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PCR # 124 (Vol. 3, No. 32)  This edition is for the week of August 5--11, 2002.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review

Movie review by:
Nolan B. Canova

Two and a half stars!

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Touchstone Pictures     
Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Rated: PG-13

Once upon a time at a public access station in Tampa, Florida, there was a show I helped produce called "UFOs and Metaphysics" (formerly the "Malcolm the Magnificent" Show), starring Malcolm Hathorne. Though usually I was behind the scenes, I guested on the show frequently for quite a while. As I recall, the subject of crop circles was not a particularly hot one between me and Mal, but he always bristled at me dismissing them out of hand as hoaxes. However, I think we agreed that many Ufologists were luke-warm to the topic due to contamination by pranksters. I myself am flummoxed as to why anyone thinks they're not amazing creations despite the fact they're (likely) hoaxes! They take a lot of work!

That said, I was really looking forward to this treatment by director M. Night Shyamalan (who did "The Sixth Sense" which I adored), especially with the added weight of superstar Mel Gibson in the lead role. I figured this combination couldn't miss. Well, it hit and it didn't.

Mel Gibson plays farmer Graham Hess, resident of a small town and father to two boys and a little girl. Formerly a man of great faith, the tragic loss of his wife in an auto accident years earlier has shaken that to its core. His is a pragmatic lifestyle, as long as nothing rocks the boat. Well, something does.

One fateful night, crop circles appear in his field. He is convinced some town hoodlums are up to no good. A late-night watch for the same hoodlums to return reveals intruder/s with some very non-human attributes. The sympathetic town sheriff is called in, but has no better answers. Watching television, farmer Hess's children discover that this phenomenon is happening to crop fields all over the world--and in increasing numbers--and quickly. Slowly, everyone begins to despair over the possiblility of an extraterrestrial invasion.

The movie has some weak points. As much of a fan of Mel Gibson as I am, he's always great, I'm going to play the heretic here and say I feel he is miscast in this role--I just can't buy him as a simple farmer (there's more to his character than that--equally miscast---but a scan across the internet reveals it's unhip to..er..reveal it). Interestingly, I overheard a TV documentary saying the director actually wrote the farmer part with another actor in mind--but I didn't catch who it was. When Mel Gibson became available, it was re-written for him. And speaking of the director, M. Night Shyamalan appears in the movie in a pretty significant role--but he's miscast too! I can't get past his Indian/Saudi appearance and place him as a neighbor in a farm town, come on!

In case you're wondering, yes, aliens do make an appearance, and for what little they're shown, they're downright creepy! There are some physical differences with the Ufological canon over their appearance, (they're pretty tall), but effectively portrayed. However, I have deep problems about them and their "plot" that I shouldn't go into lest I spoil something, but they're common plotholes to this genre: they can travel millions of miles to get here, but have to resort to theatrics to take over the world and are thwarted by weird, simple things.

The movie also has its strong points. A video taken at a child's birthday party has that "best UFO evidence" feel to it. The film's soundtrack music is very atmospheric. As stated before, the staging and suspense are palpable and very creepy. In fact, you get the feeling you've been down this creepy path before: "The Birds" keeps coming to mind. A basement sequence with a blown lightbulb has "Blair Witch Project" written all over it. A repeating flashback sequence has a "Sixth Sense" quality to it--Shyamalan's earlier hit.

If you're expecting an action-thriller like Independence Day or something just because Mel Gibson's in it, I'm afraid you'll be disapppointed. If you're looking for another "Sixth Sense" from Shyamalan, well...closer. But, really, in the end you're basically looking at a "crisis of faith" story--one that Mel himself pulls off pretty well---but the film as a whole is too predictable to be memorable, too derivative to be truly original, and too shallow to intrigue skeptics or Ufologists about crop circles. I only moderately recommend this and rate it at two and a half stars.

This week's movie review of "Signs" is ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.   All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2002, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.