Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SIGNS: Blu-Ray (Touchstone 2002) Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Until its final moments, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002) is a paranoiac gem of a sci-fi thriller – capturing all of the hysteria and fear essential to propel its’ rather hokey narrative toward one hell of a heart-pounding conclusion. The film stars Mel Gibson as Rev. Graham Hess; a man so emotionally wounded by the loss of his wife in a fatal car wreck that he has forsaken his calling and abandoned the church.

Now, living as a corn farmer with his brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) a would-be baseball pro, and two children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), Graham’s seemingly suffocated lifestyle is stirred to conviction when the family's television begins broadcasting visceral snippets of alien invasions occurring across the globe.

Terrified and secluded, Graham attempts to keep his family’s sanity together, all the while realizing that the obscure and baffling crop circles that have begun to appear in his cornfields suggest that the aliens are hitting closer to home and threatening his isolationism.

Working from his own script, Shyamalan casts himself as Ray Reddy - the man whose split second dozing off at the wheel of his pick up resulted in the death of Graham's wife, Colleen (Patricia Kalember).

In all, Signs is a grandly perverse, occasionally spiritual, and often frightening film experience, but it also contains a gross error in film continuity. After Graham resolves to keep the alien invasion out of his home by bolting and nailing doors shut, he closes a door of an upstairs bedroom by pulling the door towards him and nailing several wooden planks across its jam, presumably to prevent whatever is on the other side from opening the door and entering the house. One problem: the door opens into the room.

Director Shayamalan captures the essential ‘fear of the dark/fear of the unknown’ paradigm that make us all cringe, ratcheting up sustained increments of nail biting suspense until the audience is ready to jump from their seats. That Shayamalan drops the artistic ball – so to speak - moments before the final fade out by actually showing us the alien in full figure is a moot point. Final acts to sci-fi thrillers are rarely wholly satisfying.

As the audience, what is remembered long afterward is a sense of extreme and, at times, utterly terrifying self paralysis, calculated at every plot twist. Like a harrowing ride through the darkened recesses of a carnival funhouse, Signs delivers the goods almost from the moment it begins and takes the rest of us along for the exhilerating ride.

Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray easily bests its Vista Series DVD. Teh anamorphic image is considerable darker on Blu-Ray with deeper blacks. Yet, ironically, more fine detail emerges from these dark spaces than was present on the more lightly contrasted DVD. Colors overall are rich and vibrant. Flesh tones continue to appear slightly more orange than expected, but contrast levels have been superbly realized. Edge enhancement that occasionally plagued the DVD has been eradicated on the Blu-Ray.

The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and delivers a fairly aggressive spread across all channels. Extras are all imported from the standard DVD and include a six part documentary encompassing most aspects of the film’s production. Storyboards, a multi-angle feature and Night’s First Alien film – a childhood project, round out the extras. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3

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