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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/26/01

Vista Series - 2000 (2001) - Touchstone (Buena Vista)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Unbreakable: Vista Series

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/C

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
107 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 56:55, in chapter 15), dual disc custom die-cut slipcase with gatefold packaging, illustrated booklet, 2 Alex Ross illustrations, animated film-themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & DTS 5.1), French and Spanish (DD 5.1), subtitles: English & Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Materials
NR, single-sided, dual-layered disc (no layer switch), Behind The Scenes documentary, Comic Books and Superheroes featurette, Train Station Sequence Multi-Angle feature with alternate audio tracks, 7 deleted scenes introduced by M. Night Shyamalan; Millionaire a short film by M. Night Shyamalan (aka Night's First Fight Sequence), animated film-themed menu screens with sound & music

When your breakthrough movie is something like the out-of-nowhere smash The Sixth Sense, your next project has some pretty high expectations to live up to. It should come as no surprise, then, that when M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable premiered in the fall of 2000, audiences and critics alike were divided over whether or not it was a worthy follow-up. Of course, in many ways Unbreakable is a very different film from The Sixth Sense, making some of these comparisons somewhat unfounded. But in fairness, Shyamalan brought a lot of these comparisons on himself. Once again, Bruce Willis is the star and, again, much of the film is about his relationship with a young boy. Again, the pace is deliberate; the plot only vaguely hinted at in promotional materials, and the story is capped by a surprise ending that (Shyamalan hopes) makes you want to watch the whole movie over again. In the long run, the only comparison that really matters is whether or not Unbreakable is as successful in achieving its aims as The Sixth Sense. And on that score, I'm afraid Unbreakable falls short of its predecessor.

While Unbreakable depends to a certain extent on the element of surprise, there are a few things that can be mentioned in the context of a review. Willis plays David Dunn, a security guard who miraculously survives a train wreck without a scratch, even though every other passenger on board died. Soon after, Dunn is contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book art dealer suffering from a rare medical condition that makes his bones extremely fragile. Elijah sets out to convince Dunn that… well, here's where the element of surprise kicks in. Suffice it to say that the rest of the story has a lot to do with superhero comics (as you can probably figure out just by looking at the list of special features or reading the text on the back of the DVD).

Shyamalan allows his story to unfold primarily in long, uninterrupted takes, that weigh the film down with an air of solemnity. While there are admittedly some excellent individual scenes in Unbreakable, eventually I found the movie's unrelentingly grim tone was at odds with the inherent absurdity of the story it was trying to tell. There are also any number of flaws in Shyamalan's screenplay. While The Sixth Sense was an impressively crafted puzzle of a film, Unbreakable seems more haphazard, with far too many important plot points kept hidden merely because David Dunn can't remember them until it's dramatically convenient. And as for the big twist ending… well, maybe you'll see it coming like I did, maybe you won't. But I simply can't imagine anyone being terribly impressed by it. The best surprise endings force the audience to reevaluate everything they've just seen. This one just made me shrug and say, "Okay. So?"

Unbreakable is the first entry in Disney's new Vista Series of DVDs. Is it just me or is anybody else sick and tired of studios introducing these seemingly meaningless blanket headings to denote special edition titles? Disney alone has divided their animated titles into both Platinum and Gold series, they've got the Collectors' Series for Miramax and Dimension titles, not to mention a variety of Special Edition titles. Anyway, the packaging for Unbreakable suggests that Vista is an acronym for Vision, Imagination, Style, Theme (don't all movies have themes?) and Artistry. I'll be happy to argue the appropriateness of this acronym once Pearl Harbor is released as part of the Vista Series but for the time being anyway, I'll play along.

Whatever else you might say about M. Night Shyamalan, it can't be denied that he lavishes a great deal of care on the look and sound of his movies and this THX-certified disc definitely does an exemplary job capturing that. Color schemes and contrasts play a huge part in this movie. In particular, Shyamalan uses a lot of vibrant, primary colors that pop out of the screen. These colors could easily have bled or smeared or simply burned with an electric, unnatural brightness. Instead, they're solid, vivid, and, based at least on my experience of seeing this in a theatre, even more effective than when subjected to the variable conditions of theatrical projection. The anamorphic image is detailed and captures both black, impenetrable shadows and blinding flashes of white light quite well. The audio track, offered in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, is equally impressive. The rear channels are utilized almost constantly with effects and music, while the often-hushed dialogue is never unintelligible. Quite honestly, I could find scarcely any difference at all between the DTS and Dolby Digital track. Both are outstanding.

As for special features, the Vista Series could use some improvement. I understand that the inclusion of both DTS and Dolby Digital audio tracks necessitated having all the special features on a second disc. But you'd think with an entire platter to play around with, the disc's producers could have done better. The highlight of the disc is meant to be a multi-angle feature spotlighting the Train Station sequence, that allows for comparison between the finished film and animated storyboards. You can also choose which 5.1 audio track to listen to: the final mix, the isolated score, or the isolated effects track. This is kind of neat but it only amounts to about 5 minutes of film. After less than twenty minutes, you've pretty much exhausted the possibilities here. It wouldn't really be feasible (or even necessarily desirable) to do the entire movie this way, but at least a couple more sequences would have been nice.

Besides this feature, you get a pretty unilluminating behind-the-scenes featurette that runs about 10 minutes. It's a lot less interesting than the similar featurettes on The Sixth Sense DVD. There's also a short piece called Comic Books and Superheroes, in which co-star and comic collector Samuel L. Jackson and such comic book luminaries as Will Eisner, Frank Miller and Alex Ross are interviewed on the history of the form. This is an okay little introduction to the subject, but I doubt it will win the comics industry any new fans. Comic book readers quickly and easily fall into a very insular conversation that people who don't read comics (and, unfortunately, that's the vast majority of the population) might find hard to follow. When the creators interviewed begin to discuss Alan Moore and Watchmen, nobody bothers to explain who Alan Moore is or what Watchmen is about. To have such a short piece lapse into esoteric discussion is to severely limit its appeal. (Alan Moore, by the way, is a British comic book writer widely considered to be the best in the field and Watchmen is often judged his masterpiece, a 12-issue deconstruction of the superhero genre. 'Nuff said, true believers.)

Surprisingly, the best extra on the disc is a collection of seven deleted scenes, each introduced by Shyamalan. Most deleted scenes are hardly worth the trouble, but these are genuinely interesting and, unlike the vast majority of such scenes, they've actually been finished, with music, effects and the whole nine yards. Shyamalan explains why he cut each scene and it makes sense why he did, but the scenes are often as good as what ended up in the movie. For a change, I believed a director when he said he hated to cut a scene.

The package is rounded out with a goofy home video Shyamalan made when he was a kid (I really hate these kind of things, striking me as utter self-indulgence), a slim booklet that simply tells you what's on the disc and 2 "collectible" illustrations of Willis and Jackson in character by comic book artist Alex Ross. Nowhere to be found are any of the features that are often considered standard, like trailers, bios or filmographies. There's plenty of room on Disco Two for these and a lot more but, unfortunately, that's all we get.

Unbreakable didn't work for me, but I know a lot of people who liked it much more than they did The Sixth Sense. While fans of the movie will no doubt be more than happy with the presentation of the film itself, I imagine there will be some disappointment when they sit down with Disc Two and, less than an hour later, find they've seen all there is to see. One hopes that the Vista Series will improve in 2002 and beyond.

Adam Jahnke
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