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The Happening (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/7/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/8/2008

It's my assumption that when the average American thinks about seeing a movie, they focus on the story. From there, they most likely will examine the stars of the film. For most, it doesn't go further than that. I'm the kind of person who likes to move to the end of the credits to see who wrote and directed the movie. Despite the fact that I'm in the minority here, there are some modern directors who have penetrated the mass psyche, such as Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and M. Night Shyamalan. When The Sixth Sense became a runaway hit, Shyamalan was suddenly in demand, and despite a lukewarm reception from the public, I thought Unbreakable was great. Since then, Shyamalan's output has been suspect, and his last outing, Lady in the Water, was a bonafide flop. With his latest film, The Happening, Shyamalan promises a return to the world of horror which put him on the map.

The Happening opens in Central Park in New York City. Without warning, everyone stops and begins to walk backwards. Screams are heard. The scene then jumps to a construction site in Manhattan where several workers kill themselves. The news of these events reaches Philadelphia, where Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is teaching high-school science. Believing that the events are linked to a terrorist attack, the authorities suspend school and Elliot and his co-worker Julian (John Leguizamo) agree to gather their families and meet at the train station in order to flee the city. Elliot and his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel) meet Julian and his daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), and board the train. (Julian's wife is taking a bus and plans to meet them.) However, they soon learn that fleeing the city will not protect them from the strange events. As more and more people commit suicide, Elliot and his group retreat farther into a rural area attempting to escape the threat.

OK, let's face it -- There are few perfect films and the most that we should ask of most movies is that they be mostly consistent. However, I don't think that I've ever seen a movie fall apart in the same way at The Happening. The film truly had me at the beginning. The scene in the park is creepy and the construction site scene is one of the most unnerving in recent memory. There is also a mass suicide scene in Philadelphia which is effective. I'm not one to buy into terrorism paranoia, but the idea that the characters are reacting to a possible terrorist attack is a very modern and effective one. There is definitely an air of suspense as the group attempts to leave the city. We've seen plenty of films where an event causes people to turn on one another, but one where they kill themselves i unique (in the United States, at least).

Then, everything goes wrong. Once Shyamalan (sort of) reveals the nature of the threat, few, if any, members of the audience will still be on board. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that the second half of the movie deasl with characters fleeing from the wind. Yes, you heard me, the wind. The use of an "evil wind" has become a much maligned cliche in supernatural horror films (it's usually used as a harbinger of danger), but Shyamalan embraces it whole-heartedly. To say that it all seems silly would be an understatement. He also makes a mistake by keeping the nature of the threat vague and undefined. (Yes, I know that theories are posited in the film, but there's never anything concrete.) Some movie can get away with not answering questions, such as the fact that we never learn where the monsters come from in Feast II. However, after making us sit through one of the goofiest films ever, Shyamalan offered us a concrete explanation, no matter how crappy it may have been.

If you are a frequent visitor to this site (and I hope that you are), you may notice that I rarely comment on acting. Acting is like a side dish to a great entree; as long as it's decent, you don't complain. However, the bad acting in The Happening can't be ignored. I've like Mark Wahlberg in other projects, but he seems out of place here. He makes a confused face throughout the film and his bassett hound eyes try to hard to do all of the emoting for him. Speaking of emotions, Zooey Deschanel has made a career from playing stoic characters, and none of her attempts to act scared or concerned feel genuine. The only notable acting comes from the dependable Leguizamo.

The Happening was touted as being M. Night Shyamalan's first R-rated movie, and at least that much is true. There is a notable amount of gore here (for a film of this type) and I can see that turning off those who are still into the story (if those people do exist). The bottom line is that The Happening is a wasted opportunity. The film's strong opening soon gives way to absurdity. The film wants to become heavier and heavier as it moves along, but for the audience, it simply becomes funnier and funnier.

The Happening doesn't really happen on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. There is a mild amount of grain on the image, but grain naturally occurs with film, and this says that they didn't doctor the image to try and get rid of it. The bulk of the film takes place outside, and these exterior landscape shots look great. They have a very nice amount of depth. The image is very detailed, and I could see every pore on Wahlberg's face. The colors look great, most notably the green fields and the red blood which is spilled. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As dumb as the whole wind thing is, the sound of the breeze moving through the front and rear channels works quite well. We may not fear the wind as the characters do, but we do feel engulfed by it. Gunshots and car crashes provide some nice subwoofer action. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and we hear sounds from both sides of the screen when the characters are outside.

The Happening Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "Bonusview with Trivia Track" offers picture-in-picture moments which contains comments from the cast and filmmakers and some behind-the-scene stuff, as well as on-screen trivia. (These clips can be watched separately as well.) "Train Shooting" (4 minutes) explores how the scenes were shot in the train station, on the train, and train exteriors, all of which used real locations. "The Hard Cut" (9 minutes) examines the fact that this is Shyamalan's first R-rated movie, and we hear the Director's thoughts on this. The piece explores a particular violent scene from the film and how it was approached. The fact that an airborne threat is featured in the movie and how huge fans were utilized to show this is profiled in "Forces Unseen" (5 minutes). '"I Hear You Whispering'" (4 minutes) explores the film's third act with Shyamalan saying "I needed a home run hitter at the end of the movie." Steeeerriiikkke! This goes much further into the characters than the movie does. The Disc has a 3-minute "Gag Reel". We get four DELETED SCENES which run about 12 minutes and can be viewed with introductions by Shyamalan. Two of these contain gore which was cut from the film, and one shows an additional death scene. The first shows an excruciatingly long fight between Wahlberg and Deschanel. "The Happening - Visions of The Happening: A Making of" -- "A Day For Night" (7 minutes) has us following Shyamalan through a day of shooting. "Elements of a Scene" (10 minutes) explores the car crash scene, and shows how digital effects and live action were combined to create a scene with no cuts.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long