pictures due to creative differences over Lady in the Water (in short, Touchstone heads weren’t keen on the script). He instead decided to work with Warner Bros., which allowed him to have more artistic leeway – for better or (much) worse.

Sadly, that move was seemingly not for the best, as the final result – a quirky piece of contemporary American folklore – ends up being pulled down by its ponderous direction and a script full to the brim with under-cooked metaphors and ideas. (Basically, it’s a fairy tale presented as a sermon, not a sermon presented as a fairy tale.)

Watch the film’s prologue, for an illustration of that:

Sadly, Lady in the Water is an example of Shyamalan getting carried away with his own self-importance in many respects. That includes the aforementioned issues, in addition to a half-baked attempt to examine tradition and innovation in storytelling – with the inclusion of a film critic character (Bob Balaban), who lacks any shred of humanity or imagination and feels like a mean-spririted caricature (Anton Ego from Ratatouille, he ain’t.)

The part of the Lady in the Water story that better reflects Shyamalan’s arrogance getting the best of him was his decision to cast himself as an aspiring novelist – who (no joke) is writing a book that will change the world, but make him a martyr in the process. Clearly, critics weren’t the only ones left unimpressed, seeing how the film barely earned enough worldwide to cover its $70 million budget.

Continue to what ‘Happened’ next…

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TAGS: After Earth, devil, the happening, the last airbender, unbreakable 2, Wayward Pines

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  1. I love the depth and imagination of his movies,they all had a message or a lesson, they are all unique and creative. I’m so tired of the cookie cutter movies that require absolutely no thought or imagination when viewing them. Too many box office hits are just spoon feeding us. Shaymalan tells us a story, showing us the worst and the most beautiful/precious moments of life, humanity, nature and well adding in a little magic/hope never hurts. Life can be so short. Limiting your outlook and only seeing our world as black and white is well…just sad. Of all his movies the Happening was my least favourite but personally it was simply some of the acting.The last airbender, I’m a fan of the animated series and i respect his take on it, wanting it to be a more serious film, more authentic. I just believe in this case when something is as loved as the original series is don’t play too much with it. This should have been an opportunity to showcase Avatar the last airbender not try to make adults take it seriously…fans of the show already do and the fact that the cartoon is freakin halarious, has you laughing one minute and contemplating a deeper meaning the next is well one of the biggest reasons i’ve watched it with my kids. I cringe every time anyone talks about M Knight Shaymalans movies, always a negative comment…well I’m a fan and always will be. I’ll go see anything he works on and never feel wanting.

    • I think you were a little too kind on the last airbender. There was nothing about the film that was remotely interesting. Even the special effects seem cheesy and a waste of the ILM crew’s talents…Night sure has a big, stupid, ego.

      • I completely agree with John when it comes to avatar the movie. The series was amazing and was full of personality that made you like the characters while in the movie the downplay the basic ability of benders (the seen where 6 benders lift a 20-40 pound rock and taking 5 minuets of complicated movements to gently float it in the air). I dont think there was one line in the movie were a character said “I feel” or “I like”. there was literally now emotion. it was a poorly paced non-stop action movie that ruined the comedic and fun undertone to the series while still having a plot. So yes Shamalan is a hack when it comes to a real script were emotion and pacing is involved (so every movie).

  2. People just don’t understand The Village. Everybody thinks it’s a Thriller, a horror film, but it’s not. It’s a love story. It’s the same thing with Lady in the Water- it’s based off a story he wrote for his children. It unfolds like a children’s story, and that’s part of the charm. The Happening wasn’t his best film, but it was good enough to be considred a Shyamalan. As for After Earth… there really wasn’t any soul in it. Lately It feels like Shyamalan is listening to the critisism and second guessing himself- he’s doing what the audience wants, not what he wants to do. So the end result is a typical movie that shocks nobody, and the very people who WANTED that start pushing him down again. All I can say is, keep your head up, Night. Don’t listen to what they’re saying. Do what you want to, not what anybody else wants you to.

    • I totally agree with you about The Village and Lady in the Water. I saw those movies knowing little to nothing about them, and they were great. Hard to put in one genre, but great films.

    • Amen! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  3. woody…woody…woo….wooo…!!!(Indian language..)

    Tell him to back to India.

    • That is a native american language.

  4. http://theblogfinger.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/how-can-mnight-shyamalan-can-reboot-his.html
    Here’s how M Night can reboot his career

  5. It’s called karma. He stole the best parts of a children’s book by popular author Margaret Peterson Haddix to “write” The Village…and the parts of the plot that don’t make sense are the parts he changed and added. He even had the nerve to use the same names of the characters. Basic human belief, no matter what religion…you shouldn’t steal. He’s getting what’s deserved…who knows what else he has plagiarized ?

    • The author, by the way, would’ve been up against. Disney. I had a chance to meet and talk with her. I’m the one who brought it up. She’s incredibly professional, and her career continues to soar.

    • When I saw The Village, I thought it was a blatant rip-off of The Giver which involves the same society telling people not to go in the woods because monsters live in there. only to find out that what really is beyond the woods is a normal present day society

      there are a few things that aren’t the same, but it’s pretty close

      • You must never have read the giver, because not only does it have nothing to do with creatures in the woods, but the plot is completely and totally different.

  6. I am thrilled its not more stupid reality shows. Which are never real. Can’t take another housewife show or stranded somewhere eating bugs (stranded with a camera crew). Of course these shows are probably great for the networks they aren’t paying out much.

  7. I think M Night Shyamalan became his own worst enemy. As one of the posters said, he should have just stayed true to himself instead to trying to make blockbuster hits. I haven’t seen “The village” and “the last Airbender”. I have loved all his earlier movies until “Signs”. People don’t like the ending because it is heavy on spirituality and suspense and refuses to give the typical action-movie climax. I absolutely loved how everything comes full circle for the protagonist and his family through this unusual close encounters.
    I was appalled by how much I hated “The happening” It had only absurdities and no rationality and redeeming factors. The acting and dialogue were horrible.
    I am still a fan of Mr Shyamalan. I hope he makes a suspense thriller that is right up his alley.

  8. In all honesty, despite the fact that Sixth Sense is an awesome concept (and I love movies that make you believe one way and end another), and everything about the movie was well done, there was that big plot problem that ruins the movie. At first you think abouut how awesome it was but then can’t grasp how Willis “didn’t know”.
    Signs was “meh”. A build up that didn’t really have much of an ending. It was ok.
    Didn’t see Lady in the Water but I did like the Village pretty good. My kind of ending.
    I understand The Last Airbender was a kid movie but it was horrible.
    Not as horrible as The Happening. Such a retarded movie idea. How in the world could you pitch this concept to a dog? Walhberg was total crap.
    Night is my kind of storyteller, toying with the mind then revealing what’s really going on. However, you gotta be careful because its usually a hit or miss ending. I’m that way in much of my writing but I myself am flawed just as he is.

  9. I liked The Village, but I agree most of his movies are very bad, there’s no excuse like “people don’t get them” or “is not horror, is for children”. Honestly, Lady in the Water is just lame for example. I never liked Signs, too preachy for me and with a lot of plot holes (aliens have advance technology to travel fastes-than-light in invisible ships and yet they are stopped by a wood door? and they carry no weapons? never they thought in creating fire guns along with their ships? even if you ignore the water thing still not make sense”. The Sitxh Sense and Umbreakable were OK but all other movies of him were really bad. But, anyways, I know is a matter of opinion, as I said, I liked The Village so.

  10. This is perhaps my film of the decade so far. The reasons are too numerous to go into in such a short critique. Surely there have not been too many films that can take you through the range of emotions that the Sixth Sense does. The prime emotion; fear, is a difficult emotion to generate in a modern audience that has seen it all before, but this film succeeds where others fail, praying on your imagination and generating suspense from subtle devices rather than blatant horror.

    It is such a relief that the performances of Willis and the excellent Osment live up to an excellently directed quality storyline. I will be disappointed if the youngster doesn’t receive at least an academy nomination.

    I seldom go to the cinema twice to watch a film, in fact I cannot remember when I have done it before. Tonight I am taking an old friend to see this film as it will be a tragedy if he doesn’t see it on the big screen. He has heard so much about it that he is reluctant to go, as I am when something is over-hyped. Just for a change though, here is a film that lives up to its billing and has you thinking about it for weeks to come. As for the twist at the end? Well it totally disorientated me, my mind spinning back throughout the whole film. A fantastic punchline to my film of the year.

    If you get bored check http://susu.ro

  11. I agree with this review of M. Night’s films and this is probably the best recap I have seen. I am an M. Night Shyamalen fan, not just a Sixth Sense fan. I personally really enjoyed Lady in the Water, Signs and The Village. For me, his work is not the same old Hollywood formula, which I tire of. I am assaulted by the idea that anyone would suggest that this gifted artist “quite already” or any of the other cruel things people say.

    I feel as though M. Night pigeon holed himself with Sixth Sense, however. Let’s face it, that movie was more of an optical illusion than anything else, and there is simply no way to do that twice. To even try is a foolhardy. That people would compare every movie he makes afterward with that, just shows how (sorry) stupid people can be on this stuff.

    I believe that having this kind of super success gave a new and inexperienced director the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, with huge budgets to make another blockbuster and he just wasn’t ready for it. His directorial skill was unrefined, uncertain and inconsistent. I am sure that this “one hit wonder” phenomena also went to his head so that he couldn’t be convinced if he had a bad script or a bad plot. This with millions of dollars at one’s disposal is a bad combination.

    He shot up the ranks and missed the valuable knowledge one gets from the trench work. Collaboration is the best “solution” I have seen. I would hate to see him bow out or otherwise not work on the world stage anymore. That he has at least 4 solid hits says the man can do it, he just needs to know what he did that worked.

  12. Unbreakable was a great movie. It’s pretty sad to see Shymalan fall so low. After watching the happening and the last airbender i almost thought that he was just trolling everyone with bad movies. How can those pieces of garbage be made by the mind behind unbreakable? Or the sixth sense? Some of my favorite movies. I hope that he can get back on track, but honestly looking at the painful mistakes he’s made with these movies it’s hard to see it.