Sunday, July 13, 2008

Could The Happening really happen?

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." - Albert Einstein
Manoj Night Shyamalan got a doozy of a premise and Albert Einstein to back it! (Though Einstein must be turning in his grave for what is now being attributed to him). The Bees disappear and a discussion about it (which involves the above quote) in a Philly high school classroom builds up THE HAPPENING.
The movie starts with beautifully shot cumulous clouds and with James Newton Howard’s menacing music. It gives us the eerie feel and an idea about events about to happen (not that this film as a whole is scary, despite Shyamalan’s claims). Suddenly, mass suicides happen in parts of north-east US, notably in parks. Not far into the movie, are we told the reason. The plant life, in a last-ditch attempt to save themselves, evolve into releasing neurotoxins that disorient the human brain and turn them into suicidal zombies. The plant life starts targeting humans. This triggers mass suicide in public places with trees around.

The idea of green vegetation turning malignant might have seemed preposterous if handled by a lesser director, but not with this auteur at the helm. Shyamalan has his visual flair stamped all over the movie. His regular cinematographer Tak Fujimoto taps into the shock value of the theme with such finesse that we dread the rustling trees and find the moaning wind ominous. With some trepidation, we wonder about what lies just beyond. Never has the sight of wind blowing across green fields seemed so eerie. The effect of seeing humans turning so viciously on themselves and then their falling bodies is not lost on us. Music and Camerawork are two main characters in this film and they do exceedingly well. The problem starts with the ‘real’ characters, a couple, played by Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel. Both are miscast, the latter more so . Both are poorly written for especially when you consider this - "Suppose you knew you were going to die. Suppose you knew you had only a minute of life left. All that other stuff -- what arrangements would you make, would you look for a way to escape -- all of that is done, over with, dusted. You have a minute, period. What would you do with that minute? What would you tell the one you loved?". This is what Shyamalan said the movie’s core is about and this is the part completely missing from the movie! Blame it on his writing, Wahlberg’s wooden acting and Deschanel’s BIG translucent blue eyes, the movie has its soul missing. And, so, everyone wonders what the climax scenes are all about.

So, we have a bang of a premise which peaks early and ends in a whimper. While the movie’s pace works for it, its writing fails it. But Shyamalan has become so adept with this genre -- paranormal stories with a wait-for-it twist ending that the movie sure is entertaining despite its failings. It successfully plays on people's fears for the future about such things as terrorism and climate change. It gives us the thrills and pops up the big question "Could this really happen?" through its provocative theme. The theme of nature’s payback, itself sits somewhere between science and fiction.While
some see the movie as a parable in view of man's continued assault on our green planet, some may view this as sci-fi, in line with red tide syndrome mentioned in the movie. Half of the viewers may find the movie too thoughtful and so may digress into laughter seeing the boom mikes hanging over actors’ heads in some scenes (unbelievably poor production values, I wondered if these scenes actually made Shyamalan promote this movie as 'the greatest B grade film ever').

Call it the hypening, the knives were out for the movie even before it opened and when it did, almost all reviewers dutifully panned it. Despite this, the $60 mn movie collected well over $130 mn in the 1 month since its release. Maybe now the critics should take a break and take honest filmmaking a little more seriously.

Shyamalan has never been a critics' favourite, even his sensational hit The Sixth Sense was panned by major newspapers. Maybe his getting up close and personal with a very sparse set of central characters while rambling about faith frightens or bores most of the critics, they simply write him and his movies off. But, Shyamalan surely is the one who is not afraid of making films that do not appeal to everyone; he is true to his inner voice seems to be quite sure about elements of his craft. What else would make him turn down those high-profile offers from Harry Potter, Narnia and Indiana Jones franchisees? In the seven years since he was knighted by Newsweek magazine as the next Spielberg, he has never tried to cement his A-list status. After all, his 2 biggest hits grossed $1.7 bn worldwide and it could have been easy setting up his tent-pole. He did exactly the opposite. He did not even move to LA. He stills lives and shoots in his beloved Philly, his city of brotherly love (by now it has become to him what Manhattan is to Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese). He took on the bosses at Disney quite publicly, over the script of ‘Lady in the water’. He claimed that fight was to preserve his individuality and to keep making movies he believed in. He parted from Disney and joined Warner. After the debacle of ‘Lady..’, he would have been a broken man if not for his conviction and self-belief . He seems to be high on self-realization and I guess that brings out the many layers in his movies. I loved all his movies since 'The Sixth Sense' with the exception of 'The lady..', which i did not watch. Despite all the flak they attracted, I very much loved his ‘Signs’ and ‘The Village’ for all the layers and nuances. Although, as one of my friend suggests, that could just be my own interpretations. His novel themes are stimulating and are refreshing among so much conventional action/drama/romantic stories.

Notwithstanding how good he is at his genre, I would just like to see a regular story from him without the spooky touch, where everything is what it seems! Well, it’s quite possible that with his ability to harness his undergrad good looks, a million watt smile, and an ease to talk nineteen to the dozen, he can make the Ronnie Screwvalas trust him with their monies for his non-spooky projects as well. All he needs to do is open up his mind, empty out the dead people and then write. Let’s hope it happens.


vijay said...

Sure...and it is happening now....Tsunami is a rash on human it is spreading all over the body...I feel, we already left the bus to cure the rash,atleast we could see that the rash should not spread all over the body

Nandita said...

How are you doing? A very impressive post..I haven't watched the movie, but after reading the post I definitely want to.

hope everything is fine at your end.


Amar said...

Hi Vijay,
Nice to see u here buddy.

yes, although the concept of tress rewiring humna brain looks a little far-fetched, the idea of plant life evolving to protect themselves is very much believable. This possibility is beautifully captured in the movie.

Though, I hope u now dont fear ur Pennsylvanian neighbourhood :)

Amar said...

Hey Nandita,

What a surprise. After such a loooong time :)Nice to see u here. I'm doing fine.How abt u?

I am glad u liked the post. Do watch the film. Its touching. I would love to hear what you have to say afterwards.

Vinayak said...

Hey Amar! nice to see that you are back to blogging!

This was a nice read.

I believe, eventually, Shyamalan would make a movie where everything is what it seems. Even that would be a nice approach to shocking the audience. :)

Amar said...

Thnx Vinayak. Haha,..that would be a great ‘twist’. Nice way to shock his fans.

Seriously, we have seen enough dead people in his movies. He can pause that for now. And try something different like, a musical!! Now, how would that be, a Shyamalan Musical (no, not in the graveyard).