I think that by revisiting Unbreakable, and looking at it outside of M. Night Shyamalan’s other films (The Sixth Sense and Signs), there’s actually a pretty good movie going on there. I mean, a movie that grossed $95 million domestically can’t be considered a failure, right? It did, however, do amazing overall numbers, the international totals brought the film up to a near $250 million gross. However, I guess when you put them up against Signs ($227 million domestic, $40… million worldwide) and The Sixth Sense ($293 million domestic, $672 fricken’ million worldwide), maybe it can be considered disappointing, but the film itself is pretty good.
The film discovers David Dunn (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense), a security guard at a football stadium who is traveling by train to New York for a job interview. The train derails, and not only is David unhurt by the accident, but he doesn’t have a scratch on him. From there, he’s left an anonymous note asking him if he’s ever been sick. He meets Elijah Price (Willis’ Pulp Fiction and Die Hard co-star Samuel L. Jackson), a man who has a medical condition that leaves his bones extremely susceptible to breaking. Elijah tries to convince David that he may, in fact, be impervious to getting sick and even heroically strong. Conversely, Elijah falls down some stairs, severely breaking his leg in the process and meets his therapist, who also happens to be David’s estranged wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn, The Princess Bride), and tries to convince her of David’s attributes. The couple’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark, Gladiator) is sure of his father’s powers, and tries to show anyone he can that his dad is for real, much to David’s chagrin.
As is the case with Shyamalan’s first film, Unbreakabledoes have an ending that’s a bit of a twist. While some may say it’s convenient and a bit of a cop-out, put within the context of the film, the ending really isn’t that hokey in my mind. Unbreakable also is a bit of a stylistic change for Shyamalan, as cinematographer Eduardo Serra (Map of the Human Heart) and editor Dylan Tichenor (Magnolia) help illustrate a film with long, almost deliberate shots, and if they move, the move slowly, perhaps to set the pace of the film.
The thing I did have a problem with was that everyone seems to speak rather quietly like they are being oppressed or something. While I couldn’t smack them or tell them to do some pushups or something, the performances are all pretty solid, save for Wright Penn, who almost feels underused in the film, as Shyamalan’s female parts have seemed to be. Willis put in continued good work as David, showing a more emotional side than in his action films, and Jackson was pretty good as well, with a role that is very stoic in nature. The outstanding performance here (again, as seems to be the case in other Shyamalan movies) is of Clark, who plays a key role with a great deal of conflict, including an long, amazing scene where he attempts to put David to the ultimate superhero test. Like Haley Joel Osment before him and Rory Culkin after him, Spencer Treat Clark steals the show from the leads in the film. All in all, Unbreakable is still a pretty good ride. While it may not have some of the thrills and chills provided by his other films, I think there’s some very good character examination that provides for compelling viewing. Willis’ refusal to embrace what he probably may be, and the conflict his powers present in his daily life, is the main dilemma that comic book heroes seem to have, and was replicated very well.
As part of Disney’s Vista Series (which I think went the way of the Fox 5 Star Collection), the film includes both a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix, along with a DTS track. The DTS track was obviously supplying a more robust soundstage, and has a good deal of environmental surround sound going for it too, particularly during the rain (of course), but also in the crowded stadium when David makes his rounds, it’s a nice enveloping experience.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that Unbreakable has is probably the best among Shyamalan’s film, with excellent black levels and much better detail than I anticipated. In the few scenes where color is expected to stand out, it does as well. And there is not too much edge enhancement to be concerned over.
Despite an apparent strong DVD release, Unbreakable does come off as a bit light on bonus material. Leading things off is a 15 minute behind the scenes featurette that features the usual interview participants in the cast and crew, and a more technical look at the making of the film. After that, there is a 20 minute piece on comic books and superheroes, covering the fascination with comic books, the place in society, and features interviews with several people of the film who are interested in the genre (Jackson is still a collector), along with more footage from relevant comic book figures today, including Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil and Will Eisner, who are behind some of the more popular books of the day. There is a multi-angle examination of the sequence in the train station that is fairly underwhelming. There are two angles, and one of them is the storyboarded version, but there are 3 soundtracks you can choose from, all in 5.1 Digital Surround (the final sound mix, the isolated score, or the isolated sound effects). However, you cannot change soundtracks on the fly (at least using my Pioneer player), so that aspect is a bit cumbersome. Following that are seven deleted scenes with introductions by Shyamalan, totaling around 30 minutes. In it, he explains his reasons for their excision from the final cut, and some are pretty understandable, but there are a couple others that put more emotional depth into the Willis and Jackson characters that may have been a nice inclusion to the film. To Shyamalan’s credit also, the scenes look pretty finished, and even have a 5.1 soundtrack to boot. Shyamalan also included a fight scene from a film he shot as a youngster. For a cheesiness factor, it’s a nice inclusion, but its relevance to the film is pretty non-existent.
Perhaps disappointing to those who fell in love with his first film, Shyamalan’s Unbreakable shows a protagonist in conflict with powers he feels are beyond his responsibility, but eventually embraces them with some help from close friends and family. The 2 disc set for this underrated film earns special consideration, and the audio/video qualities are the best of Shyamalan’s three films. Recommended for fans of the director.
Special Features List
- Deleted Scenes
- Behind the Scenes Featurette
- Comics Books and Superheroes Featurette
- Multiangle Presentation