Happening, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe is almost at a loss for words. Almost, he has a few four letterers...
One incredibly boring day in Central Park hundreds of people find themselves unable to speak or walk correctly, and are soon finding creative ways to kill themselves. Similar ‘happenings’ begin to occur elsewhere on the East coast, mostly in areas with large populations and trees. In reaction to all the scariness a group of boring people take to the countryside looking for answers.
I really, really, reallyreallyreally wanted to be the guy that liked The Happening. I’ve at least been entertained by every M. Night Shyamalan film since The Sixth Sense, even Lady in the Water (good performances), but Goddamn if his latest isn’t one of the most boldly awful major studio films I’ve seen in a long while.
Everything you’ve heard about The Happening is true. All the ‘cool’ stuff in the film isn’t only given away in the red band trailer, it’s almost entirely delegated to the front quarter of the film. The performances are almost unfathomably and uniformly terrible. The tone teeters into the hilarious when unintended. The plot is based around an idea that could barely sustain a twenty-two minute episode of The Twilight Zone, and the filler is taken mostly from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds remake, every George Romero zombie movie, and Shyamalan’s own Signs. The twist puts the film on the level of other lumpish and misguided ‘environmental thrillers’ like The Day After Tomorrow, and the scientific explanations make the scientists of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers sound downright reputable. The biggest crime of them all is the film’s pedestrian look, which falls somewhere between made for TV drama and Shyamalan impersonating himself.
Shyamalan, who pulled recent career bests out of Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, lets his actors flounder in his painfully stilted dialogue. I will continue to defend many of the more wooden performances in the Star Wars prequels as forgivable cases of style over substance, but The Happening’s perfectly capable actors look atrocious the whole way through for seemingly no good reason (we'll argue George Lucas' 'good reasons' some other time). Mark Wahlberg, who I now know is capable of stealing a Martin Scorsese movie from Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, performs like a beauty queen contestant asked to list the first forty-seven numbers of pi. If I wasn’t made to believe otherwise by the behind the scenes material, I’d swear that Wahlberg thought he was acting in a spoof. His confused, googly eyes are just too freaking funny for words. The rest of the cast doesn’t do much better, and the Tarantino by way of eleventh grade creative writing dialogue doesn’t help. Shyamalan also consistently breaks the first rule of screenwriting—show, don’t tell—by making his characters gracelessly explain the plot over and over again.
The basic premise of people mysteriously losing control of their bodies and minds and killing themselves is terrifying, and I’d like to think that pre-head-up-his-ass Shyamalan could’ve squeezed some real atmosphere out of the situation, but everything that’s meant to be frightening is almost ingeniously hilarious. If Shyamalan could’ve come out after the film’s bad reception and claimed it was a comedy I would’ve believed him 100%, because there is nothing shocking about the telegraphed sequences of people doing themselves in in a particularly Monty Python-esque manner. Sadly, the silliness still isn’t enough to recommend the film.
I keep forgetting that Fox is cheap and fears bootlegging more than nuclear war. My screener is a single layered burned disc, and it shows it at every turn. The camera moves slowly, cue streams, the camera moves faster, cue pixel attack. Tak Fujimoto is a fine addition to the film’s mediocre approach, he doesn’t create anything super memorable, nor does he drop the ball and create anything murky. All in all I find it nearly impossible to effectively review the intricacies of this transfer because of the artefacts and compression noise, so we’ll just leave it at colourful.
Single layer protection doesn’t hurt the Dolby Digital 5.1 track too much, though general volume levels are a bit low. Shyamalan is well known for his love of super subtle sound design that hides in the corners waiting to leap out at us when something scary happens, but this time he may’ve pushed it a little too far. Sometimes I noticed positively zero sound, and I don’t assume it was on purpose. Once again it’s James Newton Howard that pulls his director out of the bottom pit of total shitsville. The Happening’s music is filled with quotes to other work, mostly those of Hitchcockian Bernard Herrman scores, but it sounds great, and classes up a few scenes here and there.
Our extra slices of Shyamalanian silliness begin with four deleted/extended scenes. The first scene is an alternate opening that over explains the marital problems the Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg characters are having. The scene gives the final scenes an even more clichéd motivation than what’s presented in the final cut. The other four scenes feature additional violence not seen in the original cut. They mostly succeed in making the film even funnier. Each scene is optionally preceded by a Shyamalan intro, where he excitedly (desperately?) tells us how awesome the digital gore effects are. They really aren’t. The scenes run about sixteen minutes, and feature extremely low volume stereo sound.
‘The Hard Cut’ features a less giddy and more expectedly pretentious Shyamalan talking about the ‘genius’ of the film’s violence and message. Apparently the R rating was the Fox brass’ idea, not the writer/director’s, which partially explains the awkward nature of the violence. The problem is that they keep referring to the film as a ‘hard’ R, which it really is not, much to my chagrin. The featurette runs nine minutes, takes place on the set of the farmhouse shooting scene, and features interviews with the cast and crew. In M. Night’s defense, he appears to be a friendly guy when on-set, his bloated ego is apparently delegated to his interviews.
‘I Hear You Whispering’ is a four minute look at the film’s last act, which features the productions only good performance (Betty Buckly), but is ultimately twenty minutes that have no place in the film. The Mrs. Jones sequence is basically a visual call back to several of Signs’ best moments, and a narrative call back to the Tim Robbins scenes from War of the Worlds.
‘The Happening— Visions of The Happening: A Making of’(yes, that’s the real title) is twelve minutes all about the making of the ‘Best B-Movie Ever’, which apparently became something deeper. Seriously, there’s no intended humour in this film according to everyone involved behind the scenes, except maybe the scene were Wahlberg speaks to a plant. Shyamalan talks about his cast, who were evidently hired for their buoyancy, the cast talk about their characters as if they were real people, the producer talks about Shyamalan as a visionary, and everyone complains about all the scary grasshoppers on set. Riveting.
‘A Day for Night’ (very clever pun guys, works on two levels, huh?) is six and a half minutes more behind the scenes footage from the farm house set (apparently that’s the only day they had a documentary crew). This section is just raw footage set to sections of the film’s score, so we’re saved the pain of turgid interviews.
‘Elements of a Scene’ is a ten minute exploration of one of the film’s only scenes that exhibits Shyamalan’s once sure handed control of film direction—the Jeep vs. tree scene. The featurette covers the scene from digital pre-viz and preparation, through the filming process, stunts, acting, but not digital effects enhancement. Clerks fans can catch a better glimpse of Brian O'Halloran in this section.
The whole mess ends with a gag reel and trailers for Street Kings and Mirrors. They could’ve at least included The Happening’s red band trailer. That’s actually the ideal way to watch the film.
Ok, I'm giving up on Mr. M Night just like the rest of you, and I'll continue hoping against hope that this whole Avatar the Last Airbender project will fall apart before he has a chance to mess it up. The Happening is basically a total wash. It flounders as a thriller or horror movie because of unintentional humour, it flops as a drama because of uninteresting characters and almost unimaginally bad acting, and all the unintentional comedy isn’t quite belly jiggling enough to recommend a so bad it’s good viewing. I give Shayamalan credit for two sequences—the genuinely disturbing sequence of construction workers plummeting to their deaths, and a well directed mini-movie about the life of a gun. These two scenes plus Newton Howard’s score bring me to my final score.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 7th October 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, The Hard Cut, I Hear You Whispering, Making-of, A Day For Night, Elements of a Scene, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 90 minutes
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