Plot: What’s it about?
One of the unexpected hits of the last year (financially speaking, of course) was the third installment from M. Night Shyamalan; who we know from The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Though I’m not really a fan of his work, I admit that he’s a great writer and director, so it was with some hesitation, yet excitement that I approached the film. I mean when a film rakes in over 200 million dollars domestically, something has to be working…right? The truth is that the pop-cultural phenomenon of these crop circles (that have appeared everywhere, even on a Led Zeppelin album) are about ten years old, and I know they go back further, but it’s just old news. I was, however, intrigued that someone was actually putting a spin on them and would try to make sense of the whole thing. If you’re watching the movie for that reason, then stay away as your questions most likely won’t be answered. “Signs” is more of an alien movie and about human emotion than anything cultural and mysterious. And here’s why.
Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) has a family in a small Pennsylvania town. He used to be the local reverend, but has since lost his faith since the tragic death of his wife (an event shown in some graphic detail later on in the movie). Graham is still a good person, but doesn’t have his beliefs anymore. Working as a farmer, he, his two kids and younger brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) eek out a living. Graham has had a strange occurrence in his farm though, in the sense that mysterious crop circles have appeared overnight. These have been reported all over the world and he wants to get to the bottom of the whole deal. It’s not long after these circles have appeared that strange alien lights start appearing all over the world “…less than one mile from the places where the circles appeared…”. So we wait for the alien ship to appear in Pennsylvania and sure enough, it does. At this point, the town (and the world, for that matter) starts to go bezerk. It’s also at this point that we catch a glimpse of one of the aliens, though not scary we don’t know what will happen.
The film makes no secret of drawing from some cult movies of the past, namely The Birds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Night of the Living Dead. Though these are all far superior movies (does this guy think he’s the next Hitchcock?), “Signs” does have an audience of its own. Also, in somewhat of an odd occurrence, Shymalan has cast himself in somewhat of a major role. He’s a good actor, better than most directors for sure, but its still rather odd. While the movie left me rather underimpressed, I still struggle to figure out how the film did so well financially. Everyone I’ve spoken to (before and after I’ve seen it) has had mixed things to say about it. And though, as I mentioned before, I’m not the biggest fan of his work to begin with, this seemed more like an internal struggle of humans as opposed to any alien science-fiction movie. Still, the movie has its audience and if you’re one of the legions of fans of M. Night Shymalan, then you’ll do what you like.
Video: How does it look?
I remember being none too pleased with the way “Signs” appeared on DVD but thankfully this Blu-ray effort is a better example of what the movie should look like. The 1.85:1 HD AVC transfer is a definite improvement over the muddy and somewhat pixellated transfer of the original standard DVD, though a few problems still persist. I found the image to be very sharp and the level of detail bumped up, giving a much cleaner and clearer image. Black levels still seem to be off a bit, as was the contrast. Shyamalan shoots his films with a lot of natural light and it gives them a somewhat dull look and feel to them but the Blu-ray gives it a more “film like” appearance which is more than welcome. Fans will be much happier with this transfer than the standard DVD, though this is still not perfect.
Audio: How does it sound?
The PCM uncompressed soundtrack is, again, an improvement over the mixes on the standard DVD. Dialogue and vocals in general were very rich and robust and though I’ve noticed that not all of Shyamalan’s movies are that “audio heavy”, there are a few scenes in “Signs” that really do make full use of the speakers. Something that I either missed the first time around or is more pronounced here are the LFE. I haven’t felt my floor move but during a few of the scenes in this film, it did. Again, this is a marked improvement over the standard DVD and viewers will be more than satisfied with this mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The exact same suppplements that were present are on this Blu-ray disc starting off with the hour long documentary. It’s the most prominent feature, but it’s actually six featurettes that compose it. Starting off with “Looking for Signs”, “Building Signs”, “Effects of Signs”, “Lost voices: The music of Signs” and “Full Circle”. As you might imagine, this encompasses about everything you’d want to know about the making of the movie and it’s not wrapped up in one little “Making of…” featurette, they actually do explain a lot about how the production was halted due to 9/11 and other things. There are also some deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut, most are short except “Alien in the Attic” which actually was pretty good and should have been in the movie. Some storyboard sequences and Shymalan’s first “Alien Movie” are also included.