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Signs Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany May 30, 2008

  • Movies review

    1,718

    Signs Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £23.99

    Picture

    Shyamalan's favoured ratio of 1.85:1 - here encoded via MPEG-4 into 1080p - may look far better than it has previously on SD, but it is not without issues.

    Colours are pleasing, although they appear to have been ramped-down a little bit to look a slightly more subdued. However, the greens of the cornfields are bold and vivid, creating a lush contrast with the sort of dry rustic pallor of the Hess homestead. Reds, too, are quite nice - such as the police lights around the accident scene or the red stain of blood on Shyamalan's (as the unfortunately sleepy driver Ray) jacket. Skin tones are good in a grubby-realistic fashion, Gibson's face now so weathered and craggy that it resembles the dark side of the moon. There is a glint in the eyes, too, which is nice.

    Contrast is generally fine, with some nice distinctions between the lighter and darker elements of the image, and scene transitions between the two - leaving the subdued lighting of the house to enter the bright sunshine outside, for instance - are handled pretty well although this transfer definitely seems to err more favourably towards the shadows than the sun. Blacks, as a result, are robust and strong to a degree where they may actually be too dominant in certain scenes. I'm not saying that there is an element of details within the darker portions of the picture being crushed out - a quick comparison with the R2 SD edition reveals that there is actually slightly more detail apparent in the gloom on the BD - but the balance can seem a tad biased and the image altogether darker and duller. The shock-shot of a figure on the roof is darker than previously and interiors are now swathed with more shadow. But the deep blues of night are nicely saturated despite this.

    Detail, on the whole, is very rewarding. Unsurprisingly, it is the close-ups that benefit the most from the extra lines of resolution, with faces, clothes and knick-knacks like the numerous glasses of water, the fur on one of the gorgeous German Shepherd Dogs, the grain on the woodwork in the house and especially on the planks that Graham and Merrill use to board the place up and, of course, the leaves on the corn stalks showing up a lot more finite information than I have seen previously. But the image is still quite soft and doesn't lift from the screen like a new release. Background details and distance shots don't fare anywhere near so well, though. The aerial view of the crop circles, or the mid-ground shots of Graham Hess standing amidst the levelled corn, for example, are nowhere near as well delineated as you might have hoped for. The alien looks a little better than previously, though, even if people may still be disappointed by its overall appearance. Personally, I like the sheer nastiness of its face - something that I also liked about the scowling experimenter in the grimly atmospheric Fire In The Sky with T2's Robert Patrick. Certain images look great, though. Gibson framed in the passenger window as he talks to Shyamalan's Ray and the bright run-up to Bo near the start as she stands further down the aisle in the field, or the moment when Hess has his breakdown at the dinner table. Love the arm that appears from the left of the shot to haul Phoenix into the communal hug!

    Three-dimensionality isn't much in evidence, however, despite some degree of success with depth of field, such as when Hess talks to Caroline in the doorway to the kitchen and far off down the hall and outside of the front door we can see her police car parked-up right in the centre of the frame. Things such as this come over well even if the image, as a whole, doesn't actually pop from the screen. But there is a layer of grain that covers the picture that, even if it doesn't fluctuate, sometimes appears to help muddy-up the image. Motion artefacts also put in an appearance, as does edge enhancement, although neither of these amount to anything more than a niggle.

    Overall, this is the best that I have seen Signs look.

    Signs Picture

    Sound

    Signs is embellished with a sublime and well-designed PCM 5.1 track. This is not the kind of wham-bam, explosive design that may normally come with a film about an alien invasion, but it certainly makes for a delightfully jarring and unsettling atmosphere of sudden crunches, jolts and unseen movements. Very definitely, the audio for Signs has been constructed in the horror-movie mould with quiet lulls punctuated by creaks and groans, musical and FX “stingers” and a pervading sense of anticipation.

    Separation across the front channels is good and there is plenty of spasmic, but enveloping rear-speaker activity. Depth is very convincing and natural-sounding. Listen to the two dogs barking at the start and then just Isobel barking during the start of the final act - there is genuine distance and placement exhibited here. Likewise, the depth and placement afforded Bo's screaming during the early scene-setter is accurate and authentic. The chittering of the invaders is also well located within the mix and eerily distributed with crystal-clarity. But what brings this track to life is the dexterity and steerage of the scampering alien feet across the roof or around the house - terrific bursts of activity that recall the type of thing found in The Others and The Orphanage - though not to such a devastatingly awesome degree as evidenced in the latter. Sudden movement such as this has the capacity not only to make you jump, but to have you tracking the progress of the noises across the soundscape too. There's a wonderful sense of the shivering sheaves of corn swaying as Hess pushes through them and the sound of the field murmuring is well conveyed without going overboard. The knocking-in of nails and the sudden clasping of the kitchen knife when Graham's courage resurfaces during his confrontation with the alien behind Ray's pantry door are nicely rendered. Footsteps in the house, as the main characters move around, are also well integrated into the mix, and dialogue, though intentionally hushed and softly spoken for much of the time, is always clear and never swamped by fx or music.

    And, speaking of music, James Newton Howard's score is given a nice rich presentation although I was, perhaps, hoping that it would have been even warmer and more pronounced - but this is just a personal thing and no reflection upon its treatment within the mix's transfer.

    The track may not be all that bombastic - no laser-beams or things blowing up - but the sheer finesse of the steerage and the subtlety of the design makes Signs come to life in the best possible manner - realism and accuracy. It puts you in the rustling heart of a cornfield and it places you smack bang inside a house under siege. Great stuff - but don't expect War Of The Worlds.

    Signs Sound

    Extras

    It may be a shame that nothing new has been added for this Blu-ray release, but at least the extras from the SD edition have made the transition too.

    The collection of five Deleted Scenes, lasting 7 minutes in total - "Graham and Merrill," "Flashbacks #1 & #2," "Dead Bird," and "Alien in the Attic." To be honest, they offer very little and their exclusion from the finished film is hardly something to be miffed about.

    The Making of Signs is an exclusive six-part documentary exploring the movie from original idea, production and shooting to marketing. Divided as follows - "Looking for Signs" (6:11), "Building Signs" (8:02), "Making Signs - a commentary with M. Night Shyamalan" (22:33), "Effects of Signs" (8:31), "Last Voices: The Music of Signs" (8:26) and "Full Circle" (4:48). This series of featurettes does a decent job of establishing why Shyamalan wanted to pursue this popular genre tangent and we do get to hear from the stars, including the two leads. There is copious on-set footage with Shyamalan keen to allow an all-access sort of atmosphere, but the whole thing comes across as quite lethargic despite supplying lots of information and opinion. Obviously, since shooting began the day after 9/11, the relevance and enormity of those events are alluded to and we learn how Shyamalan opted to film the story's most heartbreaking scene as a means of breaking the ice with Mel Gibson, and how he wanted to inject more humour into the project after the dour Bruce Willis outings that had preceded it. But I like that we see him discussing the score and sitting in on the recording sessions with composer James Newton Howard. He has a definite bond with his scorer and they have a unique way of fine-tuning their ideas and utilising storyboards for Howard to derive his feelings for the music from. That main title is gloriously covered as is the simply beautiful climactic set-piece. What surprisingly few effects are touched upon and there is also a look at how the film was promoted.

    The Multi-angle storyboards don't really offer much and are of a once-only affair. They encompass two pivotal scenes in the movie - “Graham, the knife and the pantry” and “Graham and Merrill Chase the Unknown Trespasser”. Presenting storyboards and finished footage and also a 3-way audio exploration - the score, the sound fx and the final mix - this sort of thing was interesting years ago but doesn't really offer much nowadays.

    Night's First Alien Film is a piece of daft hokum that is, nevertheless, funny to see. Filmed for a home movie when he was a lot younger, this is strictly of the “ho-hum” variety and is unlikely to be revisited.

    The once reasonably-stocked list of extras now looks a little paltry and, really, only the making of is worth your time and effort but here, at least, we get to understand what makes Shyamalan tick ... well, almost.

    Signs Extras

    Verdict

    Somehow benefiting from its insular “quiet invasion” by simple virtue of great acting and a powerfully emotional theme, Signs, for me, is the best film that Shyamalan has come up with so far. It's depiction of belief and faith is nicely cross-pollinated with 50's sci-fi, Post 9/11 paranoia and a delightful rural expansiveness that successfully serves to enhance the isolation and vulnerability of its protagonists. Shyamalan's circular motif finds great footing here - literally with its crop circles (tying-in with the trend of the oft-regarded door-knob in Sixth Sense, the round perimeter of The Village etc) - with the story curling around its theme until it meets itself again neatly at the climax. There is a genuine sense of the otherworldly and how it touches each individual - something that Shyamalan is so desperate to explore in each of his films - and some terrific jolts amidst a supreme atmosphere of encroaching dread and foreboding, making Signs a great all-round drama from the writer/director's patented fable-stable.

    Touchstone's BD release adds nothing new in the features department, but its enhanced AV quality is more than enough reason to make this a very worthy upgrade. Thrilling, funny, frightening - this once offered clear Signs that M. Night Shyamalan was fast perfecting his offbeat style and stature as a master-fabulist. Let us hope that he has found his Mojo again and that The Happening doesn't disappear up his own exhaust like his last two shams.

    The Rundown

    Movie

    8

    Picture Quality

    8

    Sound Quality

    9

    Extras

    6

    Overall

    8

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10
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