It became fashionable/advisable to start hating on M. Night Shyamalan somewhere between "Signs" and "The Village." We’d like to think we were ahead of the curve and hated him before this (Twist endings are stupid! And if you’re going to give yourself a dramatic middle name it should clearly be "Danger" so that you can say "Danger is my middle name"!), but it was indeed "The Village" that did it for us. Still, when early word on Michael Bamberger’s "The Man Who Heard Voices," a nonfiction look at the making of "Lady in the Water" and Shyamalan’s parting of ways with Disney, included rumblings that the book, intentionally or not, makes the director look utterly insane, we felt…how to put this…meh. Why bother shadowing the man for months just to accomplish what we can by sharing this plot summary (courtesy of IMDb)?
In "Lady in the Water," a story originally conceived by Shyamalan for his children, a modest building manager named Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) rescues a mysterious young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) from danger and discovers she is actually a narf, a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the treacherous journey from our world back to hers. Cleveland and his fellow tenants start to realize that they are also characters in this bedtime story. As Cleveland falls deeper and deeper in love with the woman, he works together with the tenants to protect his new fragile friend from the deadly creatures that reside in this fable and are determined to prevent her from returning home.
Yes, "she is actually a narf." And yet Shyamalan was shocked â€” shocked! â€” when Disney execs reportedly politely suggested he perhaps take another whack at the screenplay.
In her review in the New York Times, Janet Maslin writes:
New work by important filmmakers is always hyped by early publicity, some of it flattering enough to have been written at gunpoint. Now M. Night Shyamalan has set a new high-water mark for this sort of sycophancy. He has deigned to allow Michael Bamberger, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, to follow him adoringly through every stage of the filmmaking process. The upshot is not just a puff article but a full-length, unintentionally riotous puff book.
Maslin is unforgiving (and very funny) on her way to noting that "There’s a howler on every page for a while," and of course makes us want to read the book, while also reminded us that the film was shot by Chris Doyle â€” â™¥ â€” who has extricated himself from Wong Kar Wai‘s grasp to take his drunken antics on the road.
At The Hot Button, David Poland calls the book "an instant classic":
You should read it for yourself, but the guy has more ticks than a Tourettes sufferer. As a screenwriter, he has structured superstitions and habits that he expects people to play along with, since he thinks he’s earned it. Deadly, but not unusual. His dismissal of Disney is insane. There is something completely petulant and childlike about it. And, again, the arrogance. Night is a classic character, at least as portrayed by Bamberger, who gets both your sympathy and disdain. He does seem to be in pursuit of something greaterâ€¦ and he seems like a self-important jackass in the same paragraph.
And Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt of book’s recounting of the dinner moment with the Disney execs.
+ Snubbed by Disney, What’s Shyamalan to Do? Walk (and Diss) (NY Times)
+ July 10, 2006 (The Hot Button)
+ Sink or Swim (Entertainment Weekly)