|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 11 January 2005|
“The Village” is the fourth major film from acclaimed writer, producer and director M. Night Shyamalan and, though it does have the surreal elements that marked his earlier films, this is his first attempt at period work. The film takes place in America, sometime in the late 19th century. The village itself is located in a small yet bountiful valley surrounded by a forest. Ringing the forest’s edge are a number of watchtowers and torches. We soon meet Mr. Walker (William Hurt), who is one of the village elders, along with Ms. Hunt (Sigourney Weaver) and others. It is made apparent that the settlers have been allowed to stay in their bucolic world by Those We Do Not Speak Of, the creatures that live in the woods and by whose grace the villagers are allowed to live in peace. There is an uneasy tension in the village because there is a fear of the surrounding forest, together with a desire to venture to “the towns” to fetch supplies and other accoutrements. Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) is very eager to go into the towns for medical supplies after the death of a child. Lucius is a thoughtful and quietly powerful young man who seems to have little fear of Those We Do Not Speak Of.
After spurning the advances of one Walker daughter (Judy Greer), Lucius turns his attention to her sister Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard). The two have an interesting relationship, since Lucius tends to be quiet and Ivy is blind. Due to what are seen to be village encroachments on the forest, there are a series of events which indicate the creatures have been venturing into the village and killing livestock. Lucius maintains his desire to see the creatures, but the true turning point comes after an incident involving Noah (Adrien Brody), an intellectually challenged young man. As one villager’s life hangs in the balance, another must make a journey through the woods and tempt their fate at the hands of Those We Do Not Speak Of. Along the way, more than one mystery will be revealed.
Part periodic essay, part love story and part tension filled spookiness, “The Village” is a finely crafted film with superior acting from all involved, but it suffers from some slight lack of strong narrative direction. Shyamalan always puts a twist into his films, and while it succeeded best in “The Sixth Sense,” it disappoints the most here. In addition, while on further viewings the heart of the film is more easily understood, the narrative initially seems to flutter in and out of different areas. Had Shyamalan simply chosen one or two main paths for the film, instead of four or five, the overall effect would have been both more pleasing and accessible. Hurt delivers his usual rock-solid performance, as do Phoenix, Brody and Weaver, but the film truly belongs to Howard. The daughter of director Ron Howard, Howard makes her first major role in a feature film a delight of care and warmth. The interplay between Howard and Phoenix is one of the most poignant and enjoyable parts of the film.
While the sound mix is very good, boosting the specifically ambient sound effects like wind, creaking wood and creature noises, it is disappointing that the 5.1 EX mix is the only one available, either in English or French. For those who either do not possess a full set of surround speakers or are restricted to their television speakers, the lack of a stereo mix can result in slightly muddled sound. This is an example of a DVD being put out without much thought. The video transfer is crisp and has appropriate color saturation, but it is on the whole unremarkable.
This is another of those standard DVD releases that only foreshadows the super special edition to come in a few years. The less than half-hour featurette shows some of the rudimentary information from the film with a smattering of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, but nothing terribly in depth. It does hint at a few interesting gems that might be revealed in a later edition, like the 19th-century boot camp that all the actors went through, and the interesting habits of Phoenix. The deleted scenes are few but include Shyamalan’s insights into what the scenes are, where they belonged and why they were eventually cut from the film, which makes for an interesting look into the final cut of a film. Also included on this DVD is the traditional (for Shyamalan’s releases) short film from Shyamalan’s youth. This one will be instantly recognizable to anyone who knows anything about movies. “Bryce Dallas Howard’s Diary” consists of Howard reading aloud excerpts from the diary she kept during production. Though frustratingly limited at only four-and-a-half minutes, it is an interesting glimpse into the mind of an actor before and during the filming of a major motion picture. Again, this is something that could easily be expanded upon in a special edition DVD. The final small snippet of bonus features consists of 38 still photographs from the set. This hardly provides a deep look into the production, so it, like many of the features, serves merely as a teaser for the future.
“The Village” is one of those films that is more enjoyable the second time around, because it is so well made. Because the surprise has already been ruined, it allows the viewer to concentrate on the craft of the filmmakers. Those who appreciate Shyamalan’s work will want to make sure they see this, if for no other reason than to see his development as a jack of all trades filmmaker. In terms of sheer DVD power, this edition leaves much to be desired, presenting only the most rudimentary bonus features and technical specifications.