Monday, August 02, 2004

Notes on The Village 

How bad is this movie? It's so bad that Roger Ebert gave it one star. Although Ebert does appear to give half-stars, it's worth noting that he gave Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle three stars. (I suspect that despite this, I still won't be able to get Claire to see Harold and Kumar with me: "Come on! It's like three times as good as The Village!") The internet has spoken! The Village - 6.6/10, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle - 7.6/10.

Ebert, as well as my favorite movie reviewer, note that you really can't talk about why this movie is horrible without spoiling it, and so with the critics asked not to spoil it, it's hard to get the message out. Obviously, this really worked to the movie's ($51 million) advantage, but I got the message that it sucked when my friend Niels assured me on saturday night that it was "excellent." In any case, to make sure that you don't get confused, and think maybe I'm just being too harsh and you should check it out anyways, I am going to spoil the movie.

See, there are no monsters. The village elders dress up in these costumes made from twigs and red cloaks, and it's all done to scare anyone from leaving the town. Why? Because if they did, they would find that they're really living in present day, in a walled off nature preserve owned by William Hurt. Apparently the elders were a group of people who lost loved ones to murder, or drugs, or something, so they decided to roll back the clock with William Hurt's billion dollars, and start talking like they're in a Charles Dickens novel.

Pointing out how stupid this all is is really too easy, but here are some of my favorites. Why would they think that living like they're in 1850 would eradicate all the modern things they hate? In fact, these people are so messed up that they will watch their children die from archaic diseases and simple infections before they will live in a society with penicillin and antibiotics. It's pretty impressive that they are able to engineer such amazingly great (two story!) houses, and weave patterned fabrics, and build some mighty fine furniture, and sustain what must be very productive agriculture, and so on, given who they are, and how small the initial group was and what their background was. Why did William Hurt's character get so backwards? His daughters have to ask his permission to get married, and he tells his blind daughter that when he found out she was blind, he was "ashamed." Where did this all come from? Surely if you were separating from the rest of the world to create a place of "innocence," you could bring along some of the ideas a modern person would have thought fair and just.

In the beginning, the monsters are crossing the border and leaving skinned animal carasses all over the place. Well, that's never explained by the end. Who was doing it? Why? William Hurt mentions that it was "one of the elders," and it's been stopped, but what was it about in the first place? And what's with the colors? Red is the color that attracts the monsters, and yellow is "the safe color," but this is never explained beyond that. Why are colors important to the system the elders have set up? Certainly doesn't have any effect on anything that happens. See, the thing about a twist is that it has to be based on something that you have assumed or been led to believe for the whole movie. This "twist" is just that basically, the thing they talk about for most of the movie ("the towns") isn't what you think it is. Doesn't do anything, and doesn't really affect anything. It's like the twist in Identity: Oh, it's all in some guy's head? Big deal, doesn't affect anything we really cared about during the movie, and now you don't have to make any sense of it all either. Great.

Worst of all, this movie commits the most unforgivable sin a movie can commit: it's boring as hell. It's slow, unimaginative, and passionless. There are no fright beats, and nothing really creepy or disturbing happens. The only possibly exciting scene is when the blind girl is trying to get through the woods and comes across one of the monsters. This provides one of the movie's only scenes of actual suspense, or it almost does, if you hadn't already been told that the monsters are fake. You know the monster chasing her has got to be someone from the village, but the real question is not "who is it?" It is: "Why is a villager able to snort just like a wild boar?"

M. Night Shyamalan is obviously a pretty talented guy. He has a great eye, and can obviously handle suspense. What's really sad is that he seems to think that he has to put some cheap twist at the end of his movies for them to be interesting. It's like he doesn't believe in his own talent. He doesn't seem to have another Sixth Sense in him (you can't blame him, one is more than most get), so if someone could force him to direct a good script (ie, one he didn't write), I imagine he would do outstanding work. Also, someone has to stop him from casting himself. His role is much smaller than his role in Signs, and yet he still manages to suck violently, even though you only hear his voice and see his face in a reflection.

Well, he acts better than Tarantino ever did, and he doesn't mess it up either. I never thought his acting ruined the film: the only thing that ever sticks out with his cameos is that he's an East Indian American in a role that would have otherwise gone to a white guy.

I'm thinking that perhaps since I knew the spoiler that I didn't feel short-changed watching the movie. (I only doubted the modern-day theory rumors because of airplanes flying; but I was 50% sure that might have been the twist.) For me, it seems people are reviewing The Village the way they should have reviewed Vanilla Sky. VS was such a stinker: "you died and this is all a dream before we wake you up and cure you". The music and tone and pasing of the VS was great, but it seemed pointless to me. At least with The Village it brings up themes and makes you think.

As for becoming neo-luddites: Come on, they were decked out in 70s clothes; such a commune would have been a popular idea back then, and there are people who live (similarly) to that today. They also discussed that there were trade offs to living there, so they knew the implications of what they were doing.

Further: Why do people keep on thinking that they had to build the houses and tools all by themselves? In either realities, the town was made as a way to escape the other towns. Certainly in either reality they would have brought the tools and house making talent (before sending the contractors away to the "other towns"). (If you hire someone to build the perimiter wall, you can hire someone to build old style houses.) I don't think anywhere they claim they made all of the buildings themselves.

As for nothing creepy: I was creeped out by Noah stabbing Lucius. I wasn't expecting that at all, and it got several gasps from the audience.

Anyway, I suppose you are right: everyone is being such a "tough crowd" because they know they could have had more. Much like the Suckchowski brothers. Only, in this case, Shyamalan wasn't ripping off viewers with a crappy trilogy, he was more like the comedian who wants to do new material, while everyone shouts at him "come on, do Fat Albert!"

(BTW, the animal mutalation is resolved: It was Noah the whole time.)
Just one thing: I thought it was pretty clear that William Hurt's character was "ashamed" about his daughter's blindness because he knew that in the world outside the village, there were doctors who could perhaps have prevented it.
the only thing i could think of as to why red would be forbidden in the village is because red is an exciting color - it's generally used to create excitement or sexual interest. which would you be sexually drawn to? a woman wearing a bright red dress with deep red lipstick, or the same woman but in a blue dress or some other color that doesn't really scream for attention?

yellow is a pretty neutral color as far as emotions go. it's generally a happy color with no real strong pull to either the positive or negative end of the emotion spectrum.

but that's just me, and i'm dumb like that.

i for one do not think that shyamalan is not all that. even without having been told the ending to sixth sense, i had it figured out halfway through the film. unbreakable was ok but took way too long to even establish itself. it's like the guy is trying to make the same film over and over again. he's stuck thinking in the sense of a one hit wonder - what i did before worked so why not repeat it?

i have yet to see signs, and i probably won't go to see the village in the theaters. he's just trying way too hard to make something that isn't. and it's starting to show big time.
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