The Happening Review

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The Happening opens in Central Park. Two woman are sitting on a bench reading books. One seems to be notably confused, while the other reacts to a scream heard off in the distance. Everyone in the park suddenly stops walking, and a woman on the bench pulls out a hairpin, and stabs herself in the neck.

Cut to a construction site, where the workers start falling from the top of the structure. Bodies lay mangled on the ground, with broken bones and smashed faces.

Then some army guy had to go and say, “Cheese and crackers!” and the whole thing falls apart.

M. Night Shyamalan states in interviews (some of them on this disc) that The Happening is supposed to be a ‘70s disaster B-movie at the start, but said it became something more later.

The problem with so many of these homages is that originals weren’t trying to be campy or funny. They came out that way naturally, whether through rushed scripts, sloppy special effects, or general lack of care.

The Happening obviously took some work. It looks great, and casts stars Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel in the lead roles. It does not look cheap, filled with Hollywood gloss and style.

That’s why the film so miserably misses the mark when it tries to be funny. It introduces itself with two wonderfully put together scenes of mystery, where people are dying at their own hands, and without explanation. That becomes the expectation.

Then Mark Wahlberg talks to a plastic plant.

This is bizarre film. As always, Shyamalan writes and directs, and that’s the problem. No one seemed to tell him that his own vision didn’t work. You can’t expect anyone to feel scared or show emotion when you have such an odd and goofy sense of humor underlining the entire thing.

There is another great moment in Philadelphia, an unbroken shot in which a police officer kills himself with a gun. The camera sticks to the weapon, backing up and more people pick it up to do the same with graphic results.

Later in the film, the same event occurs off-screen, and Zooey Deschanel’s character decides the time is right to discuss what is going on despite the obvious attempt at tension. You can’t have it both ways. This is not a matter of tone shifts. The entire movie jumps around when it feels like it, and you’re not sure what to think and when. Kids being shot after Mark Wahlberg sings? That’s just terrible.

Shyamalan may have had something here too. The mystery is revealed early, and the intrigue is dropped. If there is a message here, it’s lost in a mish-mash of stupid, inane dialogue, stilted performances, and Mark Wahlberg talking to a plastic plant. Cheese and crackers indeed.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

happeningStill courtesy of Cinemasquid.com

Initially, The Happening looks great. Facial close ups reveal immense detail, including small stubble and pores. Contrast is bright, black levels are rich, and the film grain layers nicely over the image.

Unfortunately, the transfer begins to falter. At the mid-range, detail begins to fall off and the film looks filtered. It is at its worst around the 51-minute mark as Wahlberg sits at a table. The color gradation on his face is entirely unnatural and blurred. Grain can appear harsh, as if artificial sharpening has been applied. Softness is sporadic, notably at the 28-minute stamp. A shot of a certain death involving a lawnmower really goes south as well.

This is a tough call, because the color saturation is wonderful, and at quick glances this is a phenomenal looking disc. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold, and the obvious filtering, intentional or not, takes away much of the positives even if you’re not looking for it.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

A DTS-HD encode only has a few notable moments. Wind provides much of the surround activity, nicely filling the sound field as it approaches the actors. Trees and grass are swept up with it, providing a layer of atmosphere the film does not. A car crash relatively early in the film provides minor low-end punch, but that is about it for the subwoofer.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

If there ever was a film that needed a commentary, this is it… and it doesn’t have one.

Instead, a picture-in-picture track delivers video and trivia, both of which can be viewed away from the main feature (the video content is over a half hour in total). Four featurettes focus on specific scenes. A brief gag reel is followed with four deleted scenes with introductions from Shyamalan.

Visions of the Happening is a nice “fly on the wall” making of piece. A Day for Night is a brief look at getting 11 shots done in a single day of shooting. Elements of a Scene details the car crash sequence, which was quite complex in execution. D-Box support remains.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

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