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Why M. Night Shyamalan Sucks (and How He Can Be Great Again)

The Sixth Sense auteur makes his way to television this fall. But has he learned from recent failures?

by
Walter Hudson

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July 12, 2013 - 7:00 am
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Filmmaking is a feat of administration as much as a technical or artistic craft. A good idea goes nowhere without the wherewithal to bring all the logistical pieces together. The difference between a good film and a mediocre one often comes down to how its production is managed, regardless of the talent involved. Hence, so many great writers, directors, actors, and other craftsmen find themselves attached to bombs. All the pieces have to mesh at once and in sync.

It has been some time since things have meshed for M. Night Shyamalan. The director who made his name with the 1999 breakout hit The Sixth Sense has in the years following suffered a steady and cringe-inducing decline reflected in both critical and commercial disappointment.

Recall that the teaser trailer for Shyamalan’s 2006 Lady in the Water rested heavily upon his involvement as a selling point. His name was offered as a credential, as assurance that the project would be worth seeing.

Up to that point, his name still carried weight. Following The Sixth Sense, he met with lesser success – but success nonetheless – with the comic book thriller Unbreakable, the esoteric alien-invasion tale Signs, and the brain-bending historical horror The Village.

Despite featuring the lovely and supremely talented Bryce Dallas Howard, Lady in the Water stood out as a turning point for the worse, leaving moviegoers confused at best and otherwise bored. It opened third in the box office and was widely derided as self-indulgent nonsense.

Seven years hence, Shyamalan’s name went wholly unmentioned in promotional material for his recent After Earth, starring Will Smith and son Jaden. Alas, hiding Shyamalan’s involvement could not ward off his curse. Sharing Lady in the Water’s distinction of a third-place box office open, After Earth earned less during its first weekend than the magician caper Now You See Me.

This fall, Shyamalan comes to the small screen, producing and directing a miniseries for FOX staring Matt Dillon and Melissa Leo. Wayward Pines is based upon a book series by the same name, described as a “weird mystery story” evoking comparisons to the cult classic Twin Peaks. Such material may be, as Shyamalan confesses in an interview with IGN, right up his alley. The question emerges: will the final product be up ours?

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All Comments   (11)
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
TXGnr1911

In a storytelling sense I was impressed with his control. I thought the dramatic set-ups were successful and I enjoyed the questions brought forth regarding faith. It was a smallish story, and I'm not going to praise the performances particularly. I think it's very difficult to deal with children, especially one as young as Abigail Breslin was here but I was willing to overlook that. I liked the cinematography, and feel it reflected the tone of the film. After seeing it a number of times, I still enjoy it. But I rewatch Charlie Chan movies, too. I like the film stock they used in those. Compared to other offerings which have people jumping from bed to bed, or beating each other to a pulp, or as in Magic Mike, grinding his crotch into the camera, this was quite a bit better.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think it's important to look at an artist's full body of work before we call them "great". For example, early in his career Steven Speilberg directed (in a row, "Jaws", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "1941", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "E.T" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". Six movies in nine years, and five of them are bona fide classics. Looking at that list it's fair to conclude that "1941" was a misfire, an otherwise talented director having a bad day.

Shymalan, on the other hand, did "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable", "Signs", "The Village", "Lady in the Water", "The Happening" and "The Last Airbender". That's seven movies in eleven years, and on that list one of them is great, one is decent and the rest are varying degrees of embarrassing, unwatchable stupidity.

So is it really fair to say Shymalan was "great"? If we're going to define him based on "The Sixth Sense" sure... but that makes about as much sense as using "1941" to define Speilberg.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Formerly Lucy. I do not mean to be a jerk, but what, exactly, did "Signs" accomplish?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Are you kidding? It accomplished a lot!

1) It taught me that aliens who've mastered faster-than-light travel won't develop communication methods more complex than stomping on wheat
2) It taught me that those same aliens will happily land on a planet that is more than 75% covered with a substance that will cause them a horrible death, and will do so buck naked.

The thing is practically a graduate-level course in xenobiology! Geez, what's wrong with you?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
M. Night is exactly what California and the "entertainment" industry is turning out. Since they have become a property of the corrupt politicians in D.C. they turn out nothing but crap. Always blaming humans for all of the ill that "poisons" our planet, be it actual or imaginary. I have not been to a movie theater in 3 years because there is NOTHING worth the expense. I watched a very short portion of "Cars 2" and during approximately 5 minutes of viewing the "characters" bashed "big oil" no less than three times. This is NOT entertainment. This is indoctrination. Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general no longer stands for entertainment but indoctrination. God help us. That is if He hasn't given up on us already.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ignoring for one moment the silliness of the premise of Signs, water deadly to aliens on a planet and its people made up of 70% water, I still thought it wonderful movie with a great message - M. Night's last good one and on par with Sixth Sense.

Since then, the Shyamalan movies have grown "progressively"worse. I actually thought this guy was going to me my generation's Alfred Hitchcock. I almost hang my head in shame admitting that now.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's ok Tex. After hearing "Appetite for Destruction" I thought Guns n Roses was going to be the next Rolling Stones. We all make mistakes. :)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
M. Night can make whatever he wants as long as he doesn't put his grubby little mitts back on "Avatar: The Last Airbender" or anything associated with the greatness of the cartoon and its successor, "The Legend of Korra".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"... few moviegoers are seeking a sermon."

I wish. There are those who like a sermon because it gives a trivial piece of entertainment a bit of gravitas. There are those who like a sermon because it confirms their own beliefs. There are those who like a sermon because it "challenges" people who disagree with them. There are those who like a sermon because they think Americans are stupid and need to be preached to.

We'll never see the end of sermons. They teach sermonizing in writing class. "Follow your PASSION! Write about something you CARE about!" That's an invitation to anyone with an activist turn of mind to bore audiences with endless preachments about issues they think we stupid people need to be taught lessons about.

My own reaction when excitable types try to get inside my head this way is merely to not care about whatever they're passionate about. It's hard not to care about issues like capital punishment, racism, global warming, civil rights, war, etc. But they leave me no choice.

I own my mind. Trespassers will be shot.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I love Signs. It's a real accomplishment. The other ones for me, not at all.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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