"Signs" Blu-ray Review
June 10, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Lookout, here comes another M. Night Shyamalan Blu-ray release from Disney! I say “lookout” beause I’m going to be writing this review and unlike most Shyamalan fans, I did not see The Sixth Sense first, so I wasn’t won over by that brilliant piece of work until later on in his career when I finally worked up the nerve to watch that scary piece of film. I did somehow manage to see Signs theatrically and not run screaming from the theater (I have a low threshold for horror films, especially when the subject matter is something that’s somewhat believable…to me, anyway). So it goes without saying that even on Shyamalan’s weakest films, I’ll be there to watch it—and with Signs, I found one of my favorites of his works to date.
Signs was Shyamalan’s second effort after the smash hit The Sixth Sense catapulted his name to the top director/writer combo list in Hollywood. While none of his films have been received as well as the Bruce Willis starring debut, Signs mixed it up with the first Willis-free Shyamalan film and placed Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix in the starring roles, which garnered its fair share of praise as well as criticism. The film took on an other-worldy approach and asked whether aliens were real and what the crop circles meant exactly—not any less believable than Shyamalan’s previous works, but it somehow took more criticism for the “conveniences” of some of the plot devices.
Considering I’ve been a fan of movies with and/or about aliens, Signs was straight up my alley and I never once questioned the validity or actions that Shyamalan took with the production. There were a few areas that could be perceived as lazy plot devices, such as the aliens weakness or the subtle clues that lead the Hess family throughout the film, but considering the film is very much on the religious side of things you could just as easily call those elements divine intervention or simply things that were meant to be.
Even if you step away from the religious elements of the film, Signs still manages to employ quite a few entertaining elements that keep it suspenseful and enjoyable. The introduction of the aliens in grainy home video footage may not be as shocking the second time you see it, but the first time will make you jump as you see the lumbering figure. It’s a very haunting set of images and while the aliens CGI looks rather slimy and too shiny by today’s standards, the film manages to maintain a few scares, even on repeat viewings. The aliens scuttling on roof tops and walking in your house all make for an incredibly suspenseful way to spend a couple hours with a Shyamalan movie.
While there’s a rather large cast for the entire film, the majority is focused on the Hess family. With Gibson, Phoenix, Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin making up the list, it’s a hard cast to pass up in terms of quality. While Breslin hadn’t exploded on screens at that point, she did steal quite a few scenes in here, especially when it was just her and Rory together. Purely from an acting standpoint the film excelled and never once did the performances hinder the film.
So where does the dislike for Signs stem from? I honestly don’t know. I guess you have to have a little bit of faith to fully accept the resolutions in the film, but that should be a given since Gibson plays a reverend in the film. Some of the film can admittedly become a bit hokey at times, but it’s nothing nearly as bad as one would expect and quite honestly this is one of Shyamalan’s top efforts, though, again, that may just be my bias as I found his films to always be entertaining (yes, even his last two efforts, which, while not his best, still housed a certain amount of mystique and uniqueness about them).
Ultimately the appeal of Signs will be lost on some, but the film still manages to be an entertaining and exciting romp through the mind of M. Night Shyamalan. While I didn’t talk much about the story or “twists” in the film, by now if you haven’t seen his films you’ll have had the twists spoiled for you regardless; Signs is already six years old, so those who have managed to avoid it all these years should definitely check it out…as long as you’re into the horror alien genre, anyway. Recommended.
While the film review above may be weak in terms of plot details and criticisms for the film (it’s hard for me to talk about a six year old film that I enjoyed when so many others didn’t, especially when you try to defend a film that’s main issues revolve around your willingness to believe in a higher power as well as extraterrestrial beings), this Blu-ray review will tackle the technical portions in as much detail as I can muster. Off the bat we’re given Signs in a standard elite Blu-ray case (with the fancy indented and chromed Blu-ray logo) and an insert for a $10 rebate for upgrading from the DVD version to this Blu-ray edition. While the price of Disney Blu-ray titles may tend to be a bit higher than other studios, they do have these rebate offers in every title re-release I’ve seen, so that’s saying something.
The menu system for Signs is similar to the other Disney titles (I think they must have a generic template that they just drag and drop new graphics into) in terms of navigation and layout. Video for the film is stronger than the previous Unbreakable release, but not by much. The film still lacks an overall sense of depth and clarity and while the close-ups are strong and boast a fair amount of detail, there are times when the image fills with so much grain and noise that it dances around the screen. In particular there’s an exterior shot in the film that looks absolutely horrendous; I don’t own the previous DVD edition so I can’t compare, but there is some seriously fuzzy looking video going on.
Fortunately for us the audio takes what the video lacks and knocks it up a notch (BAM!...sorry, I couldn’t resist) with its uncompressed PCM 5.1 track. Despite being focused with dialogue and audio for the majority of the film, the surrounds begin to kick up early on in the film, especially around the cornfield and later scenes in the film with the aliens pounding throughout the house. It’s definitely an exciting track to listen to and while the video distracts you with a few scenes of muddiness, the audio is always at the forefront to please.
There are no exclusive extras to this release, but all of the extras from the Vista Series release are ported over here. The first is the making-of documentary (58:31), a nearly hour long venture split into six parts that’s viewable individually or all together. This is a key example of what a good making-of documentary should be—detailed enough to encompass all of the work done to it but not overly exhaustive in a “well now I can go remake this film frame-for-frame since I’ve seen how they planted the corn” type way.
Moving on we have five deleted scenes (7:32) and some multi-angle featurettes (2:58 and 2:13) that show off different sections of the film as well as containing the option to select three different audio tracks to go with it. Finally there’s “Night’s First Alien Movie” (2:17), a short little film from Shyamalan’s early days. They’re all solid extras, but since there’s nothing new here (and it’s all in SD 480i/p), you won’t miss much if you don’t trade up for this Blu-ray release.
Like Unbreakable before it, Signs is only worth the upgrade if you really want it on Blu-ray. Its audio is superb but the video is a bit weak, making for an unbalanced mix in the tech spec department, but it’s really up to the individual if they want to drop the money for this release. The $10 rebate is incentive for the eager to replace all of their DVDs on Blu-ray, but those who don’t already own it will find this release easily Recommended. Just don’t expect any fancy Blu-ray only bonuses or extras. There’s just none of that here to find, unfortunately.
Signs is now available on Blu-ray.