Maybe you've heard about this book ...
... which chronicles writer / director M. Night Shyamalan's February 2005 falling-out with Walt Disney Studios. Supposedly, M. Night felt that Mouse House execs didn't understand or appreciate the screenplay that Shyamalan had carefully crafted for his next big-screen opus, "Lady in the Water." Which is why M. Night eventually decided to decamp from Disney and then set up shop across town at Warner Bros.
Though Michael Bamberger's "The Man Who Heard Voices Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale" (Gotham, July 2006) won't actually turn up on store shelves 'til this Thursday, a friend was nice enough to slip me a early review copy of this book. And -- to be honest -- in Bamberger's book, M. Night comes across as this thin-skinned loon. This oh-so-sensitive auteur who's prone to bursting into tears whenever some suit dares to question his genius.
Given that this was an authorized book (By that I mean: Shyamalan actually gave Bamberger permission to follow the writer/director around for a year or more. So that Michael would then have a keen understanding of M. Night's creative processes, so that Bamberger could then write about how the "magic" really gets made), I have to admit that I continually cringed as I read "The Man Who Heard Voices." For -- though this book's original intention may have been to illustrate how the creator of "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs" and "The Village" works -- what it actually did was shine a rather unflattering spotlight on M. Night Shyamalan. Revealing the acclaimed writer/director to be ... Well, a precious & pretentious jerk.
Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.
I had literally just finished reading the thing when I got the chance last night to catch a preview screening of "Lady in the Water." And given that I still had Michael Bamberger's version of events running through in my head, I wondered: "Am I actually going to be able to sit & enjoy this film now? Knowing what I know about how 'Lady in the Water' supposedly came together? That highly regarded Disney Studios execs like Dick Cook & Nina Jacbson allegedly asked for significant changes on the film's original screenplay because ... Well ... To be honest, 'Lady in the Water' just didn't make any sense to them?"
I have to admit that I was not all that optimistic as I sat in that darkened theater last night. I figured that -- given all of the awful behind-the-scenes stories that I'd just read over the past few days -- that I was now in for an awful night at the movies.
I figured wrong.
Don't get me wrong, folks: "The Man Who Heard Voices" does painstakingly document each & every little fret & foible that occurred to M. Night Shyamalan during the making of this motion picture. This book really does redefine the term "too much information."
And yet -- as you watch "Lady in the Water" -- none of that backstage angst ever appears on the big screen. This heartfelt fantasy comes across as a film that was made by a moviemaker who's working at the very top of his game. Not some guy who repeatedly bursts into tears whenever some studio head dares to ask for rewrites.
"Lady in the Water" is a magical little movie. In interviews, Shyamalan has repeatedly described this project as being a "bedtime story." And M. Night's right. There's a genuine sweetness, a child-like innocence that pervades this entire motion picture.
"Lady in the Water" starts off by introducing us to the world of the Cove, this rather modest apartment complex that's supposedly located just outside of Philadelphia. Handyman Cleveland Heep (played by Paul Giamatti) does what he can to keep the place running. Killing over-sized bugs for the tenants, unclogging garbage disposals as well as trying to figure out what exactly it is that keeps clogging up the filters at the complex's pool.
Given the title of this motion picture, I'm guessing that it won't really surprise you to learn that this swimming pool plays an awfully big role in "Lady in the Water." That this is where Cleveland first encounters Story (Played by Bryce Dallas Howard), the beautiful young woman who is much more than she appears to be.
That's one of the running themes of "Lady in the Water." That people are often much more than they actually appear to be. That a sad sack of a janitor could have once been a well-respected doctor with a loving wife and a family. Or that a rather ethereal-looking young girl could eventually turn out to be ...
Nah. To tell much more would really spoil a lot of the magic & the fun of "Lady in the Water." For this motion picture to have the maximum impact on you, you want to go into the theater knowing as little as possible. Have this story unfold in real time.
Mind you, "Lady in the Water" isn't perfect. I could have done without the whole writer-whose-book-in-going-to-change-the-world plotline. And movie critics the world over are sure to rise up & attack this M. Night Shyamalan film just because of what happens to Bob Balaban's character.
But -- that said -- I really enjoyed "Lady in the Water." In a summer that's seen more than its share of overly-long, CG-filled would-be blockbusters, it was kind of nice to finally get to see a movie that doesn't feature a single gunfight or explosion. Mind you, things can get pretty intense at times (Small children may particularly have problems with the scenes that feature the Scrunt). But happily, everything works out okay in the end.
Okay. I know. What with M. Night Shyamalan being the guy who's famous for his twist endings, it may surprise you to learn that "Lady in the Water" is such a straight-forward film. That this movie is what it says it is -- a modern fairy tale, a bed-time story.
And -- to be frank -- after the nightmare-ish experience that I had while reading "The Man Who Heard Voices" -- I really needed a bed-time story last night.
I'll be genuinely interested to see how "Lady in the Water" does at the box office this coming weekend. To see if audiences are really ready to embrace a kinder, gentler version of M. Night Shyamalan. Where the only twist is that there is no twist ending to this film.
If you're an M. Night Shyamalan fan, I heartily recommend that you A) see "Lady in the Water" and B) avoid picking up a copy of Michael Bamberger's "the Man Who Heard Voices." Because (as long-time fans of Woody Allen will tell you) sometimes it really is a mistake to know too much about the private lives of your favorite film-makers.