English, Russian, Dutch, English - Hearing Impaired, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Estonian
5 Deleted scenes
6 Featurette - Looking for Signs, Building Signs, Making Signs: A Commentary by M. Night Shyamalan, The Effects of Signs, Last Voices: The Music of Signs, Full Circle
Multiple angle - Graham, the knife, and the pantry
Buena Vista/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 102 mins .
M15+ . PAL
M. Night Shyamalan exploded onto mainstream cinema screens with the 1999 box office smash The Sixth Sense. Then, in the next year, the name on everyone’s lips returned with the thriller Unbreakable. Two years in the making, and with the public thinking another one-hit-wonder had come and gone, the teaser trailers for Signs came out drawing in the public's attention all over again. While nothing can really top the surprise of The Sixth Sense, Signs can proudly stand next to the 1999 thriller with enough content
"Jeez, Alfoil isn't on special everyday you know..."
and sentimentality to keep all audiences glued to the screen for its 102-minute duration. For the “popcorn junkies”, this horror film is sure to please, and for the “film buffs”, this drama is sure to reach your soft spot. The combination of many elements such as Tak Fujimoto’s stunning cinematography, a touching yet thrilling score by James Newton Howard, a witty and intense script by M. Night Shyamalan, believable performances from a small star-studded cast and the cinematic effect of suspense wrap together to form a clear ‘sign’post pointing directly at the sky, just longing for the question: What if this really did happen?
This film has ‘signs’ of so many different genres thrown in the mix: The tear-jerking dramatic elements mean something for the sentimental and soppy ones, while the horror theme keeps the mindless people happy for nearly two hours - yet still sharp wit and comedic timing are added which show some ‘signs’ of comedy. So how to classify this film? Well it is a dramatic comedy with the essence and soul of a thrilling horror film. But Shyamalan achieves all of this without staging funny lines and bloody gore. He is able to do it using the theatrical element of mystery – what you can’t see is always left up to your imagination - something so scary that you are even frightened to look at it.
"I hope they're doing better than we are. We don't even have helmets."
The new Hitchcock.
In some respects, Shyamalan has adapted Hitchcock’s artistic methods from The Birds where you can hear the critters scratching on the house, and you can sense the critters outside the house and you know what they are, but you can’t actually see them. Techniques such as this are used throughout Signs to build up a tense atmosphere for the audience to soak up, leaving them nervous and jittery wrecks at the end – either that or tissue-soaked, tear-wiping messes.
The superb cast features many actors from other known films such as Merritt Wever’s (Series 7: The Contenders) quick appearance as a pharmacy assistant and Greg Wood (Kyra’s father in The Sixth Sense) as a news anchorman. And what Shyamalan film can be complete without a cameo from the director himself?
The small yet talented cast are led forth by the Hess family, brothers Graham (Mel Gibson) and Merril (Joaquin Pheonix) and Graham’s kids Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abagail Breslin). The film opens on a farmhouse in the United States where we see Mel Gibson and his family discover crop circles in their cornfields. Thought to be a hoax, the family blame the next door neighbours, but the family (and the world) come to a standstill as crop circles appear all around the globe. But not only circles, the lights then come - mysterious lights that hang over cities by night and vanish by day. The creepy happenings are all ‘signs’ of the end of the world, and the Hess family prepare for the worst – stuck in their own house with the horror of outer space trying to get in. Lying underneath this horror story is a tale about regaining faith and finding yourself in the world. A story so much more meaningful, but one that cannot be told without the intense effects of a horror tale.
Signs is presented in its theatrical widescreen aspect of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. After being an operator during this film's theatrical release in late 2002, it is interesting to see how the 35mm print converts to a digital MPEG file. It is very pleasing to be able to say that the conversion is of a high standard, but sadly not perfect. Soft tones and rich detail made this film an absolute bugger to focus theatrically as even the sharpest of lines, such as text, were blurry and soft at the best of times. By far the greatest improvement between the two mediums is the fact that the DVD doesn’t rely on a long stream of film rushing through a projector which can cause a slight wobble on screen. Due to the optical physics of the projection room it is nearly impossible to totally remove this wobble from each session, but DVD can usually eliminate this. Note the word ‘usually’. At times some side-to-side wobble can be seen, with no movement in the vertical direction. But the image still does look great, with a superb clarity and exquisite detail.
Oh no, Home Alone 4!
Some very slight posterisation effects can be seen during the traditionally-lit opening credits, but this is just getting really picky. Colours are rich, vibrant and beautifully saturated, oozing a lifelike and healthy appearance. Sky blues are vast and colourful, and greens are deep and mysterious. The odd film artefact can be seen shooting past, but this one spot and that one hair are barely worth mentioning. A slight wash of grain can be seen, and is clearly visible during the darker sequences. Shadow detail during these sequences is murky and mysterious, adding to the overall tone of the film, however it is still sharply and precisely defined. One small problem is the compression-related artefacts, which are minute but still annoying. They can be seen (primarily) during the opening few minutes when Graham Hess runs through the corn fields for the first time. Now we’re getting really picky here, as the only way to see these is to slow the whole thing down and step through it frame-by-frame. Now what really blows is during the emotional finale of the film, at 95:49, where some terribly ugly dark brown compression artefacts jump onto the screen for a good second and just ruin the feeling. It is at this moment where the rental transfer is much nicer than the retail. Sigh. Another big difference is the layer change, which is quickly traversed, but does disrupt the flow of the audio. Another long sigh.
Subtitles have been included in a swarm of languages including English and English for the Hearing Impaired. These two title tracks are clear and easy to read, with precise translations of dialogue into text. However, on occasions the subtitles appear too early for the dialogue, giving away the actions before they actually happen.
Now just a note, the THX Optimiser has been thrown in on this Buena Vista transfer, and it is a great idea to run the video optimiser prior to watching the film. It allows you to perfect the fine tuning settings on your TV, yet one step does require the THX Blue Filter glasses. By running this small series of screens you can change the colour, brightness, contrast and sharpness for your monitor, with some examples specific to PAL televisions.
The special 'Collectors Edition' has a different selection of audio tracks than the earlier reviewed rental disc. This time we have two English 5.1 tracks, and also one in Russian. The two English tracks are available in Dolby Digital or DTS, and both kick some serious soundstage butt. So why do these audio tracks deserve full marks? Well quite simply, they’re remarkable. Not only do they feature a pulsating bass line and crystal clear sound, but also the best use of a 5.1 soundstage I've heard in recent discs.
Do you see what I see?
All six channels are used with such an aggressive audio signal that there is something for all the audio boffins out there. The pulsating subwoofer pounds out the sound in the appropriate places such as score support and the jumps and bumps that make you jump. Surround channels are used effectively and generously, providing a richly detailed rear end to the soundstage. Each rear channel is used independently and constantly to give a wicked kick-arse sound ready to attack your aural senses. Now not only does the rear end have a powerful sound, but the front joins in too. The front left and right speakers are used effectively for effects and the odd bit of dialogue and the centre channel drives the dialogue home. The best feature of the discrete channels would be through James Newton Howard’s magical and intense score. Not only are effects split over the soundstage, but instruments in the score are thrown around the living room providing a true dynamic surround experience.
OK, so with two awesome tracks, which one is better? Well, the DTS is just a hint ahead of the DD track, with a more ambient feel to the soundtrack and a fuller bodied sound. So for a solid workout of your system, whether you have DTS capabilities or not, this audio transfer is sure to get the shivers running down your spine.
During the theatrical run of the film, Bo’s dialogue was very muffled and hard to understand, but each and every word to come out of the cutie’s mouth can be understood. It’s amazing how much those simple few words can add to the film!
Who are you calling a baby?
So, the question is, was it worth it? And the answer is yes... Buena Vista have come to the party and have produced a great 'Collectors Edition'-worthy bunch of extra features. The 16:9-enhanced menus are superbly structured, with subtle and moody animation, and tension-building audio. Included in the package is a foldout booklet containing information regarding this 'Collectors Edition' DVD. But what is the point of sticking in a booklet that is so wide it won't let you close the case again? Hmmm, blonde moment obviously...
The first of the features is a bunch of six featurettes, all grouped as The Making of Signs. In total, these featurettes run for 58:55 (yes, nearly an hour) from the ‘Play All’ option, or can also be accessed individually. This comprehensive collection of clips is a superb feature, and really holds so much technical and creative information behind the making of the film. In some respects this is better than a commentary as the information is more specific and localised with particular images, rather than the film and someone’s voice. These featurettes are presented in a 4:3 aspect, with some portions letterboxed in a 1.85:1 aspect. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is suitable and all that is required. As for the six featurettes, they are Looking for Signs (6:15), Building Signs (8:05), Making Signs: A Commentary by M. Night Shyamalan (22:38), The Effects of Signs (8:35), Last Voices: The Music of Signs (8:30) and Full Circle (4:51).
Secondly, a collection of five deleted scenes is waiting for us to discover, and sadly they lack the novelty of a Shyamalan introduction as experienced on The Sixth Sense. The four brief scenes and one lengthy scene add a little to the film, but would have really slowed down the pacing. Each of the clips is presented in a letterboxed aspect of 1.85:1, and are not 16:9 enhanced. Like the making-of clips, these can be watched in one block (7:42), or individually. The individual clips are Graham and Merrill (1:07), Flashbacks Scene 1 (0:24), Flashbacks Scene 2 (0:38), Dead Bird (0:23) and Alien in the Attic and the Third Story (5:09). The climactic alien scene is worth checking out, and would have been great left in the film. It’s just a pity that Shyamalan’s reasons for removing these scenes have not been included.
Next we have a multi-angled featurette on one of the key sequences of the film, titled Graham, the Knife, and the Pantry. This 2:58 scene has two angle options – M. Night Shyamalan’s storyboards, or the final cut of the film. Three audio options are available, with a 5.1 film mix, 5.1 score mix and 5.1 effects mix. This is a great addition, but more scenes like this would have been better, even if they are just the storyboards themselves.
Finally, we have a brief 2:19 clip from M. Night Shyamalan’s first creature-feature, with an introduction from the man himself. This is a comic touch to the package, and the entire film would have been a hoot. It is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect, and has Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
This film is a superb show of traditional filmmaking techniques, excellent transfer qualities and the ability to make you jump one minute and well up with tears the next. Not only do we have a killer film, but also a nice stash of extras to keep us occupied for over an hour after the film has finished. Keep the Kleenex handy for the sentimental ones, and the Huggies handy for the jumpy ones!