Budget: $75 million
Box Office: $42 million US, $31 million Int’l, $12 million DVD
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan, who has quickly made a huge name for himself by writing and directing Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and one of my favorite movies, The Village.
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bob Balaban, Cindy Cheung, Jeffrey Wright, Freddy Rodriguez, Sarita Choudhury, Bob Balaban, and M. Night Shyamalan.
According to an ancient Eastern bedtime story, the collaboration between the humans and the sea people has been fractured by the inland movement of the people, who have lost hope and a correct perspective on reality. But a special envoy is sent to them, if only she and her unlikely helper, the manager of a small apartment community, can figure out her mission, identify her band of assistants, and get her safely back to her people.
Entertainment Value: D
First, understand that I LOVE M. Night Shyamalan’s movies (Signs was just average to me), and, even though I had heard only bad things about this movie, I still trusted him more than the critics. But the critics were correct. The problem here was the old issue of trying to do too much and winding up doing nothing at all that you intended. It’s confusing, the archetypes taken for granted are hard to follow, and the focus winds up on the odd people rather than on the story or even on the value of storytelling, which had been the purpose. Also, there are elements here that make no sense, such as the repeated going back to the woman for the story and the inconsistency of whether Story can or cannot share what she knows.
Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B, Violence B, Language B, Illegality A
PG-13 is probably correct because of a couple of scenes of scary violence, but the movie is actually fairly clean otherwise, even if it has that characteristic creepy otherworldly feel common to Shyamalan films. Howard is naked but for a mans dress shirt through much of the movie, but this isn’t so much erotic as it is strange. Several characters smoke a lot, and the language is almost squeaky, but for a few mild cases.
Significant Content: B
Everyone has a purpose, and the most difficult thing is to figure out what your real purpose is, as opposed to the one that some other arrogant person has tried to assign you to be. Bedtime stories should be allowed to be rambling, changing, and untidy. Critics neither understand anything nor contribute to anything, but they do ruin many things.
Artistic/Thought Value: B
I wanted to love this. It’s trying to do all the right things: spark imagination, remystify life, and encourage storytelling. But it just doesn’t work, and I can say this as a contrast with another movie that did exactly all of this but far more effectively: Big Fish. Despite all these defects, it’s a movie that made me want to find the deeper significance in it and want to think about it some more by rewatching it. Unfortunately, with all the other truly good movies worth seeing again, this won’t make that small category.
~Consider all the archetypes represented in this movie: guild, healer, symbolist, judge, villain, emissary, etc. Are these elements of every good story? Are some missing?
~Clearly, a main point of the movie is that when we misidentify our roles (and those of others), everything works quite poorly and can only be fixed by properly reassigning the right people. How might this be a criticism of capitalism? Why do you think it’s so hard to figure out our own purposes? Do other people’s ideas of who we should be help or hinder us in this, or both? Have you ever tried to run away from your purpose or deny it? How is this movie comparable to the story of Jonah?
~When the story keeps changing and fleshing itself out as recounted by the Asian mother, does this represent the way a story told to your kids might change over time as you elaborate upon it? ~Should stories told to kids stay the same or evolve?
~Do film critics have a valuable role to play in the film industry and for society at large? If they are too smart for their own good, can a movie which is almost deliberately too smart for its own good prove the point? In what ways are film critics arrogant?
~A key plot point is the writing of a book that will transform consciousness. Shyamalan plays the part of this author. Why? Given the multitude of books published every year, do you think any one new book can have this effect anymore?
~Clearly, with the main character named “Story,” this movie is trying to say something about fiction and fictional art. What is it?
~Who are the men on the land and those in the water meant to represent? How would you compare this backstory with the parable of the vineyard owner who keeps sending messengers to the renters?
Overall Grade: C+
This is a movie you’ll probably be happier not watching, because other movies do sheer fantasy better and also storytelling/lit crit better (Big Fish, Stranger than Fiction, for example). But I’m sure Shyamalan’s next film will be excellent.