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More than any other popular filmmaker in the past few years, M. Night Shyamalan’s films have a way of dividing audiences into those who end up liking them and those who do not. While the majority of people enjoyed his breakthrough hit The Sixth Sense, his proceeding films, Unbreakable and Signs, were seen as either hit or miss and met with mixed reaction from audiences for the most part. The big gamble that he takes with these films is that the majority of people base their opinion of them on whether or not they buy into the twist near the end that has unfortunately become an expected staple in his films. While I found The Sixth Sense to be near perfect, the endings to his last two films didn’t quite work for me but had enough to like about their stories to still make them entertaining and enjoyable regardless of the missteps taken near their conclusions.

Village: Vista Series, The
Shyamalan’s The Village is his biggest gamble yet from a story point perspective as it relies more heavily than the previous films on the secrets revealed in its third act. More so than with those films, if the audience is letdown by the big revelations in the end the entire film would fold like a house of cards since there isn’t enough substance to the story’s foundation otherwise to recover from such a setback.

In an isolated, rural area of Pennsylvania circa 1897 there exists a small, closely knit community led by Edward Walker (William Hurt) that is surrounded by woods harbouring mystical creatures with who the village elders have struck a pact—no one from the village is to enter the woods and in return the creatures will not enter or otherwise threaten the village. Keeping up their end of the bargain isn’t much of a problem for the villagers since they have no wish to venture to neighbouring towns, thus necessitating a journey through the forest, and they have sequestered themselves away from society and all of its trappings. But one day, a fearless young man by the name of Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), in a decision born out of curiosity and good intentions, enters the woods and draws the attention of the creatures. Out of his actions an escalating chain of events begins that may lead to the destruction of the idyllic village.

The film is basically an allegorical look into the futility of isolationism as a way to protect a community from the evils present in the surrounding world and an excellent treatise on these current sociological ideals and the dangers inherent to them. Although the citizens of the village are able to cut them selves off from the rest of the world out of fear from the malevolent actions of others, new threats inevitably grow from within the group and human nature rears its ugly head to create new monsters to replace the old. Shyamalan makes a valid argument against the opinions of those who feel we should close our borders to foreigners and that simply running away and hiding from society’s problems is the solution to providing a tranquil existence rather than facing up to them and trying to make a difference. As a microcosm of the real world, the movie deals with such issues on a much smaller but no less poignant scale in the course of its running time and when looked at from this perspective, the film is quite thought provoking and the best material that Shyamalan has written yet for the screen.

Village: Vista Series, The
The majority of those who watch the film, however, are less likely to be concerned with the underlying message that Shyamalan attempts to deliver with his film than they are about the entertainment value of the piece and whether or not it delivers a suspenseful story and a creative, shocking twist. As far as these matters go, The Village makes good on providing adequate suspense and a mysteriously spooky atmosphere about it for most of its running time, but the film stumbles when it comes to the latter rendering much of what has preceded it almost pointless.

The main problem with the payoff that comes in The Village is that first it reveals one of its secrets too early in the final act thus lifting much of the tension that should have been constantly ratcheted up during its climax. Secondly, another secret is telegraphed too much by simply observing the surroundings and dialogue in the film to be much of a surprise and when the curtain is pulled away, the biggest shock concerning the resolution is that it seems altogether too pedestrian and isn’t much of a mind-blowing revelation at all. Since the entire story has built itself around the mystery of what lies within and beyond the woods and the answers to these questions turn out to be a letdown, the film lands with a resounding thud, collapsing on itself without any other real, entertaining substance left otherwise. Shyamalan’s gamble on betting the farm here just doesn’t pan out like his previous efforts.

That’s not to say that The Village is an entirely bad movie or a total failure; quite the contrary in fact, it is as well crafted in all aspects as any of Shyamalan’s other films and even more so in some ways. The cast that includes Hurt, Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody and Bryce Dallas Howard among them is the best ensemble that he has brought together yet and the cinematography of Roger Deakins and score by James Newton Howard nearly make the film worthwhile all on their own. Bad movies aren’t made this well, and to write the whole film off because of the last thirty minutes would be a shame.

I suspect that in the end, The Village will have the most sharply divided audience of any of Shyamalan’s previous films and whether you like the film or not may entirely ride on how you feel about the conclusion to the film. Shyamalan’s previous successes seem to have painted him into a corner with this one while searching for a satisfactory finale to the story that I for one didn’t buy in to, though I did enjoy the film up until the third act. That’s not to say that you won’t see it as absorbing and plausible and find the film entirely entertaining from beginning to end, but that’s why film like any other art form is totally subjective.

Village: Vista Series, The
Touchstone Home Entertainment has presented The Village in anamorphic widescreen at the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and the resulting transfer is nothing short of excellent. Colours are vivid, light and darkness contrasts are handled well and the picture is so sharp that every detail in the film right down to the material of the clothing is easily apparent. The only real fault with the transfer is that the film is a bit dark throughout, thus making more brightly coloured objects such as grass or leaves stand out more than they really ought to at times, but it is a minor issue overall. This is easily one of the best transfers I have seen yet this year.

Roger Deakins is a masterful cinematographer whose work in many of the Coen Brothers’ films, such as O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Man Who Wasn’t There, and Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind is some the best work being done by any director of photography today. His cinematography in The Village ranks right up there with these and his other best efforts, enabling the film to pull off the eerie and foreboding atmosphere that it strives to achieve. This is the first collaboration between himself and Shyamalan and it is a partnership that I hope continues in the director’s future films.

The DVD offers the choices of Dolby Digital 5.1 EX in English and French along with subtitles in English, French and Spanish. A film like this really needs a sound mix that heightens the tension and works in concert with the camera work, and this film delivers in spades. Your entire sound system will definitely get a workout as the Dolby 5.1 EX audio presented on this DVD packs a real punch with an immersive sound field that picks up on every little noise made in the film with the most impressive moments taking place whenever the characters venture into the forbidden woods. James Newton Howard once again supplies a score to a Shyamalan film that like the sound design hits its marks at just the right moments and adds its share of goose bumps to the proceedings.

Village: Vista Series, The
Toucstone Home Entertainment has released M. Night Shyamlan’s The Village as part of their Vista Series line and the disc contains about forty-five minutes worth of special features such as a production featurettes and deleted scenes that, like the film, leave a little something to be desired in the end. As with the previous releases of Shyamalan’s films to DVD, the exclusion of a commentary track is sorely missed.

First is the featurette ‘Deconstructing The Village’ that has a running time of approximately twenty-five minutes and may be played as one feature or in six individual parts. The piece covers a different part of the production of the film in each of its six parts, ranging from the writing and storyboarding process, creating the sets and costumes for the film, Roger Deakin’s cinematography and James Newton Howard’s score and finally the creation of the creatures that inhabit the forbidden woods. While the featurette gives a good look into the making of the film, I would have preferred a more in depth look into the process to bring The Village to the screen and a bit more than small, four minute blurbs on each subject.

The next extra is a rather innocuous four minute piece entitled ‘Bryce’s Diary’. It features the actress recounting some of her experiences of making the picture while a video montage and music from the film is played. Also included are four deleted scenes with a total running time of around ten minutes that are introduced and explained by Shyamalan and as it turns out were wisely cut to better the pacing of the film. Rounding out the features is a home movie shot by Shyamalan as a teen that was apparently shot in the mid 80s judging from the obvious Indiana Jones references, a photo gallery of the production featuring thirty-eight stills, a teaser for the upcoming The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and trailers for Ladder 49 and Mr. 3000.

Village: Vista Series, The
M. Night Shyamalan's The Village is a well made film that features a brilliant cast and great technical merits, but overall is a real letdown. It didn't meet many of my expectations as a suspenseful thriller, stretches its premise a bit thin with the trademark Shyamalan twist that it relies too much on, and in the end doesn't quite work. Touchstone's DVD offers an excellent video transfer and an equally impressive audio presentation for the film along with some rather middling special features that are nothing to write home about. I would recommend renting The Village, but as far as purchasing the disc you may find that repeat viewings of the film will not be in store for you after its secrets are revealed and you take a good look as to what remains afterwards.