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The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Nathaniel Kahn
Writer: Melissa Foster

Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: January 11, 2005
Original Airdate: July 18, 2004
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase

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The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan is a Sci-Fi Channel documentary which originally aired last July. Filmmaker Shyamalan found success in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, a stylish suspense film he wrote and directed. In the years since, he has followed with three more box office draws for Buena Vista: Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village.
His strong directorial style, popularity with moviegoers, ability to sharply divide viewers, and intriguing explorations of spiritual themes all lend to Shyamalan being an interesting subject of a documentary. But despite the intriguing title and reports just weeks before it was broadcast that Shyamalan was moving to block its release, The Buried Secret is neither a groundbreaking exposé nor an interesting look at the world of a filmmaker. It is a silly, mostly fictional and overblown production meant to pique interest in The Village, which would be released in theaters shortly after.

In this elaborately scripted and produced piece, Shyamalan is painted as a reclusive director with lots of personal secrets to uncover. Nathaniel Kahn, whose previous dabbling in the world of nonfiction film (the 2003 feature My Architect: A Son's Journey) earned him an Academy Award nomination plays the unknowing documentarian who wants to delve beyond the pre-arranged interviews Shyamalan's publicist has scheduled. Kahn, convinced that his fellow Philadelphian filmmaker is hiding some spectacular things, makes every effort to connect dots and draw groundbreaking discoveries.

There's a recurring sketch on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" in which celebrity guests sit down and reveal phony things about themselves with a whispered voice repeatedly uttering "SECRETS" after each amusing confession. The Buried Secret should be taken about as seriously as that, though it's played straight-faced a la The Blair Witch Project and rarely produces specific laughs. Anyone who has seen a Shyamalan movie on DVD knows the reality that Shyamalan is all-too-willing to talk about his life and share the movies he made as a child, so from the start, it's hard to imagine anyone with a real interest in filmmaking and Shyamalan getting wrapped up in this documentary and taking it at face value.

Is M. Night Shyamalan's secret buried in the Philly cheese steak sandwich? Documentary filmmaker and awkward teen share a Ouija board moment.

From his films' DVDs and to a degree the films themselves, Shyamalan has come across as a director with an ego. While his unusually thought-provoking and mostly clever works do deserve praise, there's something smarmy about him detailing audiences on the clues to his brilliant twists (which sometimes serve to show off rather than advance the films) and the deeper meaning to his stylistic choices. For the most part, it's easy to accept this phenomenon (which seems to amount to a college professor assigning and dissecting his own published works) because the DVD bonus features are insightful and films like The Sixth Sense and Signs are quite interesting. But here, as he seems to cater to and choreograph an over 2-hour documentary on his own mysterious nature, one cannot help but be turned off by his ego. One cannot help but wish he had instead devoted more efforts into making The Village coherent and rewarding rather than promising and disappointing.

The Buried Secret is flimsy and more than a little inane. It seems like a promotional campaign blown dreadfully out of proportion. In spite of some pretty slick production values, the whole film feels amateurish in a way it did not aspire to, thanks mostly to poor acting. With such silly subject matter, it's almost cartoonish how the feature yearns to be taken seriously. This pseudo-documentary is filled with gimmicks, from Ouija boards to a strange childhood drawing of a friend to limousines with tinted windows and no license plates. "Unapproved Interview" flashes upon the screen with regularity. And there's just enough 'experts' to pass off as authoritative speakers. Tape runouts and audio malfunctions conveniently occur to heighten drama. The film borrows tricks from The Blair Witch Project without the slightest bit of believability, with a focus that fails to engage or compel, and with a message that despite much ado doesn't intrigue or do much of anything.

In his last exchange to Kahn, Shyamalan says, "No matter what you show, people are going to think it's fake. They're gonna think someone made this all up. That's what this is gonna be in the end - some funny piece of entertainment. And when that's done, they're gonna switch the channel and watch their favorite sitcom. No one's gonna understand why you're doing this. They won't take it seriously. Not one single soul. I mean, think about it. What could you possibly show that they wouldn't think you made up? Have a nice life."

While it may not be the intended effect, that sound bite struck the lone true chord in The Buried Secret. Scripted and overdramatic, but M. Night got it right.

Like any good documentary filmmaker, Kahn turns to an online chat room to get answers. Of course this lady is an unapproved interview. If you were M. Night Shyamalan, would you approve an interview with such a dangerous woman?

The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan can be viewed as one 124-minute documentary or as three separate 40-ish minute installments (in one hour blocks with commercials).
An overview of each section follows.

"Not All Things are Tricks" (42:28)

Nathaniel Kahn and his crew have trouble getting access to Shyamalan. When he finally gets an interview, publicist Ilana snaps at an unapproved question. The documentary filmmakers proceed to interview those who know or grew up with Shyamalan. A group of kids who spend their time outside the gates of Shyamalan's house reveal that they know that Shyamalan is "connected with the other side." One of them takes Kahn into a chat room where he gets freaked out by someone who seems to know where he is and what he is wearing. Among those interviewed are his grade school teachers and a pizza man named Javier who moonlights as a computer tech support.

"Life Would Be Boring Without Secrets, Don't You Think?" (40:43)

Kahn gets his interview with Shyamalan, asking the pre-approved questions. More interviews and some chatroom escapades lead the documentarian to Johnny Depp, who was supposedly considered for Mel Gibson's role in Signs. A talk with Adrien Brody on the set of The Village confirms Depp's comments that anyone working on a Shyamalan film is supposed to use canned responses when asked about "secrets" (including a George Bernard Shaw quote). Later, Kahn gets to spend a night on the town with the "mysterious" filmmaker who seems like a pretty normal guy. Still more interviews lead to additional discoveries about Shyamalan, all of which conveniently tie into his movies, which we see Kahn watching in bits.

"What Would It Mean To You?" (40:48)

After two installments of lots of hooey, what better way to end this pseudo-documentary than with more hogwash? When Kahn discovers he won't be able to interview Joaquin Phoenix and the rest of The Village cast, he continues to pry into Shyamalan's history. The crew visits a variety of the filming locations from Shyamalan's works (once again, Wide Awake is disregarded), footage of which is interweaved with clips from the films. They discover that the locations are all within a small radius, and after being stumped, they find the house where Night lived for two years and get a tour from a reluctant real estate agent. The whole piece is supposed to lead to a alleged near-drowning incident that occurred when Shyamalan was 11. When Kahn poses a question about the big "buried secret" that Shyamalan's films are autobiographical, the director walks out and won't have anything else to do with it. On that bombshell, the film devolves into interviews of people on the street about the supernatural.

How did Johnny Depp get involved with this? The Shyamalan groupies hang out at the 'connected' director's gate.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Buried Secret is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. While a handheld camera is always employed to give the piece a cinema verite feel, the video never gets as jerky or off-putting as Blair Witch Project. In spite of the documentary's amateurish tone, the filmmakers are clearly professionals and their 16x9 digital video equipment adequately captures the various subjects. Clips from Shyamalan's films are all presented in their original aspect ratio, but they never exhibit DVD-quality sharpness and clarity. Colors are fairly restrained, and blacks are not as they should be. Not like anyone will be deciding to buy or not based on video quality, but this transfer is above broadcast quality, while still exhibiting much of the digital video medium's drawbacks to some degree.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track adequately serves the material. As with any documentary, dialogue makes up a substantial component of the audio presentation, and the recorded exchanges do so here.
In addition, there's a near-ceaseless score which seeks to heighten drama. The active music (in the vein of contemporary drama) was well distributed around the setup, and other than the staged "audio malfunctions" the track seems suitable and not meriting lots of discussion.

BONUS FEATURES

There are no bonus features, not even sneak peeks for other DVDs. Trailers for Shyamalan's films seem like a no-brainer to include, especially since some of them are not included on the respective DVDs. But they're not here. Nor is any material to let people in on the reality of this elaborate pseudo-documentary might have been interesting. Instead, there's just a basic non-animated 16x9 menu which plays score selections and offers the ability to play any of the three individual installments or the entire documentary in full.

"Buried Secret"? Well, at least they got the initials right. Childhood M. Night drew this picture of a friend. Shocking, eh?!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It seems appropriate that this Sci-Fi Channel pseudo-documentary which was used to promote The Village's theatrical release comes to DVD on the same day as the film for further cross-promotion. A real documentary on the man behind some of the more thought-provoking films of the past six years would probably be interesting. But this is just stupid. The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan might have made a decent supplement to go on a second disc for The Village. On its own with a $30 suggested retail price, there's no way it can merit a recommendation for purchase. Hokey, overlong, and mostly untrue, this doesn't even merit a viewing for anyone who's not a fan of schlock and/or up for overblown, unconvincing fictional documentaries on contemporary suspense film directors.

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Related Reviews
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan: The VillageThe HappeningWide Awake
Documentaries: Walt: The Man Behind the MythAmerica's Heart & SoulThe Imposter

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Reviewed January 8, 2005.



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