DVD - Image A Sound A Extras A-
BD - Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment
written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
by Bill Chambers There's a feeling of déjà vu at moviehouses this summer: in two different films, a particularly troubled character senses danger of the paranormal kind as the room plummets to freezing temperatures. The difference is that when it happens to Lili Taylor's Nell in The Haunting, it's schadenfreude. The hero of The Sixth Sense, a young boy named Cole, is a more sympathetic creation in a far less shrill enterprise, and we wish nothing more than for the ghosts that haunt him to take a hike.
The picture's prologue finds an ex-patient (a riveting Donnie Wahlberg) of jaded child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) shooting the good doctor in the comfort of his own bedroom. Desperate to get his career back on track sometime thereafter, even at the expense of his crumbling marriage (to Olivia Williams, of Rushmore fame), Malcolm counsels the deeply-troubled Cole (Haley Joel Osment), a preteen who displays all the symptoms of Malcolm's would-be killer: scars on his body; antisocial behaviour; and the reluctance to reveal a Big Secret. Only after Cole is locked in a "dungeon" by a pair of bullies (and subsequently hospitalized) does he divulge to Malcolm, in a moment that sends chills up the spine, that he sees dead people. Walking among us. All the time. Cole's a magnet for the dead.
Choosing to believe Cole, Malcolm forgoes psychiatric protocol. He will instead pursue the supernatural angle, becoming a kind of surrogate father and paranormal advisor to Cole, who lives with his mother, Lynn (Toni Collette), a divorcee putting on a brave face for Cole's sake. The Sixth Sense is strangely soothing more often than it is frightening, all whispered conversations and tender gazing, and would be none the worse for wear without its few pulp shocks, reminding us far more of Ghost than of Poltergeist in that regard. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan does, however, crib the self-rearranging kitchen business from the latter, somewhat unforgivably.
Though we sympathize with Malcolm's domestic dilemma (even if it's finally a bit too cagily abstract), we're firmly in Cole's shoes, sense-remembering our fears of the bogeyman or the Farrah poster on the wall that sprouted fangs when caught in a beam of moonlight. Willis, surprisingly persuasive in doctors' poses (the film serves as a redemption of sorts for his Raspberry-worthy turn as the world's least ethical shrink in Color of Night), surrenders the spotlight to his costar, Osment, who operates at a higher calibre than most child actors. Both deliver measured, likable performances, and their dynamic is sweet. Atmospherically lit by The Silence of the Lambs cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, The Sixth Sense unspools like a slow page-turner, but its unexpected finish is definitely worth the wait. The big twist ending maybe isn't bulletproof or even that original, yet I continue to admire its audacity. Here's a film that always zigs just when you expect it to zag. Originally published: August 6, 1999.
The Sixth Sense has been upgraded on DVD to a 2-platter set in the VISTA Series line that, while it recycles the bonus material from the previous Collector's Edition disc, contains a fresh, THX-approved anamorphic transfer and additional supplements. In a taste-test between the two versions, the THX release came out slightly ahead in the picture department for the fact of its stronger luminance and absence of obvious compression artifacts. If you really want to get nitpicky, the 1.85:1 THX image masks off a hair more info at the top--we're talking micrometres. The crafty soundmix is better represented by the VISTA Series release as it contains Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 options. There remains not much activity in the surrounds, but the dialogue is louder and clearer and the bass jolts are more nerve-jangling, especially in DTS.
Aside from a trailer for Pearl Harbor that fires up automatically upon inserting the DVD, Disc 1 is absent of extras. Disc 2 is most definitely not. "Reflections from the Set" (39 mins.) is the first of three excellent documentaries by Charles Kiselyak, the man behind those wonderful featurettes on select titles from last year's "Oliver Stone Collection." Interspersing behind-the-scenes footage with recent, shot-on-film interviews, "Reflections..." makes The Sixth Sense's success seem not so inexplicable, given the dedication (Donnie Wahlberg lost 25 pounds for a five-minute scene) and creative harmony of all involved and serendipitous aspects of the production. In the cool, eerie "Between Two Worlds" (37 mins.), Shyamalan, Exorcist author William Peter Blatty, Ghost writer Bruce Joel Rubin, and others discuss the cinema of the Afterlife as well as their own brushes with death. "Moving Pictures: The Storyboard Process" sits down with Shyamalan and storyboard artist Brick Mason as they hash out shots for the former's upcoming thriller Signs, starring Mel Gibson. Interestingly, Shyamalan defends many of his observations by pointing to editor Walter Murch's published theories--from my own conversations with Mr. Murch, I gather he admires The Sixth Sense a great deal in return.
"Music and Sound Design" (7 mins.) is a neat featurette in which we learn that human breaths provided the "room tone" (the often-imperceptible background hum) for the duration of The Sixth Sense. Composer James Newton Howard also lets a few cats out of the bag. "Reaching the Audience" (3 mins.) sees the producers gloating about the film's opening weekend and eventual grosses (it cracked the top-ten all-time moneymakers by the end of its lengthy run). "Rules and Clues" (6 mins.) covers the measures that were taken to ensure that The Sixth Sense held up to multiple-viewing scrutiny. Three deleted scenes, one of them an extended ending that would've definitely left the film in disrepair, are preceded by Shyamalan introductions, each; a trailer, 15- and 30-second TV spots, detailed filmmaker and cast bios, and DVD-ROM weblinks round out this VISTA Series edition of The Sixth Sense, not counting the outstanding menu designs and enclosed collectible storyboard lithograph. If you can afford to do so, I recommend replacing the Collector's Edition copy with this revamp, if only for Kiselyak's contributions. In any case, it's a better value than any of Universal's so-called Ultimate Editions. Originally published: January 15, 2002.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
The crown jewel in Buena Vista's Shyamalan oeuvre, The Sixth Sense was, appropriately, granted the best-looking Blu-ray of the three titles relevant to this discussion. (Unbreakable and Signs being the other two.) I was disappointed to detect traces of DVNR in the somewhat waxy close-ups, as well as a hint of edge-enhancement--which, ironically, wouldn't be necessary if they'd avoided DVNR altogether--in the occasional light ringing around text and shimmering horizontal lines. Having said that, the 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is an enormous improvement over the standard-def alternative(s); Tak Fujimoto's cinematography recaptures a depth it had in theatres, the colours pop (the red motif regains potency), and said close-ups nevertheless reveal a remarkable amount of endearing, heretofore-unseen detail, like the tiny scar that graces the forehead of actress Olivia Williams. Fans will wonder how they ever put up with the DVD. As for the audio, I couldn't access the 16-bit PCM uncompressed option, but the 640 kbps DD 5.1 track is bold and precise, with a better-balanced dialogue channel than ever before. Extras are identical to those of the VISTA Series platter, though it drops the cast/crew bios and front-loads HiDef trailers for Swing Vote and "Lost" Season 4. As an aside, why can't Shyamalan direct like this anymore? The Sixth Sense is a lovely piece of work.
107 minutes; PG-13; DVD: 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced), BD: 1.85:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); DVD: English DTS 5.1, English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1, BD: English 5.1 LPCM, English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; DVD: CC, Spanish subtitles, BD: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch subtitles; DVD: 2 DVD-9s, BD: BD-50; DVD: Region One, BD: Region-free; Buena Vista