Few mainstream filmmakers have gained as much of a cult following as director M. Night Shyamalan. Since the director's worldwide smash "The 6th Sense", the director's "twist" endings have been promoted so heavily that his films have been "typecast", in a way, with audiences looking forward to the next great "reveal" ending. However, some audiences awaiting the final magic trick this time around were disappointed with both the build-up and the finale. The picture opened well, but didn't get audiences back into theaters for return engagements, and the gross fell sharply in the weeks after.
Interestingly enough, "Village" stands as probably as one of my favorite films of the director's. After the aliens that couldn't get through pantry doors in "Signs", this low-key film proved a pleasant change. The picture takes place in a small village that appears to be late in the 19th century. The villagers maintain something of a "truce" with beings in the woods, refering to them as ""Those We Don't Speak Of", and staying far away from the outside of the town. As part of their protection, the villagers were a color they deem safe (yellow) and stay away from anything red, as that is feared to attract the creatures that exist outside their boundaries.
A request by one of the town's men, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), to travel outside the town to try and get medicine that is needed, is denied. When something happens, it's up to the blind girl (Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron and a pretty good actress in her debut) that has feelings for him to venture out on her own. That's all I'll reveal about the film, as it's best for the surprises to be left unsaid.
The performances in "The Village" are pretty good, with Howard and Phoenix as the stand-outs. William Hurt, Sigorney Weaver and Judy Greer also provide fine supporting efforts. While the performances aren't bad, everyone seems to have been instructed to deliver lines in sort of a flat monotone that does give the whole thing a slightly "high school play" feel here-and-there. There's certainly no concerns regarding the look of the picture, however - this is easily the director's most beautiful film visually, done so with the aid of master cinematographer Roger Deakins ("Fargo"), production designer Tom Foden ("Matchstick Men") and others. James Newton Howard's score is also haunting and elegant.
Overall, I enjoyed "The Village". It's not particularly outstanding work from the director, but it's a well-made, often moderately effective mystery with good performances.
VIDEO: "The Village" is presented by Buena Vista in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is THX-certified - which - as a few prior releases have shown - is not always saying a whole lot. The transfer here is good, but unexceptional. Sharpness and detail are fine enough, as the picture appeared moderately crisp and well-defined, but there's still a slight softness to the proceedings that's noticable.
Further problems include some mild edge enhancement, along with a couple of instances of brief, very minor traces pixelation in a couple of the darker scenes. On a positive note, the print is in excellent condition, with no specks, marks, dirt or other flaws. Colors looked stellar, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1-EX. The soundtrack is nothing particularly aggressive - it's a pretty dialogue-driven film, for the most part - but there's some nice touches at times. Surrounds kick in for the occasional spooky ambience and reinforcement of the score. Audio quality is excellent, as both the highs and low lows of Howard's score and the sound effects are crisply offered. Dialogue also remained well-recorded, sounding natural and clear.
EXTRAS: "Deconstructing the Village" is a 24-minute documentary that is essentially a series of smaller pieces glued together. Throughout the pieces that make up the whole, we get a good idea of the concepts that went into the story, the production, preparation (such as the "boot camp" the actors went through) and post-production (editing, sound and score). Next are nearly 11-minutes of deleted scenes. Wrapping up the rather feature-light disc are a short diary from actress Bryce Dallas Howard (nearly 5 minutes), another home movie from M. Night (3 minutes) and a production photo gallery. Promos for other Buena Vista titles play before the main menu and are also accessible there.
Final Thoughts: "The Village" was met with a fairly harsh reception when it arrived in theaters last Summer, but I think it's pretty enjoyable mystery checking out, at least as a rental. Buena Vista's DVD edition provides fine video quality, good audio and a couple of extras. Recommended as a rental.