Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by M. Night Shyamalan
Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Director of Photograpy Roger Deakins
Music by James Newton Howard
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Arien Broday, Sigourney Weaver & William Hurt
2004/108 mins/Color/5.1 Dolby Digital EX
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Touchstone Home Entertainment DVD
Although I love watching movie trailers, they often ruin the advertised movie for me. Not because of spoilers (although this often occurs), but because the movie that I imagine in my mind, based on the trailer, is usually far better than the actual film. (My ultimate example of this is INDEPENDENCE DAY, which I imagined to be non-stop dogfights between fighters jets and alien ships. Boy, was I wrong!) I'd always assumed that I was alone in this activity until THE VILLAGE hit theaters over the summer. The previews made the movie look like an incredible fright-fest and director M. Night Shyamalan's crowning achievement, but the immediate backlash against THE VILLAGE told me that the film that the film audiences saw wasn't necessarily the one that they wanted to see. Having now seen the film, I can say that the marketing for THE VILLAGE was woefully misleading, but that doesn't mean that the movie is a total disaster.
THE VILLAGE takes place in 1897 in a very small settlement somewhere in America (presumably the Northeast). The inhabitants of the village are happy people and they work hard in their daily lives. The village is overseen by a group of elders, which is led by Edward Walker (William Hurt). But, there is one thing which makes this village unique. The inhabitants must never enter the woods which surround the village, as they are filled with monsters. The citizens have erected watch towers around the perimeter of the village as well as a series of torches, which keep the creatures at bay. Although this situation certainly causes anxiety amongst the citizens, they are generally OK with their lives, until a series of situations arise which makes two young adults, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) and Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), want to venture into the woods to seek help from other towns. These suggestions set forth events which will show us the secret of the village and the monsters which dwell on its borders.
Although horror films often fare well at the box office, it's only amongst the die-hard legion of fans that the names of many horror legends are well-known and praised. Thus, I like the fact that M. Night Shyamalan has become a household name and that it's his name which figures prominently in the campaigns for his films. (While his movies may not be "horror", they are certainly very stylish and well-made "B-movies" which often mirror feature-length episodes of "The Twilight Zone".) However, this kind of marketing may have backfired with THE VILLAGE, as the movie has the makings of a horror film, but quickly moves away from this and reveals itself to be a romance film.
Does that mean that THE VILLAGE is a bad movie? No. But, I can certainly understand if many filmgoers felt cheated for paying to see a film that they expected would scare them silly. Granted, the first 1/3 of THE VILLAGE feels like a horror film. As Shyamalan sets up the premise and introduces us to the world of the village and the creatures in the woods, there is certainly a feeling of suspense and dread. And a scene which portrays an encounter between a human and the creatures is incredibly suspenseful and well-done. Yet, the second half of the film dispenses with this premise and becomes a human drama. The story is still somewhat compelling, but it begins to peter out towards the end.
And what about the end? The problem with marketing an M. Night Shyamalan film is that audiences go in expecting the kind of twist endings which made THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE so memorable. (Did SIGNS have a twist ending? Did that movie ever end?) That being said, audiences will immediately begin looking for clues to a twist ending in THE VILLAGE. Following the film's theatrical release, I heard several people say that they had the twist figured out immediately, but over half-way through the film, I still had no idea what was happening, much less what the ending would be. However, as the film ended, I realized that the idea had crossed by mind, but I discarded it as being too obvious. The ending isn't bad, it's just a bit of a let-down and sort of ambiguous. The real shock in THE VILLAGE comes in the middle of the movie when something happens to one of the characters. This scene (you'll know which one I mean) took me completely by surprise and Shyamalan shoots it in a masterful way.
So, what's the final verdict on THE VILLAGE. Well, for a movie that isn't what anyone expected it to be, it isn't that bad. Shyamalan shows that he knows how to shoot a film and his use of extended takes is very impressive. He also does a good job of introducing the characters to us. The fact that the film turns into a love story is quite shocking, but the romance is quite touching and truly drives the movie until the end. Shyamalan has assembled a world-class cast for THE VILLAGE and they help bring his somewhat disappointing material to life, most notably Phoenix, Howard, and Adrian Brody. The film does have some problems. The last 1/3 becomes somewhat monotonous and if you've figured out the big secret, then you will simply be waiting to see how it's discovered. And the revelation of this secret only brings up more questions. My biggest complaint with THE VILLAGE is one which isn't really the film's fault -- I still want to see the movie which was advertised in the trailers. Shyamalan took a big risk by changing directions on the audience, and I applaud him for that, but the premise of THE VILLAGE could have lent itself to one of the greatest horror movies ever. Instead, we've gotten a mediocre film from a very skilled director.
THE VILLAGE moves onto DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment, and the DVD release is part of that company's "Vista Series". The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as it's quite sharp and clear. The picture shows no grain, nor any overt evidence of artifacting. Shyamalan has created a deliberate color-scheme for the movie, and those colors are translated very well here. The image has a great deal of depth and the landscape shots look fantastic. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio track which sounds fantastic. The dialogue is always sharp and clear and there's no hissing. The film's many "shock" sound effect crash through the surround sound channels and give the subwoofer a good workout. Any scene involving the woods or the creatures provides tons of surround sound action.
As with all of Shyamalan's films, the director doesn't provide a commentary for THE VILLAGE, but there are some other extras here. "Deconstructing THE VILLAGE" is a 25-minute "making of" featurette which is divided into six sections; Shooting THE VILLAGE; Casting; Boot Camp; Editing & Sound; Scoring THE VILLAGE; Those We Don't Speak Of. The most interesting aspects here are the construction of the sets, the scenes in which the actors visit a working 19th century village to train for their roles, and the comments from the cast and crew about the script and the experience of working in a such a specific location. The DVD contains 4 "Deleted Scenes" (with a PLAY ALL feature) which total 11 minutes. Each scene has an introduction by Shyamalan. There are some new ideas here, but they add much to the film. "Bryce's Diary" (5 minutes) features clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage narrated by Howard as she recounts her work on the film. THE VILLAGE DVD gives us yet another M. Night Shyamalan "Home Movie", this one a 3-minute homage to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The extras are rounded out by a "Photo Gallery". For some reason, the DVD carries a very strange cover art photo which tells the consumer nothing about the film.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©