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Signs (***)
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
written by M. Night Shyamalan


Principal Cast
Mel Gibson -- Graham Hess
Joaquin Phoenix -- Merrill Hess
Rory Culkin -- Morgan Hess
Abigail Breslin -- Bo Hess
Cherry Jones -- Officer Paski
M. Night Shyamalan -- Ray Reddy
Patricia Kalember -- Colleen Hess
Ted Sutton -- SFC Cunningham
Merritt Wever -- Tracey Abernathy
Lanny Flaherty -- Mr. Nathan
Marion McCorry -- Mrs. Nathan
Michael Showalter -- Lionel Prichard
Clifford David -- Columbia University Professor
Rhonda Overby -- Sarah Hughes
Greg Wood -- TV Anchor
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

You have seen Signs, of course. I'm going to discuss the plot, and while there is no surprise ending, the plot is not what the previews have led you to expect. I am not as enthusiastic about Signs as I was about Shyamalan's previous film, Unbreakable, but it is a powerful entertainment and you do want to see it. Go. Read this when you get back.

Signs is the story of a minister whose wife is killed, crushed against a tree by a passing car, and who has, as a result, lost his faith. His life is sustained by his deep love for his two children, for his younger brother, and for his fellow man. But he no longer loves, or even believes in, his God. During a series of harrowing events, which happen to be an alien invasion but which could just as well have been a hurricane, he comes to see that everything has been arranged in order to save the life of his son. The signs are clear. God took his wife, but spared his son. He is grateful. He resumes his ministry.

The story is as old as Job. But Job never gets an answer. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Signs gives an answer and it is an unsatisfactory one. It has been an unsatisfactory answer for ten thousand years. The answer is, "See the clear signs of His intervention and thank Him for sparing the son." But if it is right to bless him for sparing the son, why is it wrong to curse him for killing the mother? Why does God kill one innocent and spare another?

I happened by chance to read one of Thornton Wilder's later novels -- far less famous than "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" -- and he compares our vision to that of a person looking at an intricate Turkish carpet from the underside. All we see is confusion, and twisted ends of thread. There is a beautiful pattern to life, but we are not in a position to see it.

In real life, the signs are never as clear as they are in movies. I once had a long conversation with a Christian friend who explained at length why God's hand was clearly at work in providing the perfect apartment for her to rent. Everything was just right. This could not be coincidence. It was clear evidence of God's handiwork. I ran into her a week later. "How do you like your new apartment?" I asked. "Oh, I decided not to rent that one. Another one came along that I liked better." So much for signs.

So, how does Signs the movie work. It is good science fiction? There are problems there, as well, most of them at the very end.

The alien is disappointing. As long as we only had glimpses of the aliens, they were truly frightening. When we see the alien standing in the living room in full daylight, his costume and makeup look more like the one in Creature from the Black Lagoon than like the imaginative and innovative aliens we have come to expect in films.

And are we expected to believe in an alien civilization that has invented the spaceship, but has not invented the hand grenade (for breaking down doors) or the raincoat (the aliens are vulnerable to water)?

Does the movie work as entertainment? Yes. Appealing characters are put in peril and we root for them to survive. It made me jump.

Copyright © 2002 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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