George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan are both filmmakers who know a thing or two about the rollercoaster that is public opinion of your work.
Both have lounged on the apex of the Hollywood pyramid, lauded from all sides for their magnificent works of astounding imagination and invention. Lucas was the King of Movies for two decades due to his original Star Wars trilogy, and Shyamalan created the most celebrated twist ending in recent memory with The Sixth Sense, a twist often emulated but whose impact has never been duplicated.
But then something happened to both of them. A few missteps, a few calculated moves gone awry — okay, maybe more than a few — and now both directors have found themselves on the receiving end of a slew of venomous critiques.
For Lucas, it was, of course, his second wave of Star Wars films that famously alienated a great deal of his fanbase. Gone were the charmingly clunky set pieces, the vehicles that looked perpeturally on the brink of breaking down, the wildly diverse puppets … all of them replaced by a slick, sleek CGI that rendered the entire Star Wars universe oddly flat and soulless.
The first set of films felt physical and real, like they occupied actual space. The new trilogy looked like a very expensive videogame, with about the same quality of acting. Even normally reliable actors like Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor felt stiff and uncomfortable in their roles.
And we haven’t even gotten to the screenplays yet.
In Shyamalan’s case, the nails on his coffin were, well … every movie except The Sixth Sense. It’s actually rather astounding that he’s been given so many chances to prove he’s more than a one-trick pony, and yet releases flop after flop.
Obviously this is a matter of opinion, but I believe Shyamalan is a phenomenal talent, but as a director, not a writer. For this article, I rewatched two of his relatively poorly-received films — Signs and The Village — as well as his sophomore effort, Unbreakable.
Shyamalan has a fantastic eye - his use of color, particularly the way he subtly juxtaposes bright colors in one scene with a drab, washed-out pallette in the next — is superb. Every frame looks teriffic, with even the most minute detail perfectly placed. He’s the kind of director who can create a sense of dread in a scene as innocuous as a family eating breakfast, not by using creepy music (a mediocre director’s go-to trick) but simply by the way he composes the shots.
But once again, it comes down to the screenplays: it’s the actual story where his movies fall flat. Shyamalan is an unapologetic fan of genre films, and I admire him for that. I respect his mission statement to take B-movie plots and craft them into A-movie cinematic journeys.
But the problem with B-movies is that their plots are often too simple to work as anything more, and that’s usually where Shayamalan stumbles.
And let’s not even talk about Lady in the Water.
So who’s earned more vitriol in their time?
Even though Shyamalan is currently getting dragged through the mud thanks to his latest film The Last Airbender, my vote would be Lucas, for the sheer reason his star burned brighter and longer than Shyamalan’s. Shyamalan’s been a household name for roughly a decade, but the first Star Wars film came out in 1977. Because Lucas was so beloved for so long, it stands to reason that the flip side of all that adulation — a turn to the dark side, if you will — would be a greater burden to bear.
But that’s what I think. What about you? Vote in our poll and add your comments below.
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