(M. Night Shyamalan, 2002)
Review by Mil Toro, (c) 2002 Mil Toro
Beware: Spoilers in review
I am a big fan of director M. Night's Shyamalan. I loved Sixth Sense, I loved Unbreakable. But Signs was just hmm... mediocre. It wasn't so much what M. Night did do but what he didn't. This movie could have been a whole lot better if M. Night had taken certain things to the limit. Instead he held back and didn't "swing away". In the baseball venacular, he got caught looking at a third strike. And it hurt the movie. Badly.
The Premise (Strike One):
Signs had a great premise but M. Night did very little with it. For instance, the idea of a family being isolated while the world is being invaded by aliens is an excellent one. Usually, these movies have several different personal stories they follow while all hell is breaking loose. But to concentrate on one family gave the movie a bit of uniqueness. Unfortunately, M. Night did not contrast it with anything else, giving the movie a claustrophobic feel to it. It could easily have been Panic Room without the aliens. Who cares?
However, there was an easy way to fix that. All he had to do was have the TV (and TV reports and later the radio) become another character. A good third of the movie should have been filled with the news. That is to say, they should have had the TV on all the time. That's what people do in time of crises! Well, duh! And even when the family had the tv on, too much time was spent on the audience watching the character(s) watching the TV. That took me right out of the story. I wanted to know what was going on, I wanted to not just hear the TV reports but see for myself what was happening in the world. Not enough information was given on the world situation. Yes, the family was isolated (we got that!) but contrast it to the more populous cities and how the invasion was effecting the entire planet. Involving the TV as another character would have driven home the isolation aspect in a more effective way.
Crop Circles (Strike Two):
The movie started out well with the crop circle landing on Gibson's property. It laid out the mystery of where they come from and why. Aliens were lurking about but they never explained why. Or what took them so long to invade the house? Or did why no "authority" other than the sheriff make it to the property for the entire film? The sheriff knew the crop circle was there, Gibson was calling around town wondering who could have "done it", but when the aliens' ships start forming in the sky, nobody comes to investigate Gibson's property or even calls???? That just did not compute. I understand that M. Night wanted this family to be completely isolated, but the phone should have went dead or something and the roads leading to the house should have been cut off somehow. Then make it so the TV worked only because they had a satellite dish.
Religion (Strike Three):
By having Mel Gibson's character be some kind of minister who had given up his faith was an interesting concept. It juxtaposed the belief in God versus the belief in science (aliens). One of the conspiracy theories going around about aliens is that the Governments around the world know that aliens exist and have been in contact with them. But one of the reasons they hide this information from the general public is because people will stop believing in God, and if people stop believing in God, they would lose the huge profits made off religion but more importantly, people would be harder to control. (That's the theory, anyway).
Anyway, M. Night presented this dilemma but did absolutely nothing with it. A way he could have "swung away" and driven this point home is by having the aliens take over the planet at the end. Near the end, when the little girl reports "they're dancing in the streets" on TV, the ending shot could have been when the rest of the family sees the footage, it was the aliens who were dancing in the streets, not humans. That would have been a surprise ending (something M. Night did very well in Sixth Sense and would have been entirely appropriate for this movie as well).
Not only would it have been a surprise, but it would have been highly ironic as well. A sort of Twilight Zone ending. Just before the "dancing" scene, Gibson's character saves his son from an asthma attack. The alien couldn't poison him because the son's lungs were closed down. When Gibson realised this, he thought that there were no coincidences and that God gave his son asthma for this reason. Whatever. But the irony would have been if the aliens had taken over anyway, where would his Faith be then?
I wonder if M. Night was originally going to have the aliens win in the end but the Hollywood suits told him he couldn't do it because it's too depressing and it brings up all kinds of controversial issues about religion. However, I thought that would have been one hellava ending. It still wouldn't have made it a great movie because there were so many other problems with it, but it would have been much better than the wimpy way the movie ended with Gibson going back to being a minister. Zzzzzzzzzz.
Let me see if I got this straight. An alien race who is technologically advanced and sophisticated enough to travel through space didn't have the wherewithal to investigate what type of planet they were "harvesting". The Earth is 70% water (even our astronauts can see that from the sky!) and it's a deadly weapon that's plentiful and readily available to the indigenous life, and yet they land here and try to "harvest" us. WHY????? Besides, our bodies are 90% water, how could we possibly be useful to them?
The little girl kept taking sips of water and claimed it was "contaminated". The audience was led to believe that it had something to do with the crop circle/aliens in the area. Nope. The little girl had been doing it all her life. Then what was the point of including that character trait and making an issue out of it? It would have been far more interesting if the little girl noticed that the water was "contaminated" by the aliens' mere presence (making the crop circles) and she could have been the character who "foretold" the future, although no one would believe her. She also had dreams about her brother dying so it wouldn't have been much of a stretch to add that in. Not to make her completely psychic but just very instinctual the way kids naturally are.
Why did Gibson leave the alien in the pantry and then told no one about it, not the sheriff or even his brother? Why did he not keep the aliens fingers as proof?
All in all, a movie I most likely won't see again. It's too frustrating. Some movies are just crap and nothing can be done to save them. But that wasn't the case with Signs. I love M. Night as a writer and director, but not this time. In baseball terms, he got called looking at a third strike with the bases loaded. He could have hit a Grand Slam if he had "swung away". He didn't. Disappointed!!
Rating: 2 out 5 stars