The Sixth Sense

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Sixth Sense: VISTA 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 & DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1; subtitles English, Spanish; close-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 19 chapters; rated PG-13; 107 min., $29.99; 1/15/02.
Supplements: Reflections From the Set; Between Two Worlds; Moving Pictures: The Storyboard Process; Music And Sound Design; Reaching The Audience; Rules And Clues; Deleted Scenes; 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.)

Despite the success of Sense, 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.

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. Almost three years after its theatrical release, I'm still unsure of Sense's place in cinematic history. Frankly, the movie seems to have receded from consciousness to a large degree. That was probably inevitable, though.

Of course, none of this has much to do with the quality of the flick itself. 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 repeat viewings.

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 subsequent viewings, 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 for repeat screenings 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 moderate lack of enthusiasm, 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.

Did this new transfer of The Sixth Sense differ significantly from the original 2000 DVD? Not that I could tell. The old one offered a good image as well, and the 2002 release seemed very similar. The picture doesn’t seem to be a reason to repurchase the DVD.

Nor is the addition of a DTS 5.1 soundtrack something about which anyone should get too excited. The DVD includes that mix as well as the same Dolby Digital 5.1 audio heard on the original disc. To these ears, the two sounded virtually identical. Sense wasn’t a sonic thriller anyway, and the two tracks came across as consistently similar.

Overall, the audio 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 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 original DVD of The Sixth Sense came out under Disney’s "Collector's Edition Series" banner and it indeed offered a nice array of supplements, at least for the era; standards have changed a lot over the last two years, and the old one it seems a little skimpy by 2002 perspectives. Many – but not all – of those reappear here. None of them show up on disc one. We still don’t get an audio commentary for the film, unfortunately.

Nonetheless, DVD Two piles on a decent roster of extras. We start with the new materials. Reflections From the Set offers a fairly terrific new documentary about Sense. During the 39-minute and 10-second program, we get a mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews with director M. Night Shyamalan and actors Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, and Donnie Wahlberg. (The vintage of these snippets seems uncertain for the most part; Willis was clearly shot on the set of 2000’s Unbreakable. I couldn’t pin down the others, though I’d not be surprised to learn that Osment was taped while he made AI; he’s definitely substantially older in these bits than he was in Sense.)

The show doesn’t offer a total view of the production, but we get tidbits about Shyamalan’s early drafts of the script and discover other motivations behind the film. The emphasis highlights the processes on the set. We see some excellent footage from the set – even including a little minor friction between Willis and the director – and we get terrific insight into the characters. Shyamalan covers some of his techniques and intentions as well. At times the documentary goes with the standard “boy, was he/she great!” palaver, but the majority of the time, it sticks with very rich information that helps flesh out the piece. Film clips are kept to a minimum as well. While this isn’t one of the all-time great documentaries, “Reflections” definitely offers a useful and compelling experience.

Billed as a “feature on the paranormal”, Between Two Worlds provides a 37-minute and 20-second look at some thoughts about supernatural topics. We hear from Shyamalan as well as Exorcist author William Peter Blatty, Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder writer Bruce Joel Rubin, and Columbia University professor David McKenna. In addition to their remarks, we see a few clips from Sense, Exorcist, Ghost, Ladder and Shyamalan’s student films Praying With Anger and Wide Awake.

While this won’t qualify as a full examination of the subject, it’s a pretty interesting look at it. Much of the material operates from a fairly personal perspective and the participants mainly cover their own experiences and beliefs. We also hear some discussion of general theories about the topic as well as its use in Hollywood. “Worlds” offers a low-key and thoughtful discussion of some compelling material and it adds some nice depth to this package. (For the record, though it’s interesting to hear Blatty’s thoughts, anyone who believes that the ending found in the Version You’ve Never Seen of The Exorcist is the best one clearly has a screw loose!)

More than just the standard storyboard to film comparisons, Moving Pictures: The Storyboard Process gives us a 14-minute and 50-second look at that work. We see a selection of boards as well as shots from the set and interviews with Shyamalan and storyboard artist Brick Mason; that section includes some glimpses of them at work on Shyamalan’s next flick, Signs. An occasional film clip from Sense and Unbreakable as well.

Storyboard to film comparisons rarely do much for me, and this sort of program offers a much more compelling discussion. We learn about how Shyamalan likes to use the storyboarding process and how it influences his movie-making. The show provides some good insight into this area and it’s a useful piece. Most intriguing moment: Shyamalan vaguely badmouths another director who he feels is too concerned with visual “acrobatics”. He doesn’t name the person, but I’m betting on Michael Bay!

After this, we move on to extras that also made the original DVD. Music and Sound Design gives us a brief but compelling look at that domain. During the six minute and 35 second featurette, we hear comments from Shyamalan, producer Frank Marshall and composer James Newton Howard and we also get some isolated audio from the movie; the latter spotlights the areas they discuss. It’s a very insightful little piece.

In the three and a half minute Reaching the Audience, we get some information about the process through which Sense found its fans. It provides interviews from Shyamalan, composer Howard, and producers Frank Marshall and Barry Mendel. This includes some discussion of the crowd’s demographics, but it’s mainly a moderately interesting piece about the serendipitous process of making the flick.

Rules and Clues covers six minutes of continuity issues and symbolism. In discussions with Shyamalan, editor Andrew Mondshein, producers Frank Marshall and Barry Mendel, and executive producer Sam Mercer, we get details about the various signs we may have missed as we watched the movie, and they also go through various symbols strewn through the flick. It’s a cool and informative program.

The Deleted Scenes section gives us four excised segments, all of which feature introductions from the director. Actually, the area starts with a 28-second “Deleted Scenes Introduction” from Shyamalan. The other four need to be viewed individually, and each begins with short lead-ins from the director. Including his material – which explains why the scenes were removed – each clip lasts between 101 seconds and six minutes, 17 seconds for a total of 14 minutes and 57 seconds of footage. None of the unutilized scenes seem terribly exciting, but they're interesting to see, and Shyamalan's comments are informative and useful.

In the Publicity area, we locate some advertisements. In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, we get two TV spots. One lasts 15 seconds while the other runs 30 seconds.

We also get some very good biographies of 9 actors and 10 crew members. While these vary in quality – not surprisingly, the big names get the most detail - they're still much better than the usual entries and they 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.) For the record, these bios have been updated to reflect the participants’ careers in the 22 months since the original DVD appeared.

Lastly, the DVD’s case includes a little material, all of which is new to the VISTA release. The packaging refers to a Collectible Storyboard Sequence. This is just a small hard-copy reproduction of eight boards. Frankly, it’s not much of an addition; the storyboard information found in “Moving Pictures” is more useful.

In the DVD’s booklet, we get text that tells us about some of the disc’s extras; it preps us to watch the three new programs as well as the “Deleted Scenes”. The VISTA sense also offers an unusual case. It’s a laminated cardboard package that folds out into five interior sections. Two of these hold the DVDs, one contains the booklet, and the other two show artwork. All of this wraps up into a slipcase. It resembles the packaging for sets like the X-Files full seasons without as many discs. It’s a nice format, except the glossy coating is a magnet for fingerprints.

As I previously noted, the VISTA Sixth Sense omits some supplements from the o DVD. We lose three featurettes: “Storyboard to Film Comparison ", "The Cast", and "A Conversation With M. Night Shyamalan". These used the same style as the clips duplicated from the first disc and they lasted a total of about 20 minutes. It’s unfortunate that they don’t appear here, and I don’t understand why the disc lacks anything from the old one, but the new material covers the same territory and does so in a more interesting manner; the old pieces were good, but the new programs are superior and more detailed. As such, the losses are minimized.

A more surprising omission may not be absent. The original DVD included a fun Easter egg in which we see a clip from a horror film Shyamalan made when he was a kid. He also introduced the piece in this roughly three and a half minute segment. On the original set, the egg wasn’t very well hidden and I found it easily. If the new package tosses it in, they buried it better; I couldn’t locate it, so I suspect it ain’t here.

Back when the original Sixth Sense DVD hit shelves, it created a very negative stir due to a then-new marketing method advocated by the folks at Buena Vista. The disc started with what have become called “forced trailers”. These ads popped up at the beginning of the program, and some people had a lot of trouble moving past them.

DVD fans were distinctly displeased, and BV apparently listened to their complaints. Granted, many of their discs continue to offer trailers when they start to run, but the studio’s made them much easier to bypass. Sense includes only one of these clips: we find a promo for Pearl Harbor. You can easily move through this with your remote.

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.

However, is it a winner that merits a repurchase for fans who already own the original DVD? No, I don’t think so. To be certain, the VISTA Series release is the superior of the two, as its new features add some very good information. Nonetheless, the old disc had some nice materials as well, and it’s hard to urge fans to drop much money for the new material found here. Sound and picture quality seemed virtually identical to the old release, so those who already own it will probably be content to stick with it. New buyers should definitely snag the VISTA Series package, however, as it’s the better of the two.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2909 Stars Number of Votes: 165
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