Lady in the Water (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Stevie McCleary & Samuel Scott (8th May 2013).
The Film

It is traditional for a review to start by leading you in gently, giving you some points of interest or a nice metaphor, and leading you through what will be discussed. Personally, I'm very partial to an abstract metaphor that eventually ties up in a (hopefully) humorous fashion. However, it is usual to connect these metaphors to the subject matter or themes undertaken in the film. And so, with respect to M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water", which certainly doesn't hide what type of film it is, I will start the review the way I mean to continue, and the way I intend to end.

This movie blows chunks. Big-ass frickin' chunks. I hated it. From start to finish. Worst movie I've seen all year, leaving me with a strong sense of bitter disappointment. It's a self-important masturbatory experience for the writer/director and it sucks because of it.

Here we go:

I'd heard bad reviews of "Lady in the Water", but I ignored them. Why, you ask? It was because each of M. Night's films had received more negative press than the last. And in nearly every case, I disagreed with the critics. I've been a huge fan of all his previous works. "Unbreakable" (2000) was my first. I'd missed "The Sixth Sense" (1999). As a comic fan, and a fan of the cast, "Unbreakable" was just immensely fun for me. I thought it was very well done. I watched "The Sixth Sense" soon after. I'd never had the twist spoiled for me, so that was good. I did work it out, fifteen minutes into it, but in no way did that dampen my enjoyment. The film is solid and emotionally gripping. A film does not stand on the strength of a 'twist'. Then "Signs" (2002) arrived and the backlash begun. Understandably, because of the success of "The Sixth Sense", there was much scrutiny on Shyamalan. Indeed, many people had begun referring to him as 'this generation's Alfred Hitchcock' this type of label can be a detriment in many cases. And so, "Signs" was not universally loved. Many mocked the plot, claiming many errors of logic. One of them, is the notion that (spoiler alert) the aliens came to conquer a planet partially covered in a substance that is deadly to them. Firstly, we humans travel out to worlds that don't even have oxygen, alright? We would die instantly if our suits got punctured, yet not many question our need to reach the stars. Secondly, the film is a look into the nature of whether life is a sequence of coincidences, or whether there are 'signs' that can guide us. That is what the movie is about, not just aliens.

"The Village" (2004) was the worst so far, in the general public's eye. They thought the twist was uninspired (again, I worked it out early on, but enjoyed the film) and the premise hackneyed. I enjoyed the film. I thought, at its heart, that it was quite sweet and engaging. Naturally, when I heard that Shyamalan was working on a fairy tale-style based film; I was indeed looking forward to it.

"Lady in the Water", this is where it all went wrong. I'd question what he was thinking but there I no proof that Shyamalan put his pants on long enough to consider any rational thought. I heard that he had to swap studios because Disney didn't agree with 'his vision', more to the point, they didn't understand it. This is the first time I've agreed with a major Hollywood studio in a long time. He chose the story based on what his kids wanted to see him do next, okay, and they wanted him to do the short fairy tale that he wrote for them. Wow, his kids must love his work almost as much as he does. We're probably a few years away from finding out that his kids are just stuffed raccoons, wheeled out to explain his next illogical project.

The film opens with some cartoons and exposition dialogue explaining what they couldn't be bothered slotting in the actual film. It's largely unnecessary, as it equates to 'fairies live in the sea, they don't come around much anymore'. We are then introduced to Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) who is a manager at some apartment blocks. He stutters. WE see him introducing a new tenant; he's a film critic, to the building. The critic gets to meet some of the colourful characters who inhabit the building. I say 'characters' using the loosest definition of the word. 'Bizarre, unrealistic stereotypes' would be a closer fit, but if I stopped right now to attack every problem with the film, we'd never get through the plot. But I'll come back to it. Anyways, Cleveland catches Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is a 'Narf' from some underwater place, coming out of the pool. So he sits down with her and has a conversation. I don't know what a 'Narf' is, and I don't really know why any of the things that are happening are happening. Not that much is happening. Cleveland doesn't stutter around her, so there's that. In fact, this is the plot in a nutshell: Cleveland talks with Story because he needs to help her return to the bottom of the pool. He then goes and asks an Asian woman about Narf fairy tales and she tells him a little bit. Then, Cleveland talks to Story for a bit and realises he needs more of the fairy tale. So he goes back to the Asian lady, (June Kyoto Lu) who gets her daughter (Cindy Cheung) to translate all this, by the way and asks the next part of the story. Then he goes and talks with Story for a while, until he realises he needs more of the story. So, he heads back to the old Asian lady. Get it yet? Would it be so hard to ASK HER THE WHOLE FAIRY-TALE? This is case of needing to have the information spread out over the film but not having a good way of doing it. So we'll just go back to the same person to tell us a bit more of the story. I always ask for just one chapter of the story needed to save a fairy-lady from grass covered wolfs (that would be the thing preventing her from returning home; to the pool) instead of the full story. Good thing that nobody thinks it's strange that I keep returning to ask these questions too. Eventually we reach a point where Cleveland acquires the help of the tenants, who just walk in and believe this story about the Narf, to help send her home.

There's a great concept hidden under this movie, that these people are unconsciously drawn to this one building to achieve a great deed. It's buried under petty attacks and self-important garbage. I thought about that while Cleveland walked back and forth between Story and the old lady for forty minutes.

The character of the film critic is the first major problem with the film. The critic (Bob Balaban) exists purely because Shyamalan intensely dislikes film critics. I guess that's a fine reason. The critic speaks in a monotone cultured from a belief that there is nothing new to see anymore. He looks down on everything around him. And the one time that Cleveland asks for advice, because he needs to know how to spot the certain types of characters that Story needs to protect her, the critic gives him a basic rundown of all these people we've seen so far throughout the film. He talks about the conventions of film-making and what these characters would have done to make themselves known. After not questioning why he'd be asked these things, the critic eventually goes on to be the only person to die in the film. A death that is so ridiculous that I refuse to discuss it further. Suffice to say, the critic talks out loud in that scene about what type of film he's in. Naturally, we also find out that the information the critic gave Cleveland was false, just to set up the line, "Who would ever listen to a film critic?"

The absolute worst moment involving this shameless attack on film writers is when the critic returns from seeing a romance film. To Cleveland he questions why characters walk around talking out loud in films when they don't do that in real life, and why they always reunite and talk at the end of films in the rain, because nobody does that in real life either. Cleveland then turns towards the camera, looking just past it, and asks whether it could be a metaphor for purification; starting anew, to which the critic replies "No, it's not", Get it? It's because critics don't know anything. He's dumb.

The other major problem, connected to his indulgence over the film critic issue, is the role Shyamalan plays in the film. He plays a writer; a writer whose words will alter the course of human history. Right. Pretentious, much? In fact, when the critic is revealed to have given terrible advice about who Cleveland should be searching for, guess who the only person who was still right? Shyamalan cast himself in the role of saviour. To him, this made sense. To me, all I can see is someone who believes so seriously in himself that he became a parody of his own accomplishments.

The only shining light in the film, naturally, is the insanely talented Paul Giamatti. There is a very emotional scene towards the end with Cleveland that really reminds you to go and rent a better film with him in it. It's almost painful to watch him put this much effort into a film that never clicks or hits a good stride. It's a pity because, much like Story's supposed underwater land, there is a wealth of untapped potential beneath the surface.

One of my major beefs with the 'fairy tale' logic used here is that it both explains everything and nothing at the same time. Need someone to breathe underwater for minutes? It's magic. Need people to find hidden messages in crossword puzzles? It's magic. How does she come from another world when it's just a pool? Magic. Why can you only see a great big wolf by using a mirror? Magic. Why do giant monkeys descend at the end of the film to beat things up? Magic... apparently. Why do the characters in this film talk nothing like real people? Magic?

To bottom line it: this film is not very good. It could have done with about ten rewrites to the script, in order to get it to an appropriate level. It could have done with many things, actually. But I would have settled for it not being made at all. This is not a misunderstood masterpiece, this is a massive misfire. Shyamalan's writer character asks 'Am I going to die because I wrote this?' My magic eight ball says 'The future looks cloudy. Ask again later.'

Video

Warner Home Video release "Lady in the Water" on blu-ray in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 using the same VC-1 encode as the previous HD DVD release. It isn't the strongest transfer we've seen from Warner, especially considering this is a recent(ish) big budget studio movie.

The movie is intentionally dominated by rather drab colours, particularly many shades of dark blue, often mixed with greenish tints. There are no bright colours in the movie, and as expected, Warner have managed to keep the colours as per the theatrical release. Unfortunately, the transfer is lacking a little in detail. Although the facial close-ups sometimes look decent, it lacks the sharpness in the facial contours and individual hairs. I did notice a couple of very minor blips by way of artifacts in the print, but other than that the transfer is acceptable - it just feels overly muted and too soft. It's better than the DVD release, but not by as big a margin as one would hope.

Audio

There are several audio options included on the disc:
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
- French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
- German Dolby Digita 5.1 EX
- English Audio Description 2.0 stereo
So those who paid close attention to the format war a few years ago and picked up Warner's HD DVD of this title, will notice that the lossless Dolby TrueHD track has been dropped, and we now only get lossy audio. Is this an oversight on Warner's part, or just pure contempt for their consumers? Who knows.

The track itself is rather uneventful. The vast majority of the time, surrounds are not utilised and LFE action is practically non-existant. There is some use for the soundtrack, generally low key rumbles to add some tension during the more suspenseful scenes, but it never managers to immerse the viewer and lacks any real depth. There's no damage to the track, and dialogue is always clear, so it is far from being a total loss, but more should've been done, even just by way of subtle effects for each environment.

Subtitles are available in English, French and German.

Extras

First extra is a "Lady in the Water: A Bedtime Story" featurette in which director Shyamalan provides some general background about the story which was originally conceived as a bedtime story for his kids. He talks about the idea behind the book and even reads several excerpts from it. To be honest, it feels more like an advertisement than a featurette.

The "Reflections of Lady in the Water" is a documentary in 6 parts:
- "Intro and the Script" - The director, producers and cast talk about the story and the process of getting involved in the film. The clip provides a glimpse into how Shyamalan works and developed the story which apparently intrigued and inspired the cast and crew.
- "The Characters" - in this clip the director provides additional background on the characters and their purpose in this story, the casting process including what sensibilities the director was after in an actor as we look at the filming of some key scenes.
- "The Look" - this takes a closer look at the photographic design for the film, things such as colour and farming are important storytelling tools as director of photography Christopher Doyle takes us through his process from the storyboarding to shooting, other cast and crew also comment on Doyle's personality which is interesting considering his eccentric nature.
- "The Location" - takes a brief look at the design, construction and shooting of the apartment complex set which includes both the uninviting exterior to the interiors of the various character's apartments.
- "The Creatures" - Shyamalan provides some background on these creatures he created for this story as we take a look at the process of bringing them to life using animatronics techniques.
- "Post and Closing" - this takes us into the post-production process which includes creating the CGI eagle for the film's climax, the editing process, and the recording of the film's score.

The very quick auditions reel shows us some of the footage from the casting sessions and tests that took place with some of the lead cast members. It's interesting viewing, but could've done with some narration or an introduction with M. Night Shyamalan to tell us why the cast members were ultimately selected.

There is a gag reel which is essentially your standard collection of outtakes where cast members mess up their lines or fall into moments where they can't get past laughing at a particular line. I often find gag reels fall into two categories. The first are ones that are actually funny, where props go wrong, someone slips or there is something completely unexpected such as an actor missing their queue or saying the actual name of a colleague rather than a character name. This falls into category two though - what I like to call the 'you had to be there to find it funny' category.

Next up, a small selection of deleted scenes which mainly involves dialogue with the critic played by Bob Balaban. This has been happily removed from the end product and as much as I really like Balaban, it's a shame his character wasn't completely removed, as he just didn't fit.

The extras finish with a teaser trailer and a theatrical trailer.

Overall

The Film: D Video: C+ Audio: C+ Extras: C+ Overall: C

 


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