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The Happening (DVD)

Submitted by on March 31, 2009 – 7:32 PMNo Comment
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I have been a big fan of  M. Night Shyamalan’s work, but I have realized that he offers inconsistent fare. The Sixth Sense is probably one of my all-time favorite films and one that not only showcased Shyamalan’s writing but his very skilled direction. I even liked Signs, which dealt with lack of faith more than aliens, and The Village with its unusual twist. But, I didn’t like Unbreakable because I thought Shyamalan was setting up something else entirely, getting more into the nature of people like David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis) who were touched by something so that they could walk away from disasters. The whole other theme of superheroes was a personal let down. Unfortunately, I missed Lady in the Water, though the critics hated it—but I reserve comment until I see it.

Still, it makes you wonder how someone so remarkably talented, who could give the world The Sixth Sense and then produce the 90 minutes of mediocrity called The Happening. The story follows Elliot Moore, a high school science teacher, played by Mark Wahlberg (Max Payne, Three Kings, The Perfect Storm, The Shooter), and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel, Weeds, The Good Life, Failure to Launch, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Sci-Fi Channle’s Tin Man.) who find themselves in the middle of what is first thought to be a terrorist attack in New York. They leave town with family friend Julian, played by John Leguizamo who is a much-in-demand character actor, and his 8-year-old daughter Jess, played by Ashlyn Sanchez, who has done a lot of TV (CSI, Without A Trace, West Wing, Vanished, Charmed). You would think that these veterans could carry just about anything but soon viewers begin to understand that it takes more than good actors to make a film work.

Elliot and Alma have marital problems that viewers never quite know the details of, except for a suggestion that Alma might be having an affair. The definitive scene that explains their problems was a scene that was cut from the film along with three others that were either removed entirely or trimmed. They were added as a special feature on the DVD. Theatergoers had no such annotation to help them with this film. That choice in a film this short came directly from Shyamalan.

That’s not all that Shyamalan is responsible for. The deterioration of Wahlberg’s acting during the last half of the film and a change in character of two minor characters, two teenager played by Spencer Breslin and Robert Bailey, Jr. After appearing to be laid-back but scared kids, suddenly they turn into vigilante vandals during one scene that appears to be in the film just for the shock value.

Shyamalan’s script is also rift with geographic errors that had my head spinning about where in the northeast this all was happening, as well as some technical errors such as having TV and cell phones working after being told that all contact had been broken off. In addition, the film resolves too quickly with only a crackpot scientist giving an explanation of what happened.

One saving grace to movie was Shyamalan’s early use of close-ups and steadicam shots. However, those same effects used later only made the film seem amateurish and not taking itself seriously.

Mark Wahlberg and  Zooey Deschanel did their utmost to save this film, but it was dying of inertia well before the first cameras started rolling. Science fiction fans should see this film, if only to say they did. I had high hopes for The Happening, as I did for the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, but both missed the mark. A film like this from such a talented writer/director as M. Night Shyamalan makes me wonder that he has begun to believe his own hype of being a Hollywood wonderkin. Write and direct something worthy of our viewing and viewers will lay all the accolades we can at your feet.

Note: The DVD not only has deleted scenes with introductions by Shyamalan, but also a gag reel and  a making of featurette. There are also four other short featurettes that have little to do with the film itself. They are amusing, nonetheless.