Lady in the Water (Mania.com)

By:John Sinnott
Date: Sunday, January 07, 2007

The end of the HD format Wars??  Could be.  Two news releases this past week make it look like the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray may be drawing to a close sooner than expected.  And the winner?  Both formats.  

Warner creates Total HD – Blu-Ray/HD DVD Hybrid:  In an unexpected move, Warner CEO Barry M. Meyer has told the NY Times that his company will reveal a Blu-ray/HD DVD hybrid disc at next week’s Consumer Electronic Show.  (CES)  Dubbed Total HD, these discs will have both HD formats on one disc meaning that consumers won’t have to choose between the two formats.  It looks like the demand for this could be strong from a retailer point of view, since the stores will no longer have to devote precious floor space displaying movies in both formats.  If all of the bonus features are ported over and there isn’t a big increase in the cost of the movies, this could be a big seller. 

LG to announce dual player:  If word of Warner’s Total HD discs weren’t enough, LG has hinted that they will reveal a video deck that can play both HD DVD and Blu-ray discs at next week’s CES.  Another winner for consumers, they will no longer have to choose between the two competing formats with this deck.  If this deck sells well it could also increase the quality of software.  Film buffs would be able to purchase the disc that had the best features and image quality, rather than being locked into one format.  This should convince the studios to place the same bonus features and A/V options on both formats, something that hasn’t always happened in the past. 

This week’s Spotlight:  Lady in the Water on HD DVD: 

At one time M. Night Shyamalan was an exciting film maker.  With his first major film, The Sixth Sense, he crafted an interesting and engrossing tale that was well received by the public and critics alike.  His next film, Unbreakable, was a bit of a let down, but still a solid effort.  Unfortunately his films have continued to decline in quality.  The low point in his oeuvre has to be his latest film, Lady in the Water, a bed time story that Night would tell his daughters before they went to sleep.  It may have been interesting to a child at night, but as a movie it comes across as a muddled, self-indulgent, and ultimately unsatisfying film that fails on many levels. 

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is the maintenance man at a small apartment complex, The Cove.  The complex is inhabited by a wide range of wacky and unique characters, from the man who is a master level crossword puzzle champ to the oriental college student who dresses like a hooker to the guy who is constantly working out, but only the right side of his body, there are a lot of one dimensional characters who populate this story.   

Now Heep knows that someone’s been swimming in the pool after dark (no one does during the day it seems, so you’d think Heep would be happy that it was getting some use) which is against the rules.  One evening he sees someone jump out of the water for just a second, so he calmly walks into the pool with his clothes on.  He swims around fully clad for a while, and then gets out, slips on the concrete, rolls over into the pool, reaches for the edge, and then somehow looses conciseness. (If none of this makes sense to you, you’ll know how I felt watching this film.)  He wakes up in his room with a naked girl, Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), watching over him. 

It turns out that Story is a Narf, one of the water people who stopped man from waging war in ancient times.  Now Story is trying to contact “the vessel”.  After she sees him she can go back to her people, content that she’s done her job.  With Cleveland’s help Story does encounter the person she’s supposed to meet, a writer who, now that she’s cleared his mind, will pen an important book that will change the entire world.  Someone who will be responsible for leading humanity into a new age:  a character played by Shyamalan himself. 

Now that Story has done her job, she has to return to her people in the water.  The only problem is that a Scrunt is hunting her, and she can’t make it to the giant Eagle who will return her to the sea.  The stoic and quiet Narf has to rely on the help of Heep and his weird tenants to reunite her with her kind. 

There were a lot of things that were wrong with this movie.  The characters were flat and lifeless, the story was filled with more false endings than a dozen Spielberg films, and there were numerous plot holes that were hard to ignore.  What it boiled down to though was that it’s really hard to care what happens to any of the characters.  There just isn’t any context to place these people into.   A good story to compare this to is another fairy tale, The Lord of the Rings.  In Tolkien’s work, the reader knows exactly where the heroes stand, what they have to do and the consequences for failure.  In this film viewers never have that feeling.  What happens if the Scrunt kills Story?  Well, she’ll be dead, but so what?  Why did she reveal herself to Heep when she was hiding from him earlier?  Why was she hiding?  It’s questions like this that make it hard to enjoy this film. 

Another deficit is Shyamalan’s directorial style.  I’ve enjoyed the way he shot other films, but this one looks like something someone fresh out of film school would shoot.  He doesn’t concentrate on telling the story but rather seeing how many fancy and unique shots he can incorporate into the movie.  There are a lot of scenes where the interesting part of the sequence isn’t shown in an attempt to build interest.  When the acerbic film critic Harry Farber (Bob Balaban) is introduced to a new neighbor, Cindy Cheung, you see Farber’s eye’s nearly pop out of his skull as he stares at the Asian beauty, though on screen viewers can only see her back.  It’s cute once or twice, but eventually you start noticing all of Night’s film tricks at the expense of the story.  These are a constant reminder that you’re watching a movie and that makes it much harder to get into the story and empathize with the characters. 

The acting was only mediocre at best too.  In order to make Paul Giamatti’s character more human, Night decided to give him a stutter.  This may have looked good on paper, but in the movie it just seems oddly irritating.  Bryce Dallas Howard’s talents are not put to use either.  She spends much of the film sitting in a shower, and when she talks she always whispers.  She has a vague drugged look throughout the movie.  Pretty much all she does is stare off into space.  Night himself gives an amateur performance as the savior of mankind.  The only character that I was really drawn to was Bob Balaban’s as the arrogant film critic.  His role was funny but suggests that Night needs to learn the meaning of subtlety.   

The 1.85:1 widescreen image looks good but not great.  There is a fine amount of detail and though I haven’t screened the SD version of the film, I’m sure that this HD version is an improvement.  That said, this isn’t an impressive HD DVD.  The film isn’t as eye-popping as other HD discs have been and the colors aren’t as vibrant.  The colors are generally dreary and they don’t have that richness that people have come to expect from HD images.  The picture is also a bit softer than I was expecting, which is a shame.   Digitally, the disc looks fine.  There were no problems with posterization, aliasing, or other compression artifacts.   
 

Upcoming High Definition Discs:   
 

January 16, 2007  
 

Blu-ray

 

GoodFellas  

Resident Evil: Apocalypse  

Scooby-Doo (2002)   

Winged Migration  
 

HD DVD  

The Mummy Returns  

Poseidon  

Scooby-Doo (2002)  

The Sting  
 

January 23, 2007  
 

Blu-ray  
 

Alien vs. Predator  

Black Rain  

Casanova 

Chicago 

Courage Under Fire   

Gridiron Gang  

The Guardian  

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy  

The Manchurian Candidate  

Men of Honor  

Saw II 

Saw II (Unrated) 

Saw III  

We Were Soldiers  
 

HD DVD  

Black Rain  

Brokeback Mountain  
 

January 30, 2007  
 

Blu-ray  
 

Flyboys  

Hart's War  

Open Season  
 

HD DVD  
 

Half Baked  
 

February 06, 2007  
 

Blu-ray  
 

American Psycho  

Failure to Launch  

First Blood  

Glory  

Reservoir Dogs  

Running With Scissors  

The Tailor of Panama  
 

HD DVD  
 

Failure to Launch 

Hollywoodland