Monday, January 17, 2005

The Village - Lesser Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Manoj Shyamalan's film "The Village" was a film that I, contrary to popular opinion, found quite interesting and rich on first viewing. I cannot say the same about the DVD. The Buena Vista product is lame, worse than any other big-budget film's DVD I can recall, and weakens my original perceptions of the film as a 'post-9/11, post-urban, proto-fascist' film.

The extras on the DVD feature a few deleted scenes, that apart from one, deserved to find their way on the cutting room floor. In addition to these scenes, there is a promisingly-named vignette 'Desconstructing The Village". This turned out to be merely a behind-the-scenes look at the various departments who made the film - from editing to sound to casting. There is no commentary, apart from introductions to the deleted scenes and an early home movie by Manoj, which is weak, and hints at his later ego-centrism. A few production photo shoots, et c'est tout - that's all.

Turning to the film itself, one is more satisfied. The audio track is a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, as well as a French track, and vividly conveys the aural terrors of the jungle scenes. Visually, the colors are strong and effectively convey the moods intended by the director.

The film has a superlative cast, most from the theater, who enact their roles with realism and conviction. Bryce Howard is a promising talent. Adrian Brody's character, to me, bespeaks an innocent populace swept away by states of fear. The need for the leader to exert control through creating this state of fear is a key element of the film.

Semiotically, the film uses elements of color, sound and peripheral symbols to create an atmosphere of fear just outside our ken. Although the boogeyman is unmasked, and the village revealed a sham, the film is nevertheless able to say, watch out, the monster within our hearts is more scary than any outsider, and in the end, the outsider is we, ourselves, alone. The village-folk retreated from the terrors of the world outside, only to create their own, and be consumed by them.

In most horror films and ghost stories, the tension, like in "The Monkey's Paw" comes from the author/filmmaker never revealing all the terrors to us. The ones left unseen are the more scary - this may be Manoj's failing, or perhaps his genius, to let the viewer believe she's smarter than the filmmaker, that she has fathomed his art, and the alchemist is only a trickster.

The DVD could have been used to buttress this point, through an explanation of the layers and symbols used in the film. It fails at this, though, by not even trying to do so.

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