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M. Night Shyamalan kicked off his directing career with The Sixth Sense, a moving feature about a young boy who has the ability to see ghosts. This was followed a year later by Unbreakable, the story of a modern day superhero. Most recently Night brought us Signs, a story about crop circles and possible alien invasion. From these three films’ subject matter it is clear Night’s pictures follow the path of the unbelievable but are still set in a very believable environment.  

Signs: Vista Series
Farm owner and ex-priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) wakes up one morning with a sense of the foreboding to come.  His children Morgan and Bo (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin) have discovered a giant patch of bent over corn in Graham’s field, which turns out to be a giant crop circle. After reporting this to the local law enforcer, Graham and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) discover that thousands of crops circles are mysteriously appearing all over the world. Could a team of highly skilled prank pulling youths be responsible for all these perfect and huge crop circles as Graham suspects? Or could it be the real thing?

What follows is a journey through almost every emotion possible; from fear to happiness and everything in between. Mel Gibson is superbly cast in this role. His acting is perhaps the best we have seen, as we watch him travel through the emotions.  As is usual with Shyamalan, there are running themes throughout the film like religion, which Graham renounced after the death of his wife in a car accident 6 months earlier and flashbacks from the same incident, all which add points to the plot.

I read many reviews about this film at the time of release and many people said it was great but, just like every film, others said it was bad.  The bad reviews heralded the first hour as ‘the only bit worth watching’, but then slated the remaining minutes for ‘lack of resolution’. Now the only reason I mention these reviews is because in my opinion, they are wrong. The film has few flaws, least of all is any such time after an hour. Unfortunately I cannot elaborate without spoiling the ending but let me just leave it at this – I thought it was very cleverly done.

Night himself has said he took inspiration from the films Invasion of the body snatchers, Night Of The Living Dead and Hitchcock’s The Birds; and it becomes very clear just how much inspiration came from them with the majority of the film shot inside the farmhouse. He also describes his directing style as important, in the fact that it is not what you see like so many other horror films, but more what you do not see, to get the point or ‘scare’ across. I couldn’t agree more. His use of camera angles and lighting (a whole section of the movie is filmed using only flashlights in a basement) all affect how you feel about the film and its outcome.

Signs: Vista Series
The music helps even more. Shyamalan originally intended to make this entire film with no score whatsoever but asked previous collaborator James Newton Howard to come up with some ideas. These ideas were subsequently used in the final release. You believe that real people would react in the same manner as the characters do in this film. That you would feel exactly the same if the story was to somehow become true in real life.

This is a very poor transfer for such a recent release, unlike Shyamalan’s 2 previous Vista edition DVDs where the transfers looked much better. There is a lot of edge enhancement on this transfer which is very disappointing, and that’s not to mention the fairly frequent film scratches. What makes it even more surprising is that the disk is THX certified. It lacks definition around main characters and shadows.  Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, it is an acceptable transfer, but it cannot be commended in anyway.

Disappointingly there is no DTS track included on the disk as with the other Vista editions of Shyamalan’s films.  What is included is a nice enough Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track. Signs makes good use of the rear channels, especially in the more eerie scenes, utilises ambient effects such as alien dialogue, crops moving in the wind, barking dogs or creaking and banging windows. Unfortunately these are more or less the only times the rear channels come to life.  All dialogue comes from the front 3 channels as well as the majority of James Newton Howard’s haunting and moving score.  Unlike most non-action DVDs, Signs makes good use of the sub-woofer with the score, especially in some of the more ‘jumpy’ sequences.

Signs: Vista Series
The first release information about Signs said that it would not be a Vista release. Straight after this information was released the fans went into overdrive with complaints.  It is more than likely because of this that when more info came to light it turned out to be a Vista edition. My own theory on this is that the first release was never going to be a Vista, and that there will turn out to be a 2 disc version of the film somewhere down the line. When you look at what isn’t included on the disc i.e. DTS sound, any audio commentary or trailers, the above seems a safe assumption to make. It may even be because all the extras are packed all on one disc that the picture quality has been affected. But as it goes Signs is single disc, no digipack, just a normal single disc case.

A conservative but enjoyable set of extras are included on the disk.  Whereas on many DVDs we are presented with mere promotional fluff to fill the void (see Spider-man).

First, and most importantly, is an enjoyable six-part documentary that explores the filmmaking process from the birth of the idea to writing the script, building the sets to realizing effects, music to the marketing and release of the film. Shyamalan is basically your host through this documentary and it is clear how much passion and effort he puts into making the audience understand what happened throughout the making of the film. There are some very insightful sections that other ‘making-of’s’ wouldn’t go into; the director approving C.G.I (which is great to see as it was Night’s first ever experience with C.G effects), coming up with the teaser trailer and an interview with the director a week after the films U.S. theatrical release. It is very important to note that you shouldn’t watch any of the parts of the documentary without seeing the film first as it gives the ending and much more away.

Next up are 3 deleted scenes with surprisingly no introductions by Shyamalan. All are really just for character background and extra shots. Graham and Merrill (1.05)is a short extra conversation between Graham and Merrill, Flashbacks: scene 1 (0.23), scene 2 (0.36) are two quick shots including Grahams wife, Dead Bird (0.21) is very short shot of Graham driving past a dead bird in the road, and Alien In The Attic and the third story (5.07) is some extra footage of an attempted attic break in and Graham telling another story from the past.

‘Night’s first alien movie’ is a short roughly filmed piece from Shyamalan’s home movie collection of a film he made when he was younger. With an introduction from Night, he explains himself why it is on the DVD and just how rough and amusing it is. With storyboards: multi-angle features section you have the option to watch a few scenes from the film either in its final version or in an animated storyboard as originally conceived my M. Night Shyamalan with 5.1 effects sound, 5.1 score sound, or 5.1 final mix sound. You can flick through the angles by using the angle button on your remote and change the sound with the audio option on your remote. This is a nice addition to the disc if only to see how Night visualized the film in the first place.

Signs: Vista Series
Signs is a great ‘supernatural’ thriller, but for me it doesn’t beat Night’s second film Unbreakable. Die-hard fans of any of the aforementioned films that Night took influence from, may feel cheated by obvious similarities, but from any point of view it is still a well-made and enjoyable film. This DVD version unfortunately does it no justice; on the screen it simply looks and sounds normal, nothing more. The extras, although enjoyable and info packed, still leave you wanting extra information on certain processes. If you loved the film, this will more than satisfy your appetite for now. If you aren’t that bothered, it may be worth a wait to see if any other announcements will be made along the line about a 2-disc edition, hopefully with a new transfer.