[Scott discusses Shyamalan, and raised a questions about his new movie -- which in spite of myself, I am interested in. I respond below. ]
M. Night Shyamalan's latest film, The Happening, is being marketed as "his first 'R' rated" movie. I suppose this is supposed to imply that this will be "Shyamalan Unleashed" and it is interesting because a lot of people have seen his films as very adult and may be surprised at the fact that this is the first to cary an 'R' rating.
I was flipping through channels when I noticed that The Sixth Sense was playing on, of all things, ABC family. At first, I was surprised because I thought, "is this really appropriate for a 'family' network?" However, once I had considered it for a moment, it kind of made sense. While some of the scenes may be a bit intense for younger children, it's just the right amount of scary for older children (maybe 10 or 12 and up). Also, once I thought about it a bit more, it occurred to me that most of Shyamalan's films are oddly appropriate as family films. They're relatively free of scenes of explicit sex, violence and bad language, they're also usually centered around a small child, a family or, in the case of Lady In the Water, a surrogate family. In fact, his first major film, Wide Awake (That's right, The Sixth Sense was actually his second film) is pretty much a straight up family film. Additionally, look at the subject matter of his films: Ghosts (Sixth Sense), Superheroes (Unbreakable), Aliens (Signs), Monsters (The Village) and Fairy Tales (Lady In The Water). These are all topics that appeal to the child within (I'm reminded of being in elementary school and repeatedly checking out the same three books from a series out of the school library: UFOs, Ghost, and Monsters). Shyamalan's films approach these topics with a certain innocence and perhaps that is why a child or a childlike figure is always somewhere at the center of the story. As adults, we go to see movies with this kind of subject matter for a bit of fun but as children we see them as being truly magical and, in a way, this is what he has always tried to capture in his films. He has often been accused of being overly serious but I think that's just because he approaches these topics with the wide-eyed reverence of a child.
So, will this 'R' rated Shyamalan be a change for the better or the worse?
[Shyamalan is very much in the shadow of Spielberg -- that "classic" storytelling in which family genre stories are so well told, and so imbued with real world concerns -- see again Abrams on Jaws, or thing about how dreary suburbia is portrayed in ET. ET was on television not long ago, and I was surprised to the degree to which, even now, I could not turn away or fail to get choked up at the final scene. Also, Unbreakable seems to be particularly telling, as the superhero genre, more than anything else, is the genre designed for kids, but marketed to adults -- that seems to be very much what he is up to in all of his movies (at least the ones I've seen).
As for the R rating, one analogy comes to mind. When the restrictions on violence were lifted on Hitchcock, as the decades passed, he made some really bad films -- Frenzy especially, and I think the removal of the constraints was in part to blame.
I have not seen The Village or Lady in the Water, but I don't think Shyamalan is really on the level with even a young Spielberg or Hitchcock. But you can see that he really really wants to be. The Sixth Sense is deservedly praised; but Unbreakable is only praised by comics fans, who cut it some slack because they are so excited to see the material on screen in a serious form; Signs was better than I thought it would be, but it is not a movie that really stays with me, but this might be due to the insane-i-fication of Mel Gibson. ]