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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

you’re not helping: M. Night Shyamalan la-la-la can’t hear you…

…you people who hate his films more and more with each passing release. At least that’s how it sounds from a bizarre exchange at a recent press conference to promote The Last Airbender, as reported by Chicago Now’s Marcus Leshock. First came the question from a journalist:

You had a very strong start of your career with “The Sixth Sense.” Your movies have been very personal, however, the audience has lost faith in your work with ‘Lady in the Water’ and many of your recent productions. ‘Airbender’ feels like you want to captivate the audience again by becoming more commercial, am I right?

Shyamalan’s response?

I think if I thought like you, I’d kill myself.

So, Shyamalan doesn’t believe this is a fair representation of the track his career as been on? Or disagrees that Airbender is commercial? (Does he think it’s an art film?) Just WTF, anyway?

Leshock is just as baffled:

The truth is, while he may disagree with the inference, the question was well-worded and challenging. In other words – a good question. It could have inspired an answer so many of Shyamalan’s fans and detractors have been waiting for.

His vitriolic response not only shows a disdain for the audience, but it exudes such an arrogance – a “how DARE you” infer that there is any sort of critical backlash to my latest films. Is his inner circle so tight that Shyamalan doesn’t believe his critics exist – as if they’re phony monsters in cheesy suits lurking in that dark forest known as “on Google?”

Whatever Shyamalan’s reasons for saying what he said, it only reinforces the notion that he’s got his head so far up his own ass — a notion his movies of late have fostered — that he can’t see the angry mobs of cheated moviegoers in front of him.



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  • aquila6

    Whatever Shyamalan’s reasons for saying what he said, it only reinforces the notion that he’s got his head so far up his own ass — a notion his movies of late have fostered — that he can’t see the angry mobs of cheated moviegoers in front of him.

    I don’t feel cheated, because the last time I paid to see an M. Night Shyamalan movie was The Village — and I knew going in that it was going to be awful. Since then, I’ve only watched his stuff for free on HBO — and even so, I want my money back for enduring The Happening.

    It seems, in retrospect, that The Sixth Sense was the exception, not the rule. MNS is a hack who got lucky once, maybe twice. The sooner Hollywood realizes this, the sooner he will go away.

  • Hank Graham

    There was a trailer for “Devil” in front of the showing of “Salt” I went to this weekend. When Shyamalan’s name and producer credit came up, there was an audible groan from the audience. This was a nice middle-class suburban theater in Seattle with a nice middle-class and mostly high school age audience. I think his career is in serious trouble.

  • George H.

    Hank, a very similar thing happened to me when I went to go see Inception a couple of weeks back. And I agree, his career looks to be in some trouble.

  • Overflight

    There was a trailer for “Devil” in front of the showing of “Salt” I went to this weekend. When Shyamalan’s name and producer credit came up, there was an audible groan from the audience. This was a nice middle-class suburban theater in Seattle with a nice middle-class and mostly high school age audience. I think his career is in serious trouble.

    Apparently this wasn’t an isolated incident: (despite the reaction shown here being slightly different)

    http://techland.com/2010/07/19/audience-reacts-to-m-night-shyamalan%E2%80%99s-name-during-devil-trailer/

    Yeah. His career and reputation are officially in the toilet.

  • Overflight

    Oops. Missed MaryAnn linking a similar article in the Devil trailer post. Sorry about that.

  • Alma

    I’m actually really grateful to M. Night. I’m an aspiring screenwriter and his career and attitude has basically been a step-by-step guide on everything NOT to do when you hit the big time….I’ve learned a lot of lessons about the importance of humility from this guy.

  • CB

    I’m an aspiring screenwriter and his career and attitude has basically been a step-by-step guide on everything NOT to do when you hit the big time….

    I think if M. Night Shyamalan thought like that, he would kill himself.

    Heh.

    You know, I’ve been thinking I should rent Unbreakable. I missed it in the theater, and I wrote off Shyamalan pretty much completely after I discovered Signs‘ big twist, that the whole time I thought I was watching a good movie but — DUN DUN DUN! — I was watching ridiculously contrived laughable schlock!

    I haven’t risked watching one of his movies since. But it would be nice to see if it’s true that he actually made two good movies.

  • JoshDM

    Unbreakable is worth watching once, CB. Keep in mind, it came out when Mystery Men did and there weren’t any other super-hero movies on the horizon besides Spider-Man.

    To anyone who wants to wash the waste of the Airbender movie out of their eyes, go watch the TV series it was adapted from instead.

  • Shyamalan is washed up. Finished. I keep wondering what it will take for him to realize it and fade away with a whimper so the rest of us won’t be bothered. But that’s just wishful thinking, isn’t it?

    I recently saw a trailer for the new film Devil. The most amusing part about it was how they said “From the mind of M. Knight Shyamalan.” Hilarious, don’t you think? Not “written by;” not “produced by;” no reference to any of his other films because people would run for the hills if he came anywhere near to touching the project. Just “from the mind of;” so, if you like the very, very basic and fundamental elements of Shyamalan’s stories, go ahead and watch.

    But all that is academic because Devil doesn’t look good anyway.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m actually really grateful to M. Night. I’m an aspiring screenwriter and his career and attitude has basically been a step-by-step guide on everything NOT to do when you hit the big time….I’ve learned a lot of lessons about the importance of humility from this guy.

    Except Shyamalan has shown that doing good work and having a good attitude has fuck-all to do with getting jobs in Hollywood. The lessons to be learned from his career appear to be “Make one pretty good movie that gets everyone talking, and then coast on that for 10 years. It doesn’t matter what kind of shit you do next, everyone will love you. Oh, and be sure to act like an arrogant prick, the better to sway any doubters to your side. You don’t want any annoying little upstarts daring to announce that your fine suit of new clothes is nonexistent.”

  • Jester

    Hysterical tale from a former news producer and a interview that he set up with M. Night:

    http://www.deusexmalcontent.com/2010/04/tuesday-is-recycling-day.html

    The guy is an egomaniac douche bag and a horrible human being, in addition to being a hack.

  • Daniel

    I’m not a fan of M. Night Shyamalan. I stopped watching his movies years ago. But I kind of have to side with him here. The question he was asked sounded like a polite way of saying, “Isn’t it true that most of your recent films have been horrible failures? And isn’t this new movie a desperate attempt to salvage your career by grabbing on to a popular show?” If I had those sorts of thoughts running through my head while I were making a movie, I sort of would want to kill myself. So if I were M. Night Shyamalan, I’d be making a huge effort not to think that way. I’d be thinking, “I’m going to make this the best film I possibly can. Chop wood. Carry water.”

  • Unbreakable and Signs are definitely worth watching, but everything after…well, let’s just say The Village was creepy, but predictable, and Lade in the Water was an effing mess from idea to execution.

  • Drew

    I think the first MNS movie I ever saw was Signs, and I had so many problems with it I wouldn’t stop talking about the movie for months. As far as Ive seen it’s been downhill from there…

  • RogerBW

    Daniel, I think it’s a fair question: when the world and his dog are saying “your last six films have been garbage”, do you acknowledge that things aren’t working or just carry on with your “let them eat cake” attitude?

    What I find potentially more interesting is: why do people keep paying the man to make films, when they are commercial as well as critical failures? He’s clearly not a bankable name any more.

  • Laura

    Ha. Had the same experience at the Devil trailer, except for us it was laughter.

    Kudos to the trailer guys for making it look so creepy, though! We were all absorbed… until the director’s name came up.

  • JoshDM

    Unbreakable and Signs are definitely worth watching

    It’s ok to stop watching Signs after Joaquin Phoenix sees the broadcast of South American footage; that’s the high point of the film and the rest (including the alien who can’t open a door) is crap.

  • jimknows

    The only good movie he has ever done was Sixth Sense. The trailers for the rest were enough to keep me from wasting my money on any of the others, even renting for a dollar. The time-waste isn’t even worth “free” TV viewings.

  • amanohyo

    jimknows, I’m gonna play Shyamalan’s advocate for a sec. How does jim know that none of M-nightie’s other movies are good if he’s only seen the trailers? A trailer is often intentionally made to be extremely misleading by our friends in the marketing department.

    Unbreakable is roughly as tolerable as Sixth Sense. You might feel differently, but you’ll never know for sure until you watch it yourself or consult with people whose opinions and taste you respect.

    Watching a trailer and thinking, “that movie looks terrible,” is different than thinking, “I know that movie is terrible, and I will tell everyone I know that it is terrible without ever watching it.” I mean, I’m pretty sure that Daddy Day Care is not a good movie, but I would never tell anyone it was no good because that implies that I’ve watched it.

    In your defense, if someone showed you a photo of a bun with a steaming turd on it, and a friend asked you later, “how does that shit sandwich I’ve been hearing so much about taste?” I wouldn’t fault you too much for saying, “it tastes like crap,” without actually biting into one. But you never know, if you’re too circumspect you might miss out on some surprisingly delicious shit…

  • Jester

    @RogerBW: That’s the thing, though. People DO continue to go see his movies. The Village was crap, but made double… maybe triple what was put in to make it. The Happening was worse, and “only” made about double what it cost. The Last Airbender is a ridiculously bad joke of a movie, but will still eke out a small profit, particularly when the DVD numbers come in.

    The guy doesn’t have one resounding flop yet. Even Lady in the Water broke even. Barely, but it did it.

    Until people stop going to his movies and buying his DVDs, movie executives will keep giving this man money.

  • RogerBW

    Looking at IMDB:

    The Village: domestic gross 60% over budget.
    Lady in the Water: domestic gross 40% below budget.
    The Happening: domestic gross 34% over budget.

    Given that as a rule of thumb half the gross stays in the hands of the theater chains, none of those could be considered to have broken even. Even looking at worldwide gross, which I don’t have for LITW, The Happening is a success at 3.4x, but The Village is only a marginal success. Stack on DVD sales and you might get somewhere… but plenty of directors are declared “non-commercial” and denied further work if they don’t make back 2x the budget on domestic gross.

    Still, I was never a fan of the guy’s work. I found The Sixth Sense so blindingly obvious that I couldn’t believe that what I had guessed was being saved up as a big reveal.

  • How does jim know that none of M-nightie’s other movies are good if he’s only seen the trailers? A trailer is often intentionally made to be extremely misleading by our friends in the marketing department.

    The marketing department of a film wants you to think the film is good by making, what they think, is a good trailer. But if the trailer is rubbish, either the film itself is also rubbish, or the marketing department is seriously incompetent. It’s most likely the former case because the marketing people can only work with the footage that’s available. Yes, they do make bad films look good in the trailer, and that’s misleading, but the bottom line in all creative media is that you have to make people want to participate (e.g. watch the film, read the book, etc.) If you fail in that endeavor – say, by making a bad trailer – then you lose your credibility as a filmmaker, and it is therefore reasonable to assume that you’ve failed with the film itself as well.

    I agree that it is wrong to say, “I know that film is bad,” after watching only the trailer. People who know better will just give their opinion without turning it into fact. But let’s be honest: how many times have you been in the cinema, watched a trailer for a film, turned to your friend to say, “that film looks rubbish,” and then pay good money to see the film later on? Doesn’t happen. People only watch what they think they will like because we all value our own opinions.

  • Jester

    Use boxofficemojo.com.

    Point is, this guy’s a success until and unless one of his movies hits the ground with a resounding thud. That has not happened. Michael Bay has more flops (1) than MNS has (0).

  • What I find potentially more interesting is: why do people keep paying the man to make films, when they are commercial as well as critical failures? He’s clearly not a bankable name any more.

    It’s the thought of, “let’s throw the dice just once more because this might be the moment when we hit 11 again” – and after that, it’ll be one more throw, and then another, and another. They had a hit with his first studio film, so they didn’t want to throw away a proven (if only for one moment) money-maker.

    However, they are not complete morons. They know his name is becoming toxic, which is why they only have him as “story by” on Devil – they didn’t let him anywhere near the development stage. “Just sell us your idea and walk away.” Granted, they gave him a producer credit, but that could just be something his agent haggled over; we don’t know what he actually did as “producer.” In fact, that might have just been part of the deal when they bought the story.

  • Alma

    “Except Shyamalan has shown that doing good work and having a good attitude has fuck-all to do with getting jobs in Hollywood. The lessons to be learned from his career appear to be “Make one pretty good movie that gets everyone talking, and then coast on that for 10 years.”

    Thanks for replying MaryAnn (that’s my first response from you! yay! =) )

    I mentioned that I was an aspiring screenwriter so I’ll lay down my two cents…the problem is not Shyamalan’s directing talent. The problem lies in his screenplays. Directors and actors always get all the credit for a great movie, but what people fail to realize time and again is that it is the screenwriter, and thus screenplay, that makes a film what it is. The screenplay is the bare bones, and backbone, of a STORY. A film is essentially storytelling, and if we’re all honest with ourselves we know that the best and most enduring stories from our childhoods and otherwise are those with a very clear and defined storytelling STRUCTURE. I learned this in Film 101. M. Night, who is no schlump when it comes to ideas and feeling, simply doesn’t know how to put these ideas and feelings together in a structured way that will make it succesful. I’ll say that the Sixth Sense was an exception. But ever since then, he seems to have adopted an attitude where he gives predominance to the ideas and moods of his films without giving real thought to this structure. This is a fatal mistake and is personally a big pet peeve of mine because it ruins otherwise very fine and ambitious films (for example this is my big gripe with Miyazaki films and a lot of anime. Love the films, but their lack of structure prevents them from reaching a level of greatness that it otherwise would have had the director/animator given some thought and importance to it).

    The fact is that Night is a very talented visual director, but what he really needs to do is not keep hacking away and making bad film after bad film based on poorly structured screenplays, but go home and hone his SCREENWRITING craft a little and make a convincing film, as he showed us he was so capable of with the Sixth Sense.

  • Aaron

    It’s interesting to look at the contrast between Shyamalan’s and Christopher Nolan’s careers. They both started out with intriguing if not brilliant movies, but that’s where the similarity stops.

  • Jurgan

    Unbreakable is excellent- probably better than Sixth Sense, and I thought Signs was pretty good. It was scary, even if you think the ending stretched plausibility.* The fact of the “aliens” weren’t the point- how people reacted to the fear of invasion was the point. The Village was an enjoyable watch at the time, but the big twist doesn’t hold up (I get living like seventeenth century people, but why speak like it?), and once you realize the whole movie was structured around the twist, it falls apart. His earlier movies would still have been good even without the twist endings.

    As for the above quote: The way I interpreted it was “No, I didn’t take the job because it’s commercial- I took it because I like the source material and wanted to tell this story.” Of course, if that is what he wanted to say, it was a pretty tactless way of saying it.

    *A lot of people hated the idea of aliens that were weak to water yet came to a planet that is seventy percent water. I heard a pretty good alternate explanation: The aliens are actually demons form under the Earth. The water that kills them isn’t regular water, but holy water, because the young girl somehow had the power to bless water. That’s why she kept starting to drink water and then setting it down, saying it tasted funny- she’d transmuted it without even knowing it. I haven’t watched the movie again since I heard this theory, so I don’t know how well it holds up, but it’s interesting.

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