The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense (1999)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Donnie Wahlberg
Extras: Cast & Crew Interviews, Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Deleted Scenes, Talent Files

On a certain level, it seems unnecessary to write a review for a film that has just become the tenth highest grossing movie of all time. Apparently, plenty of people have already made up their minds about the movie. But, that record is based on how many people saw the film in the theater. Now that "The Sixth Sense" is available on DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, it’s justifiable to review the film anew, to examine how it plays at home and to scrutinize the overall DVD package.

As "The Sixth Sense" opens, we are introduced to Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychologist, and his wife, Anna. After returning home one evening, they are surprised by an intruder, who happens to be a former patient of Dr. Crowe’s named Vincent (Donnie Wahlberg, looking for all the world like David Spade with a hangover). Vincent screams incoherently, and then shoots Dr. Crowe in the stomach.

The film then jumps ahead one year. Dr. Crowe has been assigned to work with an eight-year old boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). Cole has trouble making friends and keeps to himself a lot. Cole lives with his mother Lynn (Toni Collette), but tells Dr. Crowe that he won’t talk to his mom about his problems, because he doesn’t want her treating him as if he were weird. When we first meet Cole, he just seems like a shy kid. But then we, and Dr. Crowe, begin to notice the unusual things about Cole, such as cabinets and drawers opening by themselves around him, or the fact that he can speak Latin.

In the meantime, Dr. Crowe is having trouble with his marriage. He seems to be working all of the time and can’t find the time to be with Anna. When he does see her, she’s either asleep or she just ignores him.
Cole is hesitant to speak with Dr. Crowe at first, fearing that Dr. Crowe wouldn’t understand his plight. But, following a scary incident at a birthday party, Cole decides to reveal his supernatural curse to Dr. Crowe. Following this, Dr. Crowe and Cole work together to try and understand the nature of Cole’s mysterious gift and how they can calm the ghostly forces which surround Cole.

As a film, "The Sixth Sense" works on every level. It’s got an intriguing story, great acting, and it’s beautifully shot. While the plot of "The Sixth Sense" isn’t all that original (it borrows from Brian Lumley’s "Necroscope" books, as Cole’s powers are alot like those of Harry Keogh, except Cole doesn’t fight vampires!), it is deceptively simple and easy to follow. The film is also very subtle and very deliberately paced. I was quite surprised the first time I saw the movie and realized that it’s not until the 50-minute mark that Cole utters his now famous (and beaten to death) line "I see dead people." The films pace allows the viewer time to absorb all that is going on and try and piece together exactly what is happening to Cole and Dr. Crowe. While I prefer the similarly themed "Stir of Echoes" simply because it has more action, I admire the way that "The Sixth Sense" takes the time to tell its story.
I also like the use of names in writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s script. The name Cole Sear (seer) is pretty obvious, given his powers, but what about Dr. Crowe. Is that like Crow as in Eric Draven — "The Crow"? Watching the film a second time makes one wonder about this. And what about Dr. Crowe’s patient Vincent Gray. Is that because when Dr. Crowe treated Vincent he only viewed the world in terms of black and white, but Vincent’s case was somewhere in a gray area? Think about that.
Of course, there are some small holes in the plot. We never learn why Dr. Crowe goes to see Cole in the first place, although we can guess at the end. Also, why are some hauntings limited to one location, while other ghosts visit Cole at home? Are some ghosts just lazier than others? Until you realize that the ghosts can be mobile, you think that Cole lives in "The Apartment that Death Built!"

M. Night Shyamalan’s confident direction is what really makes "The Sixth Sense" work. He gives the film a nice look by keeping most scenes very drab and colorless. We learn from the DVD bonus material that this was intentional as the color red had a significant meaning in the film, and was thus, used sparingly. Shyamalan foregoes fancy camerawork to bring us many well-planned shots that bring us into the story rather than distancing us from it. Also, as with the names in the script, there are many subtle visual cues in the film, such as certain characters having white streaks in their hair and the use of red. With "The Sixth Sense", Shyamalan has created a visual feast and it takes several viewings (as denoted by the box office receipts) to take in the whoe thing.

The area where "The Sixth Sense" really excels is with the acting. I’ve been a Bruce Willis fan for almost 15 years now, and this is one of his best performances. He was definitely robbed by not getting an Oscar nod. (My feeling is that this year’s Oscar mishaps (the lost ballots and stolen statues) were the work of spirits who were angry over Bruce being shut out.) The normally brash and intense Willis, is here calm and quiet, delivering a performance where an abundance of words aren’t necessary to convey the emotional level of the scene. And what more can be said about Haley Joel Osment? He truly deserved his Oscar nomination (and to win), as he just blows you away with the depth and range he shows in this performance. (I just watched "Phantom Menace" and let me just say that Jake Lloyd can’t hold a candle to Osment.) It’s always amazing that someone that young can memorize dialogue, but to deliver it with such passion and believability is to be commended. And fellow Oscar nominee Toni Collette, drops her Australian accent and delivers a fine performance as Cole’s mom. One performance that is often overlooked is that of Olivia Williams, who is often acting by herself in scenes, or reacting to nothing.

With the DVD of "The Sixth Sense", you will be seeing and hearing dead people in high-style. The DVD presents the film in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer, which is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The framing appears to be accurate, as there is no warping of the frame and no obvious deficit of information on the sides. The picture is very clear, showing no grain or artifacting from compression. The color palette discussed earlier comes across very well on the DVD, as the film makes great use of light and shadows. The blacks on the DVD are very deep and the very important reds are vibrant, but without saturation or bleeding.

The audio mix on "The Sixth Sense" DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 and it works very well. The sound is well balanced as many of lines in the film are whispered, one doesn’t have to strain to hear them. And these lines aren’t drowned out by sound effects or ambient noises. There is a great deal of surround sound action throughout the film, especially during the supernatual scenes.

While "The Sixth Sense" is a great film, the "Collector’s Edition" DVD leaves much to be desired. Despite the laundry list of special features found listed on the box, most of these are simply a behind the scenes feature that has been chopped into six categories. So, despite the fact that there are nine special features listed on the box (actually 10, as the French Language Track is considered a special feature), there are actually only four features. The behind the scenes feature is made up of interviews with writer/director Shyamalan, and much of the cast and crew. This feature is very informative and we learn many of the film’s secrets, most from the energetic Shyamalan. In whole, these features run about 20 minutes, but you actually learn more from it than you would from many audio commentaries.

The DVD contains four deleted scenes, which are all introduced by Shyamalan. Two of the scenes, which feature Cole helping an older gentleman, work very well, and would have fit nicely into the finished film. We have the theatrical trailer for the film, <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1, and two TV spots. There are also extensive talent bios, featuring more members of the crew than we usually see.

I feel certain that "The Sixth Sense" will perform just as well on home video as it did in the theatres. I have no problem recommending the DVD of "The Sixth Sense", based solely on its excellent transfer of the film. However, do not expect too much from the special features. And for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to go ahead and buy it, because once you see the ending, you’re going to want to see the film again. Trust me.