Running Time: 106 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Format: Widescreen 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English
Region: 1
MSRP: $29.99

Own It!
Signs (2002)

One of the most surprising successes of the summer of 2002, Signs proves that you don't need lots of special effects and action to make a scary movie about aliens, and that above-the-title director M. Night. Shyamalan could make a movie without a twist ending. Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin play the Hess family, who live on a farm in Pennsylvania. One day strange things start to happen: a dog goes crazy, a crop circle appears in their corn field, and strange incomprehensible conversations are heard on a baby monitor. All of this heralds an alien invasion, though the story, much like Night of the Living Dead, concentrates only on the family and the siege on their farmhouse.

The movie is more an exercise in suspense than a realistic exploration of how aliens would invade. Much as been made of the alien that gets trapped in a pantry, though it got all the way to earth in spaceships that can turn invisible. This can be explained if you really want to (Who said the aliens that are attacking people are the same ones that created or are piloting the ships?), but it's best to just let the movie wash over you. I fear some of the impact will be lost on home video. In a theater full of people Signs was one hell of a ride.

The movie looks generally drab and grainy, though this is largely how it looked in the theater. Still, I wonder if it couldn't have looked better if the extras hadn't been moved to their own disc. (See the discussion of extras below.) The sound is suitably creepy, with lots of separation on the ambient sounds.

This release is part of Disney's Vista Series, though unlike all previous releases in the line this one doesn't feature a snazzy box or multiple discs. As a matter of fact the Vista series logo is nearly invisible on the front of the packaging, and the explanation of what the Vista Series encompasses is not present on the back. Recent news items have suggested Disney is getting away from big special editions, and this presentation of Signs will probably be "exhibit A" of Disney's new attitude.

First up for the extras is a documentary on the making of the film split into six parts. It covers the movie from scriptwriting to marketing, with the largest part of the running time devoted to the filming of the movie. It includes comments from people involved in nearly every aspect of the production. Don't expect any great revelations about the nature of the aliens here. Other than a special effects section that reveals that the aliens could camouflage themselves (something I totally missed in the theater), there's very little talk about the aliens. There is a pretty funny part where producer Kathleen Kennedy posits that "real"crop circles are too difficult for humans to make, a statement at odds with the later revelation that the film crew made three circles themselves, and it couldn't have been that tough because two of them were needed for only a few seconds of film.

There are five deleted scenes included. The first four are extremely short and completely inconsequential. The fifth takes place after the characters realize they haven't secured the attic door, and shows the "temporary solution" they come up with to keep the aliens from getting into the main part of the house and is the only one worth watching.

Also included are two multi-angle, multiple soundtrack storyboard comparisons, one of the pantry scene and the other of the chase around the house. Whenever I see these things on a disc I hope they aren't in the place of some other extra, because I don't find that they show much other than that the storyboards do resemble the final shots. And finally M. Knight Shyamalan introduces a short clip from a movie he made with a camcorder as a kid, where he's chased by a remote control robot wearing a Halloween mask.

Scott Hamilton, 1/5/2003