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THE SIXTH SENSE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams
Director:  M. Night Shyamalan
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Hollywood Pictures
Features:  See Review
Length:  107 Minutes
Release Date:  March 28, 2000

Film ***1/2

I'm guessing from the box office numbers that there aren't many people left who haven't seen The Sixth Sense for the first time, but if you happen to be one of them…I envy you.  I enjoy repeat viewings of the film, but this is one I desperately wish I could completely erase from my mind just to re-experience the pleasure of seeing it for the first time.

One thing's for sure:  to watch this movie is to watch three rising stars who are bound to shine in the movie business for some time to come—and all three were recognized with Oscar nominations for their work.  Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is a brilliant young artist, whose meticulous attention to detail and careful control over his vision can be admired upon the first viewing, but not fully appreciated until later ones.

Toni Collette turns in an incredible supporting performance…supporting in the best sense of the word.  She helps provide the movie with some of its strongest and most penetrating emotion.

But nothing will prepare you for seeing young Haley Joel Osment for the first time.  An incredible weight is on his shoulders in this film, and failure to carry it would have been disastrous.  Truth be told, what was asked of him was almost too much to ask of any child actor, but he not only meets the challenge, he rises above and explodes through it.  This is a meaty role, one that required a lot more of its portrayer than charm and cuteness.  I'd seriously wager that the only people who thought his Oscar nomination was a token one for a popular new kid are the ones who haven't seen The Sixth Sense.

But I'd be wrong not to mention Bruce Willis' work here, which deserves praise for the amount of restraint he shows.  He's used to carrying movies, but here, it's a requirement that the film almost carry him.  He may be the big name star, but his job as an actor is mostly to support young Osment's scenes, and to lend an on screen identity for the audience's thoughts and emotions.  Not many mega-stars would have the capacity NOT to try and dominate their scenes:  Willis proves a formidable actor up to that challenge.

He plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a renowned child psychiatrist, who learns harshly at the beginning of the film that he had failed one of his kids in a big way.  The idea of that failure seems to haunt him throughout the picture, and leads him to taking up a very similar case in young Cole Sear (Osment).  It's no coincidence, I'm sure, that his last name is a homonym of  “seer”.

Cole is a good kid, obviously bright, but unusually nervous for such a young boy.  He has a secret that he doesn't want known, and through it all, he tries as much as possible to live and act like a normal child.  But I'm sure you already know he's not normal…he has the sixth sense.  He “sees dead people”.

Malcolm, of course, can't quite believe him at first, but he obviously feels that he has to somehow try to break through and help Cole to redeem himself from his past mistakes, even though his somewhat obsessive work on the case is making him more and more distant from his wife (Williams).

That's as much as I want to say out of respect for those who haven't seen the movie.  There are surprises in store…incredible, jaw dropping, inspired surprises that will guarantee this is a picture you won't ever forget.

Above all, this is an intelligently crafted thriller, one that fully expects and challenges the viewers to go back a second time and watch it under closer scrutiny.  To do so is a rewarding and satisfying experience.  This is not a horror film that relies on cheap scares or effects…in fact, the picture actually contains no special effects shots at all.  Shyamalan weaves his tapestry strictly from his camerawork, his taut script, and a bevy of convincing, incredible performances. 

But even more than the scares and suspense, this is a film with a deeply emotion center.  We care about these characters, and look upon them as much more than pawns in some horror film.  We feel how these events are really affecting their lives.  A scene near the end between Cole and his mother (Collette) together in a car is, I think, one of the year's most beautifully touching and genuine.

Looking back, I feel a little sad that the picture didn't walk away with a single Oscar it was nominated for (I guess it'll just have to console itself with those box office numbers).  Yet one thing is certain:  Hollywood royalty has not seen the last of Mr. Osment, Ms. Collette, nor Mr. Shyamalan.

Video ***

The good news is that this is an anamorphic transfer—the bad news is, that it falls short of Disney's best efforts like Shakespeare in Love or An Ideal Husband.  There aren't many complaints, but a couple worth noting.  While images are mostly sharp and clear, I noticed a few instances of softness, particularly in instances where the central images were further from the camera.  The transfer has some noticeable artifacts, including a bit of grain in some of the darker sequences and a little “ringing” around the edges during some motion shots.  Colors are generally very good and naturally looking in all levels of lighting. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack was not quite as lively and dynamic as I would have expected for a picture of this nature, but then again, seems appropriate considering this is not a typically manipulative horror film.  There are the expectant bits of ambient effects channeled through the rear speakers, but not nearly with the energy or the dynamism of say, Stir of Echoes.  Still, it's a clean, serviceable track that works well with the story.

Features ***

The disc contains three trailers, some short interview segments involving the cast and crew, talent files, some storyboard comparisons, deleted scenes (including an altered ending), and as an unlisted bonus, a peek at one of Shyamalan's first horror films that he made on video as a child.

In case you haven't heard, it appears to now be standard practice for the Disney studios to cram a lot of “coming to theatres” and “coming to video” trailers at the beginning of their DVDs, and this one is no exception.  You can use your forward arrow to go past them (it takes quite a bit of pressing), but you can't stop it, nor use your menu button to get to the movie without going through them.  Why do you insist on doing things like this, Disney?  Do you cherish your reputation as one of the worst DVD studios?  Please stop this practice—it's annoying and it inspires nothing but animosity and ill will.

Summary:

The Sixth Sense is terrific filmmaking:  entertaining, thoughtful, and meticulously crafted.  It's the kind of movie that's perfect for owning on DVD:  you'll love it the first time, and then you won't be able to wait to spin it again for a closer look.