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The Sixth Sense: Vista Series

M. Night Shyamalan's third feature film, The Sixth Sense was such a box-office sensation during the second half of 1999 that only George Lucas' The Phantom Menace (which, it appears, every American was required by law to see) kept it from being the top-grossing film of the year. And though nominated for six Academy Awards, it didn't win a single one — losing Best Picture to American Beauty. Yet, though it was promoted as much as any other film starring Bruce Willis, and Hollywood Pictures didn't expect much of it, because of good word-of-mouth and a final plot twist that caught most viewers by surprise (and made them want to watch it twice), The Sixth Sense has become a what the video world would oxymoronically call a modern classic. And all from some young director from Philadelphia who didn't try to make box-office history, but instead just wanted to make a creepy little movie about a kid who sees dead people. Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a young boy who lives with his mom (Toni Collette) in Philly, is a defensive, oddly withdrawn youth who doesn't fit in at school and makes up enigmatic stories about toy soldiers. While his mother and his teachers can't seem to reach him, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Willis), a child psychologist, is determined to make some progress with the boy, and largely because of recent turmoil in his own life. Shot by a former patient who broke into his home several months earlier, Crowe's marriage to his wife Anna (Olivia Williams) has all but disintegrated, and he has lost interest in his practice. But little Cole — who speaks about pain in the way an adult would rather than a small boy — reveals his "secret" to Crowe: He sees dead people, walking around, unaware that they are dead. Even worse, these undead phantasms try to get Cole to do things for them, things that Cole never understands, but which can resolve the ghosts' unfinished business on earth. Crowe has a hard time accepting Cole's extraordinary claims, but in his single-minded determination to help the child, he pursues the case, unaware of where it will lead him.

*          *          *

As a film often shoved (unfairly, and unceremoniously) into the "thriller" genre, The Sixth Sense triumphs above it, and mostly by understating virtually everything that's going on. While a supernatural flick in every regard, there are no special effects in the film — nada. Everything is shot in a conventional manner, and Shyamalan wisely eschews splattering blood all over the place. The Exorcist it's not — in fact, The Sixth Sense bears far more resemblance to Henry James' classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, where children claim to see ghosts, but the tale is told from the point of view of an adult, and thus the claims can't be verified. By underplaying the big moments and keeping an eye on the smaller details, Shyamalan has crafted one of the finest ghost stories in recent memory, bolstered by the laconic Willis and haunted Osment, who isn't just gifted — he's a child prodigy. Buena Vista's second DVD edition of The Sixth Sense under their prestigious banner the Vista Series offers little new for a double-dipper, but it does have a better case and some neat, though unnecessary, add-ons. Along with a solid (and now THX-approved) anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), the soundtrack has been upgraded to include DTS alongside the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (which may prompt some purchases from those who swear they can hear the difference). The majority of the video supplements from the first disc are here — a look at the music and sound design; the relationship between the film and the audience; "rules and clues" that the filmmakers followed to keep the plot consistent, and four deleted scenes — including Shyamalan's original extended ending — along with the standard cast and crew notes, trailer, and two TV spots. But improving on the original interview segment with Shyamalan and storyboard comparison are a couple of longer features. The best is a 39-minute "making-of," featuring interviews with Willis, Collette, Osment, Donny Wahlberg, and Shyamalan, covering the entire production. Also included is a 15-minute featurette on the art and purpose of storyboards, featuring the director and storyboard artist Brick Mason. The freshest addition is also the most superfluous: a 37-minute featurette entitled "Between Two Worlds" focusing on the supernatural and its role in films, featuring interviews with William Peter Blatty, Bruce Joel Rubin, and M. Night again. Anything missing from the first edition? The brief Easter egg "horror film" Shyamalan made when he was barely older than Osment. Dual-DVD digipak with paper slipcase.
—JJB / DSH



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