What The Hell Happened To M Night Shyamalan?
He came on the scene from seemingly out of nowhere in the cinematic banner year that was 1999. The film that put him on the map became a cinematic event and received a Best Picture nomination. He was being regarded as “the next Spielberg”.
Last year he released a big-budget summer sci-fi movie. Upon release, the studio tried to hide his name in the promotional materials fearing it would be box office poison.
What the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan?
Manoj Shyamalan was born in 1970 in Mahe Pondicherry India. After six weeks, his parents moved back to Pennsylvania.
After receiving a Super 8 camera at a young age, Shyamalan began focusing on film as his passion. By the time he reached the age of 17 he’d made forty-five home movies.
Following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Oliver Stone, Shyamalan went to New York University Film School. While there, he made his first feature film Praying With Anger.
Praying With Anger got a very limited release in 1992. Not many people saw it (myself included) and indeed I’d wager that most don’t even know it exists.
Shyamalan moved on. After Praying With Anger he went on to write and direct his second film Wide Awake. It was released in 1998.
Wide Awake was about a ten-year-old boy who struggles with questions of life and death after he loses his grandfather played by Robert Loggia. Dennis Leary and Dana Delany play the boy’s parents. Rosie O’Donnell played a nun who teaches at his school
That trailer sells the movie as a heart-warming coming of age comedy. Shyamalan has described Wide Awake as a comedy that he hoped would also make people cry. To that end, he wrote and directed scenes like this one:
[Note from Lebeau: I hate to insert myself into someone else’s article, but I just can’t stop rolling my eyes.)
Wide Awake was filmed in 1995, but wasn’t released until 1998. Even then, Miramax only gave it a limited release. Reviews were mixed to negative. Roger Ebert openly wondered “who the movie was made for.” I got around to watching it a few years ago and found it to be not bad. It’s an anomaly of sorts in Shyamalan’s catalog. But it also proves that the painting into a corner that happened later on didn’t need to happen.
A year later, Shyamalan would release his next film and his life would change forever.
In 1999 Shyamalan co-wrote the script for Stuart Little. That film was a modest success at the box office. However, it was another film that would reveal itself as a cinematic game changer for both Shyamalan and Hollywood. According to Shyamalan:
“I guess I would say that I manage it in the sense that I try to make it more accurate. For example, you’re saying the audience’s relationship started with me with The Sixth Sense. That same year I wrote Stuart Little. That combination is pretty accurate. The breadth of that and my interest in that, the family-oriented nature of that story — somewhere between there is where a lot of my movies fall, but if you don’t take that side of it into account, it’s probably more limiting than what my tastes are.
By the way, I ghost-wrote a movie that same year that would even add to the breadth of it all, but I don’t know if I want to tell you which movie I ghost-wrote.”
Most audiences didn’t realize it at the time, but in 2013, Shyamalan revealed that he was a ghost-writer on the teen comedy, She’s All That. She’s All That helped launch a wave of teen comedies in the late 90’s and earlier aughts. It also featured perhaps the least-convincing nerd-to-babe transformation in the history of teen movies.
Clark Kent does more to hide his identity.
The extent of Shyamalan’s involvement is actually up for debate. Some claim Shyamalan actually wrote the script while others claim he merely polished it. Like taking a hot girl and saying, “hey, what if we loose the glasses and overalls?” to reveal a beautiful swan. Reviews for She’s All That were mostly not “all that”. But it was a hit with audiences.
Buzz for The Sixth Sense was slow at first. Then it picked up steam. The movie was released in August. By October, it had become the year’s must-see movie.
Bruce Willis starred as a child psychologist who was dealing with marital problems. Haley Joel Osment played a sensitive little boy who comes to Willis for help because he “sees dead people”.
I saw The Sixth Sense before the hype really took off and had mixed feelings about it. On one had, the story was genuinely entertaining and Bruce Willis proved he had more range as an actor than many of his action contemporaries (Schwarzenegger, Norris). On the other hand, it was too dependent on its much discussed final plot twist.
My father, who I went to see the film with, figured out the plot twist midway through. Recall the scene where Willis is talking to Haley Joel Osment in the kitchen. Osment’s mother is there too. But she never acknowledges Willis’s presence. That’s tip-off number one that Willis is dead people.
Anyway, The Sixth Sense went on to become a phenomenon of sorts. It was far from the best movie of the year. But it was entertaining enough, even if it didn’t totally live up to the hype.
The Sixth Sense was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. No win. But it did announce that a new filmmaking talent had arrived.
Next: Unbreakable and Signs
Posted on February 8, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Director and tagged Joaquin Phoenix, Lady In The Water, Shyamalan, Signs, Sixth Sense, The Sixth Sense, Willis. Bookmark the permalink. 50 Comments.