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Sixth Sense, The

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG-13 // September 30, 2008 // Region 0
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 5, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Sixth Sense was
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a juggernaut in 1999. Racking up well over $600 million dollars throughout its international theatrical run, this sleeper hit that was all but shrugged off by a disinterested studio during production cemented itself as one of the most colossal box office successes of all time. Its critical reception was nearly as impressive, earning six Academy Award nominations, among them nods for Best Director and Best Picture. "I see dead people" clawed its way into pop culture, and writer/director M. Night Shyamalan became as household a name as something that tough to spell could ever reasonably be, propelled to Hollywood's A-list and becoming inexorably linked to thrillers with twist endings. Some pop culture phenomena burn brightly and quickly fade away -- just ask any of the Blair Witch crew -- but The Sixth Sense still proves to be as remarkably compelling a supernatural thriller now as it was when it first bowed into theaters nearly a decade ago.

Cole (Haley Joel Osment) may only be ten years old, but he's already an outcast, prone to seemingly unprovoked bursts of complete terror and an unsettling tendency to rattle off things that he couldn't possibly know. He doesn't have a friend to call his own, and his classmates and teachers all look down at him as some sort of freak. Cole even feels compelled to hide his secret torment from his mother (Toni Collette), the one person in this miserable world that doesn't look at him as if he's deranged. It's a familiar scenario for psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who years ago had taken into his care a young boy suffering from a similar set of problems. That patient (Donnie Wahlberg) grew up to be deeply mentally unbalanced, even breaking into the home of Malcolm and his wife (Olivia Williams) with nothing but a pair of soiled underwear and a pistol. Malcolm sees the unusually empathetic Cole as an opportunity to atone for the mistakes he'd made in the past and perhaps even help bridge the gulf that's since formed between him and his wife. The sullen Malcolm and his withdrawn young patient quickly form a close bond, and Cole eventually does feel comfortable enough to share his secret with his new friend: he sees dead people.

What really stands out to me about The Sixth Sense all these years later is Shyamalan's restraint as a writer and director. There's a familiar formula that movies like this are expected to follow, and with an indifferent studio mostly ignoring him, Shyamalan was able to veer away from convention. Rather than instantly establish The Sixth Sense's high-concept premise, Cole doesn't drop that iconic bombshell that he sees dead people until the fifty minute mark -- halfway through the movie -- and there's nothing overtly supernatural until nearly a full hour in. Any other movie would've at least tried to shoehorn in something vicious or disturbing before the opening credits, but Shyamalan prefers instead to establish a sense of unease that gradually escalates throughout the first hour of the film. The Sixth Sense's unsettling atmosphere and its two central characters are exceptionally compelling, and the movie is propelled by a strong but never overbearing sense of style; the film doesn't need to lean on jump scares, elaborate make-up effects, or hyperkinetic quick cutting to keep an unrelenting hold on my attention. Although the movie
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does take a much more supernatural bent in its final 45 minutes, Shyamalan still shrugs off the usual expectations. Hell, this is a thriller without a villain, and I'd be hard-pressed to think of another genre piece like that offhand. It plays off fears that are much more primal and psychological, an approach that's extremely difficult to pull off in a feature film but is executed beautifully here.

Movies with an enormous twist at the end rarely hold up to more than one or two viewings. Sometimes I'll find one worth a second pass to see how it plays when I know the twist from word one, but that's usually all I can really hope for, and this has certainly been a problem for the handful of films that Shyamalan has made since. The Sixth Sense holds up unusually well to scrutiny, though, even close to a full decade after its twist embedded itself into pop culture. It's so cleverly woven throughout the story that the twist seems almost painfully obvious to me now, even though I'll admit to not picking up on any of clues scattered throughout the movie theatrically. A few moments here and there do strike me as kind of clumsy, but the direction and performances are otherwise so strong -- I'll even admit to getting almost teary-eyed during a scene between Cole and his mother in the film's final moments -- that its weaker spots are easily ignored.

I wasn't sure what to expect from The Sixth Sense as the movie approaches its tenth anniversary, and I'm cynical enough that I was halfway expecting it to be like suffering The Blair Witch Project again -- a dated pop culture artifact that's better left as a distant, dusty memory. I'm very glad that I was wrong, though; The Sixth Sense is a remarkably well-crafted thriller with an unconventional approach that's all but timeless. It's tense and atmospheric, bolstered by such an engaging story and cast that there's no need to rely on mountains of latex or barrel drums of splatter. The Sixth Sense is a movie that's very much worth rediscovering again, especially on a Blu-ray disc that looks as nice as this one.

Video: After being so underwhelmed by Unbreakable on Blu-ray, I'll admit that I wasn't expecting much from The Sixth Sense, but this 1080p presentation looks quite
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a bit better than I ever would've thought. The quality is uneven, and some scenes suffer from an overly filtered look, but it's still a worthwhile upgrade over the DVD.

Crispness and clarity can vary quite a bit from one shot to the next; quite a few moments boast so much vibrancy, detail, and dimensionality that scattered stretches of this nearly ten year old film could easily pass for a newly-minted day-and-date release. Many others look soft, smoothened, and almost murky, though. How much of this dates back to the original photography, I have no idea, but The Sixth Sense does look like it's been scrubbed with some sort of digital noise reduction. Facial textures in particular frequently have an artificially waxy appearance, and hardly any trace of grain is visible throughout the entire movie. If there was indeed some sort of filtering, I don't think it ravages the image in quite the same way as...say, the noise reduction in The Longest Day. I'd just as soon the original texture and detail be retained, but whatever manipulation took place here isn't heavy-handed enough for me to recommend steering clear of this Blu-ray release. There's room for improvement, but The Sixth Sense is a very nice looking disc overall.

The Sixth Sense is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been encoded with AVC.

Audio: The Sixth Sense features a 16-bit, six-channel LPCM track, but its uncompressed audio doesn't impress in quite the same way this Blu-ray disc's high definition visuals do. The mix sounds somewhat trebly to my ears, and it's frequently marred by a fairly heavy high-frequency hiss. The sound design tends to be subdued, reserving the surround channels for reinforcing James Newton Howard's haunting score and to flesh out a light sense of atmosphere. Certain effects do sound outstanding, particularly the wallops packed by the stings in the score and a pair of gunshots. The Sixth Sense's subdued sound design fits the lower-key approach Shyamalan takes with the film, and aside from that grating hiss, it sounds decent enough on Blu-ray.

Also included are Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and French as well as a stereo dub in Spanish. Subtitle streams are offered in English (SDH), French, Spanish, and, despite not being listed on the packaging, Dutch.

Extras: The Sixth Sense carries over all of the extras from the two disc "Vista Series" DVD set. The extras from the original DVD that were left off of the Vista release -- twenty minutes' worth of featurettes and an Easter Egg excerpt of one of Shyamalan's homebrew horror flicks he made as a kid -- are still missing. All of the extras on this Blu-ray disc are presented in standard definition.

The Sixth Sense leans away from an audio commentary, preferring instead to pile together a stack of featurettes. The lengthiest and most engaging of these is "Reflections from the Set" (39 min.), which opens by briefly noting Shyamalan's trouble putting together a usable draft before quickly settling into an extended discussion about the cast's process in bringing their characters to life. Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Donnie Wahlberg, and Toni Collette each delve into their approaches at length, although somewhat surprisingly, considering that his character is featured so briefly, I found Wahlberg to be the most compelling
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of the four. He certainly doesn't approach it as a small part, describing his dramatic weight loss and some early morning improvisation to help settle into the role.

"Between Two Worlds" (37 min.) uses The Sixth Sense as a springboard to discuss what the ghost story fundamentally represents in film, literature, and the public consciousness as a whole. The Sixth Sense and Shyamalan are both featured prominently, but the featurette also includes comments from William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist), Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost; Jacob's Ladder), and Columbia University professor David McKenna. There are excerpts from quite a number of films, not all of which seem to focus on the supernatural, and among them is a cringeworthy early acting role by Shyamalan.

"Moving Pictures: The Storyboard Process" (15 min.) is anchored around Shyamalan and storyboard artist Brick Mason :snicker: discussing their close collaboration in putting together a 'visual script', running through how this thought process and previsualization have influenced Shyamalan's filmmaking. "Reaching the Audience" (3 min.) reflects on the movie's unexpectedly enormous success and lobs out a few guesses why The Sixth Sense resonated so deeply at the box office. "Rules and Clues" (6 min.) delves into the rules of the supernatural that make up the framework of the film's story as well as highlighting some of the hints dropped throughout about the twist ending. Finally, "Music and Sound Design" (6 min.) revolves around composer James Newton Howard, who touches on the evocative words and phrases Shyamalan passed along to him as inspiration as well as some of the subtle touches he added to the score to set an unsettling mood. A few short excerpts are played with only the score or with only certain sound effects to accentuate some of the featurette's points.

There are also four short deleted scenes that are each accompanied by a brief introduction by Shyamalan. These additional scenes include an additional moment with Cole incorporating the strain of his curse into his fascination with toy soldiers, a subplot with a neighbor who needs a supernatural leg-up from Cole, and an extended ending. These four scenes and Shyamalan's introductions run right at fifteen minutes in total.

A theatrical trailer and a pair of TV spots round out the extras. Tucked inside the case is a $10 rebate for owners of the current DVD, and that may make an upgrade at least a little more compelling.

Conclusion: Movies that lean too heavily on a twist ending can be hit-or-miss the second or third time through, but I was impressed how much I continue to enjoy The Sixth Sense nearly a full decade later. Helmed by a director who -- at least at the time -- had the patience and restraint to flesh out a supernatural thriller with an almost timeless technique and benefitting further from a tremendous cast, The Sixth Sense is a movie worth rediscovering on Blu-ray. Recommended.
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