The Sixth Sense

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Sixth Sense: Collector's Edition Series (1999)
Studio Line: Miramax - Not every gift is a blessing.

Hollywood superstar Bruce Willis (Armageddon, The Siege) brings a powerful presence to an edge-of-your-seat supernatural thriller that critics are calling one of the year's best movies! When Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Willis), a distinguished child psychologist, meets Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment - Forrest Gump)…a frightened, confused eight-year-old …Dr. Crowe is completely unprepared to learn the truth of what haunts young Cole. With a riveting intensity you'll find thoroughly chilling and utterly unforgettable, this discovery of Cole's incredible 6th sense leads them both to mysterious and unforeseeable consequences!

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg
Nominated for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor-Haley Joel Osment; Best Supporting Actress-Toni Collette; Best Screenplay; Best Editing.
Box Office: Budget: $55 million. Opening Weekend: $26.681 million (2161 screens). Domestic Gross: $293.501 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1; subtitles English; close-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 19 chapters; rated PG-13; 107 min., $29.99; 3/28/00.
Supplements: Storyboard To Film Comparison; The Cast; Music And Sound Design; Reaching The Audience; Rules And Clues; Deleted Scenes; A Conversation With M. Night Shyamalan; Publicity; Filmmakers' And Cast Bios.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - James Newton Howard

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B/B

Sleeper: n. 1. A previously disregarded person or thing that unexpectedly achieves success, assumes importance, etc. 2. The Sixth Sense.

As my opening paragraph not-so-subtly alludes, I feel that The Sixth Sense perfectly defines a movie that's a "sleeper." The film almost literally came out of nowhere to become the second-highest grossing picture of 1999; only the much-better-publicized Phantom Menace took in more money. Actually, Sense arguably could be called the most successful movie of the year if one includes critical reception; while not all reviewers loved it, the film certainly got much better notices than the often-reviled Menace, and it even garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. (Somewhat ironically, neither movie took home a single award, although Sense was up for six Oscars and Menace three.)

Since the awards were only two nights ago, I'd hoped to include mention of Oscar success for Sense, but obviously, that wasn't to be. (For the record, I accurately selected not a single winner this year - pathetic!) Well, in a case such as this, I suppose it really was an honor for the film to simply receive nominations in categories like Best Picture and Best Director; as with 1993's The Fugitive those considerations seemed to be the Academy's way of congratulating a couple of surprise hits.

One other surprising fact about Sense is that despite its success, it never encountered a backlash, unlike other 1999 offerings such as Menace and The Blair Witch Project. One might ascribe this to the fact that Sense was a serious "grass roots" word of mouth hit, unlike an endlessly hyped film like Menace. However, that kind of appeal doesn't prevent backlash; Titanic prospered from similar positive sentiment but eventually received a nasty reaction against its success.

Well, I guess the lesson is that there's a limit on that kind of popularity, and a mega-phenomenon like Titanic passed it, while a less-omnipresent film such as Sense kept in good graces. How long it will remain there is anyone's guess. I have no idea if Sense will enter the ranks of long-loved classics or be relegated to the pile of short-lived fad, but I certainly respect the enormous financial and artistic success it represents.

How about that artistic side, anyway? I've spent a lot of time documenting the financial wonders of Sense; I guess I should address my thoughts about the movie itself. I definitely like the film and think that it makes for an effective little creepfest, but I must admit that I found it considerably less stimulating during the second viewing.

The first time around, I thought it was very spooky and effective. The movie proceeded at a relatively slow but still appropriate pace, and its chills appeared in more and more satisfying bunches. And yes, I found the ending to be a surprise; even though I knew something "shocking" would occur, I hadn't guessed what it would be.

Upon this subsequent viewing, however, I can't say that the movie did a whole lot for me. I still enjoyed it and found it interesting, which is a victory in itself; this kind of film generally doesn't work well the second time through since it no longer offers any surprises, so for it remain fairly stimulating establishes that it's a well-crafted piece of work. However, I'm just not sure how much interest it'll maintain in the long run.

Time will just have to tell, I suppose, but although I'm somewhat pessimistic, I think Sense probably does stand a good shot of providing some staying power because of the quality of the work. Director/writer M. Night Shyamalan creates a spooky, thoroughly enveloping world and maintains this tone effectively for the entire film, and the cast - headed by a virtually smirk-free Bruce Willis - all provide very compelling work.

Speaking of which, special note still needs to be made of little Haley Joel Osment in his stunning performance as haunted little Cole, a kid who - as we say in the psychology biz - has some issues. Osment is absolutely amazing as Cole; he presents the character with a depth and power that seem almost impossible for a kid his age. That quality was apparent even from the trailers for the film; I can still remember seeing the ad in June 1999 and thinking, "Why couldn't Lucas have picked this kid for Anakin?" (Apparently Osment was up for the role but when he insisted that Lucas insert the line, "I see dead Ewoks" into the script, Big George balked.)

Despite my apparent lack of enthusiasm - which may be due more to my insanely long day at work than any problems with the film (hey, gotta maintain the day job - you don't think this gig covers the bills, do you?) - I still find The Sixth Sense to be a thoroughly well-made and nicely atmospheric chiller. It's definitely a film worth seeing.

The DVD:

The Sixth Sense appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not without some concerns, as a whole the picture looked quite good, with very few problems on display.

Sharpness seemed largely crisp and clear. A little softness affected some long shots, but that tendency was nothing serious. In general, the image remained distinct and accurate. Slight moiré effects popped up on occasion, but these were infrequent. In regard to print flaws, I saw the occasion speck of grit and a little grain in some low-light shots, but overall, the movie stayed clean and free from defects.

As one would expect of such a dark and somber film, colors were generally subdued, but what we saw - especially the prominent use of reds - looked well-saturated and rich. The restricted palette came across as appropriately saturated without any concerns. Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and shadow detail appeared appropriately opaque but not overly so. All told, the image of The Sixth Sense was solid.

The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 mix seemed subdued but effective. The soundfield wasn't very ambitious, but it provided a fairly full image. The front channels dominated the affair. Music showed good stereo imaging and presence, while effects tended to be pretty ambient in nature. A few loud jolts popped up during the movie, but mainly it stayed with quiet atmospherics that blended lightly from the sides. The surrounds mainly tended to bolster the music. A few examples of effects cropped up from the rears, but the surrounds didn't play a very significant role in the soundtrack.

Sound quality seemed consistently good. Dialogue appeared clear and natural for the most part, with no problems related to intelligibility intelligibility or edginess. I detected some background noise during a few scenes, though. These tended to occur during quiet sequences that involved Osment. I think he spoke so gently that the dialogue had to be jacked up in volume; this accentuated the noise potential. Effects were clean and realistic, and the music seemed full and bright, with fine dynamic range. The Sixth Sense offered too unambitious a soundtrack to merit more than a "B", but it worked fairly well for the material.

The Sixth Sense appears as part of a "Collector's Edition Series", and it indeed offers a nice array of supplements. Most of what we find comes from video interviews with many of the main participants. Director/writer M. Night Shyamalan is all over the place; we see and hear lots of him throughout the extras. We also get comments from may other members of the cast and crew; at various times, snippets from Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, producers Frank Marshall and Barry Mendel, editor Andrew Mondshein, composer James Newton Howard and others appear.

However, this is really Shyamalan's show, and his presence dominates the supplements. Happily, he seems like a nice guy, and he presents an unassuming, modest and likable personality. (By the way, one nice thing about young directors is the fact so many of them are incredibly supportive of DVD special editions. Yes, plenty of older or more established filmmakers love the format as well, but younger folks grew up on these kinds of packages, and you can tell that it's basically a fantasy come true for them to be involved in all these extras.)

Really, the majority of the extras can be considered different chapters in a 36-minute documentary. Six sections ("Storyboard to Film Comparison", "The Cast", "Music and Sound Design", "Reaching the Audience", "Rules and Clues", and "A Conversation With M. Night Shyamalan") offer video interviews and other pieces that discuss the film and there's no reason for them not to be joined together in one long program other than as a menu design; it makes perfect sense to watch them back-to-back as a full documentary. All six pieces provide some good information and are well worth watching.

More Shyamalan can be found in the Deleted Scenes section. This area gives us four excised segments, all of which feature introductions from the director. None of the unutilized scenes seem terribly exciting, but they're interesting to see, and Shyamalan's comments are informative and useful. Including introductions, the entire "deleted scenes" section lasts about 15 minutes.

One of the more bizarre - but hilarious - extras actually is a not-very-hidden Easter egg. If you highlight the "jewelry box" at the bottom of the second page of supplements, it'll show you a clip from a horror film Shyamalan made when he was a kid. He also introduces the video in this roughly three and a half minute segment. It's wonderful to see this kind of early work from a director; I hope more of this kind of thing pops up on DVDs.

Finally, The Sixth Sense rounds out its supplements with a few standbys. The theatrical trailer appears along with a 30-second TV spot and a 15-second edition of that clip. We also get some very good biographies of 9 actors and 10 crew members. While these vary in quality - with the big names getting the most detail - they're still much better than the usual bios and offer some interesting facts. (It turns out that Shyamalan's unusual first name comes from the fact that his parents listened to the Springsteen song "Night" from Born to Run as he was conceived. Okay, that's a complete lie, but it'd be pretty funny if it were true! In that case, it'd be a lucky thing he didn't end up named "Tenth Avenue Freezeout Shyamalan" or "Backstreets Shyamalan" or... oh, you get the point.)

The DVD also includes a few ads on it. Normally, this isn't really noteworthy, but this case is different because the folks at Disney saw fit to place them at the very start of the DVD. That means that when you plop it in your player and fire it up, you'll see different commercials before you can get to the main menu and actually watch the movie. All in all, there are five trailers at the start of the DVD, one for the current (as I write this) theatrical release of Mission To Mars, and others for videos such as Summer of Sam and The 13th Warrior.

The inclusion of these commercials has created an enormous stink among DVD fans. Personally, I had no real problem with them since my Panasonic A120 allowed me to quickly and easily skip past them. Many reports indicate that not everyone is so lucky and that these ads may not be as easy to bypass on all players. I've not read any consistent reports of particular players that won't let you skip the commercials - I haven't learned of any certain brands that make this more problematic - but it is a definite concern. (No players will let you simply hit "menu" and go to that point; best results seem to come from using either "chapter skip" or "fast search" buttons on your remote.)

This is apparently the second time Disney added this feature to a DVD, with Tarzan being the first. I have no idea how long Disney will persist with this addition, but I'll be curious to see if any of the nasty letters they will receive from DVD fans may alter their plans. Anyway, these ads may or not not bother you - I really didn't mind them - but be warned that they are there.

The Sixth Sense is a rare film: one that received critical plaudits and also cleaned up at the box office. Although I'm not sure how well it'll endure repeated viewings, I still find it to be a compelling and entertaining film, bolstered by some very strong performances. The DVD itself provides very strong picture and sound plus some interesting supplements. The Sixth Sense proves to be a winner in all ways.

To rate this film go to THE SIXTH SENSE: VISTA SERIES.

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