Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan made his smallest splash since his Sixth Sense breakthrough with Lady in the Water, his first major feature apart from Disney. Shyamalan’s self-described “bedtime story” drew $18 million at 3,235 venues, compared to the $50.7 million debut of his last picture, The Village. According to distributor Warner Bros.’ research, 56 percent of the audience was female and 64 percent was under 25 years old, while the verdict from moviegoer pollster CinemaScore was a discouraging “B-.”
Both Lady in the Water and The Village, lacking stars, were sold primarily on Shyamalan’s name, with references to his previous movies and the promise of mysterious creatures creeping about an isolated location. The problem is that Shyamalan’s brand was damaged by The Village, which many detested, after building his name to extraordinary heights with The Sixth Sense and Signs. To recover, more was needed for Lady than a marketing campaign that simply mimicked past successes.
Venturing my humble outside-of-the-industry opinion, part of the problem was too much marketing of Shyamalan as a Hollywood storyteller non-pareil; from the American Express commercials to the starstruck hagiography by Michael Bamberger timed for release with the film.
Bamberger professes objectivity about his subject, but the book reads as an extended paean to Shyamalan — his intelligence, his vigor, his magnetism and his remarkable skill as a filmmaker. Bamberger is prone to such comments about Shyamalan as “I felt a powerful force coming off the guy,” “all had felt the force of his personality,” and “If he had these powers, where did they come from? Could another person develop them?” — and this just in the book’s first 10 pages. Even those favorably inclined toward Shyamalan (among whom I include myself) will inevitably feel an overpowering urge to smack the director around when he makes pronouncements such as, “I believe if I had unlimited time to practice, after two years, I’d be able to shoot with any NBA player,” and a concomitant frustration with Bamberger for not being ever so slightly tougher on his subject.
Knowing he has gone soft for Shyamalan, Bamberger admits at book’s end that he has been wooed into the director’s camp: “I was rooting for him and his movie. Maybe that sounds like the writer getting too close to his subject, but to me honest reporting is you dig as deep as you can and you write what you find, and what you feel.” It is hard to fault Bamberger for liking his subject, but it would have been nice not to feel that we were seeing Shyamalan through rose-tinted glasses. Nonetheless, the most important favor Bamberger bestows on Shyamalan is the one the director most richly deserves: the right to have his movies taken seriously, to have them treated as the work of an enormously gifted young filmmaker with titanic self-confidence in his own abilities and a seemingly magical ability to inculcate similar belief in others.
Fortunately for Warner, the film wasn’t that expensive and it should make money, but it’s not going to help them forget the disasters known as Poseidon and, to a lesser degree, Superman Returns with its $260 million budget. Based upon the consensus from the all-important 17-year old high school demographic (made up of the lovely and talented Casey and several of her friends who all went together and saw LITW this weekend) word of mouth is not going to be good. Shorter L&T Casey review: not interesting enough to make you pay attention…ending is just “blah”…The highlight: monkeys with dreadlocks (or as we have dubbed them: chimpafarians.)
Brand Shyamalan is dead.
Might I suggest Chimpafarians On A Plane?