For this writer, one of the most egregious statements a magazine ever made about a filmmaker was in 2002 when Newsweek called M. Night Shyamalan the “Next Spielberg.” The surprise twists of his films were gimmicks and never had much substantive weight emotionally or otherwise (other than similar narrative tricks of a shock jock). “The Sixth Sense” is a one trick pony, deeply overrated and doesn’t hold up once you know the gag, “Unbreakable” is better genre piece, but I still don’t get the fuss and “Signs” was never particularly special either. But as big global hits ($672 million worldwide for ‘Sense,’ $408 million for “Signs,” though “Unbreakable” failed to gross more than $100 million domestically), I suppose I can see why, from a financial perspective Newsweek might have thought Shyamalan might continue to be a big crowd-pleasing blockbuster filmmaker.
But it didn't really happen. While some of the films were still relative financial successes, everything post-"Signs" took a backslide at the box-office, and some of them like "Lady in the Water" and "The Happening" were absolutely reviled and mocked by critics (the latter ended up on many year-end worst lists). The filmmaker’s latest, “After Earth,” debuted at number three at the box-office despite starring one of the world’s biggest actors Will Smith. So many are rightfully asking, "What’s wrong with Smith’s career?" and to a lesser extent, "Can Shyamalan’s career get much worse?"
Where did it all go wrong? Well, even though it was a relative under-performer, 2004’s “The Village” was Shyamalan’s last hit and many regard it as the point the filmmakers hubris had gone far beyond his head. There are many pieces of evidence of this, but a recent excellent Vulture article reminds us of perhaps the most flagrant example. A 2004 Sci-Fi channel pseudo-documentary titled “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan," and it’s quite the glowing, puff-piece hagiography. Meant to create buzz as a lead up to “The Village,” the documentary interviews Shyamalan, his family, friends, various co-workers and essentially tries to uncover where this filmmaker’s preternatural genius came from. It’s not subtle.
Here’s the first kicker. Directed by Nathaniel Kahn, it’s a authorized big blow-job until the documentarian begins to dig up parts of Shyamalan past he doesn’t want revealed, and he then refuses to cooperate with the filmmaker and angrily breaks off all ties.
Here’s the 2nd kicker, and more of a kick in the balls actually. This was all fabricated by Shyamalan and Kahn as essentially a publicity stunt for “The Village.” It was presented as an unauthorized bio of the "reclusive" director, but turned out to be another self-absorbed project disguised as self-aware satire and pre-promotion for the film. Weeks before it had even aired, Shyamalan had apparently shat on the documentary publicly to bring attention to it. Narcissism much? That’s a bizarrely self-involved ruse and how he thought it would go over well when word inevitably leaked... who knows what he was thinking.
As Vulture astutely writes: “It’s a fascinating look into how Shyamalan wants to be perceived....In this version of his life, everyone is in awe of him...And the movie isn't shy about suggesting Shyamalan's supernatural power.” It’s all a little bit sick and twisted when you think about it, Shyamalan and Kahn essentially trying to burnish the Shyamalan brand by adding to his mystique.
Here’s another excerpt from Vulture:
Early on in Buried Secret, Shyamalan is asked, "What is it like to be so successful so young?" He replies sheepishly: "It feels like I can't just make a movie. It has to connect in some unusual fashion for it to be appropriate [for me]. Otherwise," he says, "it's just a movie."
Hat tip again to Vulture, this thing is just utterly... a train-wreck that’s hard not to watch. Also, let’s not forget that this is the same man who basically commissioned a shrill and whiny propaganda book about why mean ol' Disney couldn't understand the genius of "The Lady In The Water," called "The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale." We're not making that up -- Disney, who had bankrolled all of Shyamalan’s films for a long run, basically bailed on him after “The Lady In The Water.”
In an excellent and rather hilarious New York Times article in 2006, the Grey Lady called the book, “a work about the making of the new film... the book so echoes its subject’s point of view (he’s the sensitive artiste, misunderstood by his old studio, Disney) that it reads like an act of ventriloquism." Did the Emperor always have no clothes? Decide for yourself and watch some clips from “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan” below.