Saturday, August 12, 2006

Goodnight M. Night

Remember how productive I said I felt last Saturday? Well, the following Sunday turned out to be a waste of time. But not the entire day -- only about an hour and 45 minutes. After some plans fell through at the last minute, I decided to watch the copy of Lady in the Water I'd downloaded a day or two earlier. I've never downloaded a movie before, because if it's any good, I'd rather see it in a theater, and if it isn't any good, I'd just as soon not watch it. But as I mentioned before, I was sort of curious about Lady in the Water. On the one hand, it's gotten some of the worst reviews ever written, but on the other hand, even though most of his movies are self-important and pretentious, M. Night Shyamalan has demonstrated that he's capable of making good movies, and even when I think his movies are stupid -- which is just about always -- at some level I still enjoy watching them.

Lady in the Water turns out to be a really big exception to that rule. It was stupid, but I didn't enjoy watching it at all. While I was watching it, I couldn't help wondering if Shyamalan actually expected anyone to take this movie seriously. It didn't even seem like he took it seriously himself. It seemed more like a parody of a Shyamalan movie, sort of like those Scary Movie movies. As you probably already know, the movie began as a bedtime story that Shyamalan told his daughters. Several movie critics have already pointed out that the purpose of a bedtime story is to put the audience to sleep, a task at which Lady in the Water apparently succeeds, so I won't bother to elucidate on its soporific qualities. But I will say that if there is a message to be learned from Lady in the Water, it is that bedtime stories don't necessarily always translate very well into feature-length movies.

Oh, by the way, before I go any further, when I was complaining about 3D animation a little while ago, I forgot to mention Bill Plympton's movies and short films in my examples of good animation. His stories are funny and imaginative, and his animation style is distinctive and unique. If you get a chance, see his movie I Married a Strange Person. It's available on DVD. You can probably find a compilation of his short films on DVD as well.

Okay, now back to Lady in the Water. The problem with this movie is that there's no real story. That's all I'm going to say about the plot because I don't want to spoil it for you. Of course, I don't really think I could spoil it even if I wanted to, because it may not even be possible. It's like trying to spoil a sack full of rotting fruit and decaying vegetables. There's nothing you can do to make it worse.

So I'm glad I didn't pay to see it. Wasting my time watching it was bad enough, but wasting my time and money would have been too much to take.

When my sisters and I were kids, my dad used to tell us bedtime stories. I think he just made them up as he went along, but that didn't stop us from enjoying them. The only one I remember was Elmer the Backward Cow. Elmer was just like every other cow in the world, except that he did everything backward.

What I didn't understand then, and what it took me many years to realize, is that besides doing everything backward, Elmer was different from other cows in another respect as well, since he was a male and cows are female. At least that's according to the common definition of "cow," which is applied only to mature female cattle. (Mature male cattle are called "bulls," in case you're wondering.) Of course, there's a secondary definition of "cow" as well: any domestic bovine animal regardless of sex or age. This definition is much more appropriate to Elmer, I believe.

In any case, Elmer the Backward Cow wasn't just one single story -- it was a series of stories, each new episode being invented on the spot whenever my sisters or I demanded to hear another tale before bedtime. I don't remember any of the specifics, like what sort of backward things Elmer did or why they were so funny, but we liked the stories anyway. However, as much as we enjoyed them, it never occurred to any of us that they should be made into a movie. I'm sure it never occurred to my dad either.

And if they had been, Elmer the Backward Cow: The Movie would have probably been no better than Lady in the Water, but at least it wouldn't have been so self-important and pretentious.