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M. Night Shyamalan has proved himself to an often mordant viewing public. With only three films, he has garnered a very definite reputation. Going into his pictures, audiences expect certain things. Firstly, there is quality, as Shyamalan is no slouch and usually audiences can be sure they will enjoy themselves. Secondly, you expect ‘the ending’. Sadly, lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice and Shyamalan hasn’t quite yet replicated what made The Sixth Sense so wonderful.

That’s not to say Unbreakable was lacking in quality as it certainly was not (although you did need to have a decent understanding of comics), but it just wasn’t The Sixth Sense. Unbreakable was moving and heroic and though it had no message about society, it did indeed stir the soul.

Signs, the third of Shyamalan’s ‘big films’ is in my opinion his best. Like Unbreakable, Signs doesn’t quite capture what The Sixth Sense had either, but truthfully, it didn’t need to. By now, Shyamalan has shown his audiences that he is no one-trick pony. Signs is poignant with an undertone that transcends its plot. Furthermore, its subject matter terrified me and at the same time touched me profoundly.

Signs: Vista Series

Father Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) and his children suffered a grave and terrible loss. Thusly, Hess went astray of his faith, abandoning his vocation as a minister in Bucks County, PA, completely relinquishing himself of his beliefs.

Then there were the crop circles.

They appeared quickly, just beyond the Hess’ home, and then just as quickly, all over the world. Soon, there is talk of invasion by a hostile species- one of the aliens was even caught on home video in South America. Due to the appearance of these creatures, several events occur that push Graham towards faith once again.

Signs is, for all intents and purposes, a film about faith. Are there no coincidences? Are there miracles? The movie examines these questions, and for Mel Gibson’s character, answers them.

As I said, this film touched me very deeply. At the age of eleven, I became a Christian. As I learned about my faith and what it means to believe in a higher power, I realized the difficulty and the benefits. There have been numerous times where my faith has been severely tested and there have been many instances in which my faith has been proven. I’ve no evidence to support the reasons I have been fortunate, or despite great hurt I actually prospered, other than that I know there was something greater watching me, protecting me- something I could trust. For me, watching Signs was a faith re-affirming experience.

On the flip side, Signs disturbed me intensely. We all have that fear which develops in childhood and despite all the growth in life it just sticks with us and lingers. Mine wasn’t the dark, heights, the boogey-man, whatever... my fear was aliens. I’m not joking. To this day, I’m still irked by them. The idea of being abducted and violated is to me shocking and frightening. I will never be convinced that any aliens, if they do indeed exist, are friendly. Nothing really scares me, as I can usually just brush it off, or rationalize. But with aliens, it’s just disturbing.

While watching Signs theatrically for the first time, I sat at the edge of my seat with my heart pounding, sweating. Mind you, I can usually shrug off the occasional ‘make-you-jump’ scare in a movie, but I was shaking near the end of Signs!

So what did I do? I saw it again the next night and enjoyed the audiences’ reactions (anything to not have to watch the film all the way through again!) By the release of this DVD, the movie had lost some of its edge, but the message concerning faith did leave a lasting impression. Consequently, Signs will always be special to me, and hopefully should be to you.

The film was indeed a faith-affirming experience, but this DVD leaves me with little faith in the DVD format. The image (anamorphic 1.85:1 by the way) overall is lazy; the folks in mastering over at Buena Vista really didn’t try very hard. This film was a huge hit released by the Mouse himself (sorta...) but for its release on DVD, it has been given a crap transfer. There are non-stop print flaws, copious amounts of edge-enhancement and too much grain. Blacks are good, but detail is bad. Color is good, but sharpness is off.

The transfer is good and bad, but more bad than good. If it were not for the quality of the film’s narrative, I would advise against the purchasing of this DVD solely by the quality of the video, it gets that bad at times.

As I said, Signs terrified me, and what was responsible for that was the sound design. The aliens running around, the loud crashing, the score... shiver.

All I can say is that this English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound track brought back some of those scary memories. This track is THX certified and is a pretty good effort for a quiet movie. The surrounds are used when necessary and are quite engaging. The score is wonderfully represented, particularly at the films heroic climax. Bass response is wonderful, dialogue is always audible and there is nary a moment where the sound is tinny or scratchy. A good mix all around.

Signs: Vista Series

What bonus material we have here is fairly weak for a Vista Series release. Had this been a run of the mill DVD, the extras could be considered somewhat respectable as the package contains little fluff material, but this collection isn’t up to Vista Series standards, not by any means.

The Making of Signs is a rather good documentary broken into six parts: Looking for Signs, Building Signs, Making Signs: A Commentary by M. Night Shyamalan, The Effects of Signs, Last Voices: The Music of Signs and Full Circle. The best way to view these shorts is all together as one cohesive feature using the play-all function. All in all, it lasts just under 59 minutes.

This feature is very comprehensive, covering shooting locations, designing the crop circles, composer James Newton Howard’s relationship with Shyamalan, Shyamalan’s first foray into visual effects, his choices between art an business and a general feelings on making the film.

This is one of the better docs of late and worth more than one look, indeed.

There are also five deleted scenes, just over eight minutes of footage in total. These scenes don’t add much to the picture, as Shyamalan is pretty deft in choosing what stays and what goes. There are two flashbacks, a scene between Merrill and Graham and a shot of one of the birds that broke its neck flying into one of the invisible spacecraft. One lengthy scene deals with an alien attempting to enter through the Hess’ attic door.

Next are storyboard to final version comparisons. There are two, one for the scene in which Graham attempts to see what’s behind the pantry door at the Vet’s house and one for the ‘ass-whuppin’ near the beginning of the film. You have the option to view these segments with 5.1 effects, 5.1 music or 5.1 final mixes. These are nice but have been done to death. I’d say it’s time to get a little more creative.

Lastly is M. Night Shyamalan’s first creature movie. This is a clip from one of his home movies titled Pictures. As with his last two DVD’s the clips are really bad, which means they’re great thing to show the consumer. It’s nice to see a director with true humility. Hopefully, with future Shyamalan releases, he’ll continue to include small clips from his very first endeavors in directing.

Now, I have a theory concerning this disc and as to why it is being considered a Vista Release as opposed to the regular release it was originally intended to be. It was never going to be Vista Series release.

All around, this disc indicates it was changed shortly before release, and made to be like a Vista Series DVD. Firstly, the packaging; originally, it looked like the theatrical poster, but was abruptly changed to appear as a part of the Vista Series line, resulting in an odd squishing of the art on the front, with the addition of the cast (doing something they never did in the film) and a Vista Series banner. Secondly, the menus; all previous Vista Series DVD’s had the VS logo on the menus, Signs does not.

The bonus material is so Plain-Jane. On both previous Shyamalan VS releases, there have been further supplements dealing with the subject matter of the film in question. The Sixth Sense has a documentary on angels and apparitions and Unbreakable has a doc on Super-Hero mythology. Signs has no such doc concerning crop circles or aliens. All of the extras are non-anamorphic where previous releases extras were, and the deleted scenes are unfinished, non-anamorphic and have no intros by Shyamalan.

I’m sure this was going to be a regular disc release, but fans were so displeased by the news that it would not be a Vista Series release that the Buena Vista just did a reversal and made the interior booklet fancy looking and said “Let it be Vista!”

Mostly, I find the tactic (if it’s true) rather tacky and am offended. What this means is that we are either going to find ourselves with a nice 2-disc set in the future, or we are stuck with this mostly good but not quite good enough single-disc only release of Signs.

Signs: Vista Series

Signs is a stunning allegory that deals beautifully with the ways in which faith is wonderful and the ways it can be a bear. It just happens that M. Night Shyamalan used aliens as a medium for the telling of that story.

This DVD is worth picking up, as there are no plans as of yet to double-dip this film. The video ranges from so-so to “NO-NO, don’t buy me!” and the audio does what it needs to, while the extras are meager only when thought of as Vista Series material. Go and buy Signs, but not based on its technical merit as a DVD.