David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the sole survivor of a train derailment that killed over a hundred people, soon finds his miraculously spared life haunted by the intense Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a dealer in comic book art. Price was born with a genetic defect that curses him with brittle, easily broken bones; he feels that if he is on one end of the human spectrum, David must be on the other - nearly invulnerable to harm, immune to disease, seemingly possessed of a sixth sense that alerts him to trouble on his job as a security guard...
In short, Elijah is convinced that David is a bona-fide super hero.
Whether or not he is correct is the narrative thrust of Unbreakable. M. Night Shyamalan, in his follow-up to the outlandishly successful The Sixth Sense, has crafted a story that he admits is "all first act" - it feels like it is the first third of a much larger movie, and that is the beauty of it. Shyamalan performs a neat trick here, balancing character development with the demands of the unfolding plot. Throughout, the treatment of the story is so low-key that the viewer is forced to buy into the reality of the situation - no small feat when your subject concerns comic books made flesh.
As the flagship of Touchstone Video's Vista line, Unbreakable cuts an impressive figure - a fancy, die-cut slipcase holding a double gatefold album for the two discs, all cool blues and blacks. The transfer of the movie itself is flawless. Though the soundtrack (in keeping with the film's realistic tenor) isn't going to enrage the neighbors, it does carry a few surprises, and is clear and sharp as the image it supports.
As mentioned earlier, Unbreakable is a two-disc set: the feature itself on disc one, all extras on disc two. Loaded with not only two foreign language tracks but a DTS soundtrack, there is sadly no room on disc one for a director commentary.
I especially say "sadly" because Shyamalan is so articulate about his process in the "Deleted Scenes" feature, in which he introduces each deletion with the reasons why they were ultimately excised. It's a tribute to Shyamalan's craft that had any of these scenes remained in the released version, I would not have blinked. They're that good. But their running time (including Night's intros) add up to nearly 30 minutes, so his decision to cut them seems quite correct.
There is also a somewhat unsatisfying 15 minute "Making Of" feature which relies mainly on interviews with Willis and various crew members, and (more interesting) a 20 minute featurette entitled "Comic Books and Superheroes with Samuel L. Jackson"). This weaves together interviews with Jackson and several of the brighter lights in the comics firmament, like Will Eisner, Trina Robbins, Denny O'Neil and Frank Miller, all talking about their field and their different approaches to the mythic figure of the superhero.
There is a chance to exercise your "angle" button with the "Train Station Sequence" feature, allowing you to flip back and forth from the completed film version and animated storyboards; and once again Shyamalan includes an excerpt from one of his movie projects shot when only a teen: "Night's First Fight Scene", and it's about as convincing as you could expect from a bunch of kids messing around with a video camera.
One strange omission: no theatrical trailers. Yes, yes, you can call me spoiled all you want, but I'm always interested in observing how films like this are marketed, and when presented with a deluxe package like this - well, even the bare-bones MGM genre discs give me at least a trailer. Very odd.
Certainly worth the rental, and should find a welcoming home in the library of every comics fan who has friends who want to know how they can possibly read such outlandish stuff.
Dr. Freex, 8/3/01