The Sixth Sense DVD

Now I know how Goldilocks felt. Finding a good suspense thriller last summer was the equivalent of finding a bed that is just right. “The Haunting” was too big and overblown. “The Blair Witch Project” was basically a non-event, despite all of the hype.


sixth senseThen came “The Sixth Sense,” a film that is both creepy and chilling. The supernatural thriller starring Bruce Willis arrived with little fanfare, but is so genuinely effective that it makes “The Haunting” and “The Blair Witch Project” look like amateur night at the local drive-in.

Smartly written and directed by N. Night Shyamalan, “The Sixth Sense” is a first-rate thriller that slowly creeps up on you until you have no choice but to surrender to it.

Shyamalan has done his homework. “The Sixth Sense” reminded me of the best of Alfred Hitchcock, a moody, calculated character study with engaging characters, intelligent dialogue and an ending that will leave you breathless.

As the film begins, noted Philadelphia child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) and his wife Anna (Olivia Williams) are celebrating in the comfort of their comfortable yet posh home. Malcolm has just been presented with a plaque by the mayor for his dedication and service, but the celebration is short lived when an intruder finds his way into their home.

He’s Vincent Gray (Donnie Wahlberg, totally unrecognizable), a former patient that Malcolm failed to help. Nothing more than a frightened shell of a man, Gray accuses Malcolm of failing him, and in an act of exorcism, shoots Malcolm and then turns the gun on himself.

Jump to the following Fall, where Malcolm is now attempting to help Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a young boy afflicted with the same fears and nightmares as Gray. Malcolm desperately needs to help Cole in order to redeem himself, but isn’t sure if he’s up tp the task.

Malcolm suspects Cole is suffering from anxiety and depression brought on by the divorce of his parents, which might explain Cole’s disturbed behavior at home and in school. Cole is slow to open up to Malcolm, afraid that once Malcolm learns of his real disorder, he will retreat.

Cole has a secret, one that is keeping him awake at night and turning his hair white. He sees dead people, and not in graveyards, coffins of Congress. He sees them all around him, walking on the streets and hanging out in his home and school.

At first no one believes Cole, including his patient mother Lynn (Toni Collette), who thinks her young son is the one who keeps opening all of the kitchen cabinets and hiding a precious heirloom that belonged to her grandmother. Lynn has no idea that Cole has a special connection to the other side, but all that is about to change.

What I really appreciated about “The Sixth Sense” was the writer-director’s ability to establish character and motivation. Shyamalan slowly pieces the puzzle together without losing the audience or boring them. He understands the mechanics of a good thriller, and manages to mount suspense that slowly builds until it is almost unbearable.

His dialogue is especially effective, a deft combination of medical terminology and emotional ballast. The characters never say or do dumb things, a rarity in films of this type. There is also a clever twist that demands a second viewing in order to map out the writer’s logic.

Horror, like comedy, is subjective. While “The Blair Witch Project” perplexed me, I found the events in “The Sixth Sense” absolutely chilling. Fear through the eyes of a child has much more resonance than three hysterical adults who should know better running through a dark forest.

That conviction is perfectly related by young Haley Joel Osment, who delivers a performance far beyond his years. He doesn’t just say his lines, he delivers them with the necessary conviction to make all of this believable. There is a moment when Cole is hiding out in a make-shift tent in his bedroom when he is visited by one of the spirits, and Osment’s delivery is so potent you can smell his fear.

Bruce Willis has been down this road before, yet his performance here is so haunting it seems fresh. Willis displays an intensity normally reserved for his action films.

The entire film benefits from Shyamalan’s calculated direction. Nothing in the director’s past (including his delightful “Wide Awake”) suggested that he was capable of creating a supernatural thriller of this caliber. Even more amazing is the fact that the writer-director was capable of pulling all of this off within the confines of a PG-13 rating. Shyamalan doesn’t go for the cheap thrill. He has something more unnerving in mind, and sets into motion a film that fulfills on that promise.

Forget “Blair Witch” and “The Haunting.” For an honest scare, this is the only film that makes “Sense.”

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) 1.85:1 Widescreen

check.gif (406 bytes) 16×9 Enhanced

check.gif (406 bytes) RSDL

Absolutely stunning digital transfer. Disney wasn’t about to take any chances goofing this one up, and the extra care really shows. The images are sharp and vivid, with perfect color saturation that never bleeds or fades. From the warm interiors to the cold exteriors, the pallette always looks natural. Flesh tones are perfect, as are the industrial strength blacks that maintain the creepy shadows and dimly lit interiors without sacrificing detail. Pristine print keeps the rest of the inventory in check, including clean whites and grays. The film’s calculated look is never compromised, delivering impressive depth of field and amazing attention to detail.

HEARING: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround

check.gif (406 bytes) French 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround

The film’s soundtrack is just as tricky as the images on the screen, and a lot of effort has gone into insuring that the directional paths are perfect. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack (available in both English and French) is so precise that you feel like you’re part of the film. Ambient noise is extremely important to the tone of the film, and you constantly feel like you’re someplace else. Dialogue mix is extremely well mixed, creating natural highs and lows to keep us off guard. Those little subtle tricks get total respect on the DVD. The front stage is always busy, delivering pin point stereo accuracy. The front-to-rear spatial split is extremely impressive, as is the rear speaker action that delivers more than just the customary data. You become totally engulfed in the sound field, which is punctuated by subtle yet important bass riffs and incredibly sharp middle and high ends. Not one trace of hiss or distortion here.

ORAL: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) Closed Captions in English for the Hard of Hearing

COORDINATION: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) Four extensive, deleted scenes, including an introduction by the director. These scenes expand some of the ideas sparked in the final product, and remain a testament to brilliant filmmaking. There is also an extended ending.

check.gif (406 bytes) Several documentary featurettes on the selection of the cast, music and sound design, promotional concerns, rules on tricking the audience, plus an interview with the director. These featurettes include scenes from the film, plus behind-the-camera interviews and shots.

check.gif (406 bytes) Storyboard to film comparison narrated by the director, and depicting the scene where Dr. Malcolm Crane stops by a restaurant to see his wife on their anniversary.

check.gif (406 bytes) Publicity materials for the film, plus filmmaker and cast bios.

check.gif (406 bytes) A surprise Easter Egg on the bonus material second page, where you can click on a cigar box and get a peek at the director’s first horror film, shot when he was 12 years old. You can sense talent in this early effort.

check.gif (406 bytes) Mission to Mars Theatrical Trailer

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check.gif (406 bytes) From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter Video Trailer

check.gif (406 bytes) In Too Deep Theatrical Trailer

check.gif (406 bytes) Summer of Sam Theatrical Trailer

check.gif (406 bytes) Unsettling main access menu, plus functional yet pedestrian scene access menu.

PROGNOSIS: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) You don’t have to be psychic to know your DVD library is incomplete without this title.

VITALS: $29.98/Rated PG-13/107m/Color/19 Chapter Stops/Keepcase

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: THE SIXTH SENSE

BIRTH DATE: 1999

HMO: Touchstone Home Video



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