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(1970– ). American writer and director.

Wrote, directed, produced, and acted in: Unbreakable (2000); Signs (2002); The Village (2004); Lady in the Water (2006).

Wrote, directed, and produced: The Happening (2008).

Wrote and directed: The Sixth Sense (1999).

Wrote with Greg Brooker: Stuart Little (1999).

Appeared in documentaries:  The Sixth Sense: Reflections from the Set (short) (Charles Kiselyak 2002); Between Two Worlds (short) (Kiselyak 2002); Making Signs (Laurent Bouzereau 2003); The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan (tv mock documentary) (Nathaniel Khan 2004); Inside the Village: A Movie Special (tv short) (2004); Reflections of Lady on the Water (2006).

At this point in time, there is no need for an entry on M. Night Shyamalan to discuss at length what even the most stubborn of his former fans have surely come to realize: that he is the most god-awful writer-director currently working in the film industry. (If you're really hungry for blow-by-blow accounts of his various follies, do a Google search for "M. Night Shyamalan sucks" and browse through the 50,000 or so sites that will show up.) Furthermore, I am no Johnny-come-lately to this increasingly popular business of Shyamalan-bashing, having despised the man's work ever since I watched the genre film that made him a star, The Sixth Sense, a generally effective drama that nonetheless exuded faint suggestions, spectacularly confirmed by subsequent excesses, of a director more interested in manipulating and preaching to filmgoers than entertaining and intriguing them. In sum, I could always discern some truth in comments to the effect that he was the new Steven SPIELBERG, but I properly regarded that as a criticism, not a compliment.

Still, noting that his career has not exactly prospered in the manner of his one-time role model, and wondering why he has become the most despised man in Hollywood at an age when Spielberg was beginning to garner lifetime achievement awards, Shyamalan might fruitfully take a long, careful look at Spielberg's filmography and contemplate the unthinkable—that perhaps, just perhaps, once or twice along the way, M. Night Shyamalan did something wrong. Manifestly, only a genuine piece of work could drive me to praise Steven Spielberg, but let me give the devil his due: Spielberg at least could recognize his own limitations: he more or gave up writing his own scripts, and was generally content to let other screenwriters adapt other people's stories; he listened to his colleagues and could at times be persuaded to avoid obvious mistakes; he sometimes passed projects on to other directors that he thought were better suited for the tasks; he did not harbor any illusions that he was a great actor and cast himself in all of his own films. In addition, while Spielberg definitely had things to say, and had games to play, he did not allow his own obsessions to entirely outweigh the need to provide audiences with tolerable diversions, so that he proved occasionally capable of producing more-or-less satisfactory films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1983) and Minority Report (2002). To sum up everything that has been disastrous in Shyamalan's career, suffice it to say that he decided to do things a little differently.

Instead of further chastising Shyamalan (why bother, when so many others are devoting themselves to the chore?), I would prefer to consider the man as a symptom of a larger problem afflicting the contemporary film industry: that all too often, today's decisions about filmmaking are being made by people who really don't know anything about filmmaking. Say what you will about the many evils of the old studio system, but Louis B. Mayer would never in a million years have green-lighted a project as shoddily constructed as Signs or as risibly silly and repellent as The Village. Now, though, the people who sign the checks generally lack Mayer's gut instincts and, overly swayed by the cult of the auteur, are unwisely inclined to trust the judgment of a director who has had a few hits—which will work well enough if you're hiring, say, Martin Scorsese, but can have ruinous results if you're hooking up with the likes of, say, Michael Cimino or M. Night Shyamalan. Really, why should we criticize a man because he consistently comes up with stupid ideas that he develops into lousy scripts? Isn't this, on reflection, a rather commonplace flaw? Shouldn't our real fury be directed at the people who give him a hundred million dollars to actually make and release films like his forthcoming flop, The Happening?

So, how would Mayer have dealt with Shyamalan as a contract employee for MGM? No doubt the man would have been yanked out of the director's chair, reclassified exclusively as a writer, teamed up with a trustworthy collaborator, and assigned only to write screen adaptations of sure-fire source material. And the result would have been film credits like Stuart Little —an inoffensive, dopily charming divertissement, well within the range of his talents, that with The Sixth Sense would be the only highlights of a Shyamalan film festival. Alas, as long as there are people in Hollywood with lots of money and little intelligence, we will instead have to endure the sorry products of M. Night Shyamalan's grander ambitions.

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