Fairy tale a little watered down

Reeling it in

Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2006


  Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), rescues a mysterious young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) from danger and discovers that she is actually a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the journey back to her home in 'Lady in the Water.' AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures/F

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), rescues a mysterious young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) from danger and discovers that she is actually a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the journey back to her home in 'Lady in the Water.'

AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures/F

“The Lady in the Water”

Warner Bros.

1 hour, 50 minutes

You may have noticed this column has been absent from the paper for the last couple of weeks. I went on vacation.

My wife and I went to Europe to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. Much as I know you want it, I’m not going to regale you with tales from the trip, nor am I going to get out the slide show, which consists of 97 shots of me standing in front of some church I can’t remember the name of, squinting at the camera because the sun is in my eyes. I would like to relate, however, my attempts at going to see a movie in France.

I try to go to a movie whenever I go on vacation. This drives my wife crazy, but to me it’s all part of the fun of seeing a new place. We arrived in Aix-en-Provence, the home of impressionist painter Cezanne, for two days of tourist fun in the broiling heat. I immediately spotted the theater, and after some research, realized there were three in this tiny town, all within a three block radius of each other. Jackpot!

The downside? Most of the movies are (duh) in French. Not to be dissuaded, I scoped out the selections and found one, “Paris, je t’aime,” a collection of vignettes about love and Paris, which appeared to be, at least partially, directed by Americans. Partially is right, meaning that approximately five minutes of the 40 that we stayed was in English, the rest being in French with no subtitles. It looked pretty good, though, and I want to give it a try when it comes out on DVD.

The next day I looked at the movies again and realized I had been attempting to patronize the “artsy” theatre. What about the big, first run outfit? The larger theater, appropriately named “The Cezanne,” was showing American movies galore. “X-Men 3,” “Over the Hedge,” “The Da Vinci Code,” etc. I chose to go to the Bruce Willis-Josh Hartnett mistaken identity action flick, “Lucky Number Slevin,” which is a terrible title that the French have improved on slightly, but not much. There it’s simply called “Slevin.”

I got in line and prepared to pay an exorbitant amount of Euros to get my seat, when the ticket taker admonished me with “No. Only French.” What? Was I being discriminated against? “Only French,” he said again. “English movies around the corner.” Ah. “Is it dubbed?” I asked. “No. Only French!”

Of course it’s dubbed, because deep down, the French are no more intellectual than Americans, no matter how they like to present themselves. No one wants to read subtitles, especially not in a Bruce Willis movie. So my French movie attempts were handily foiled. We were on the train the next day, and there was no more time for movies. I finally did get to a movie, though. In London I saw “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which didn’t have to be dubbed because almost all the actors are British, although I could have used some help with Depp’s dialogue. The theatre was huge. You pick your seat ahead of time, just like you’re going to a concert. Unfortunately my ticket was 15 pounds, which equates to almost $30. Ouch. The movie was OK, and I’m sure I helped cover some of their huge FX budget, but it wasn’t $30 good.

What, you may ask, does all this have to do with this week’s review of the latest M. Night Shyamalan spooker, “The Lady in the Water?” Not a thing, but it’s my column and I’m allowed to digress a little on occasion. And apparently so is Shyamalan, whose “Lady” wanders aimlessly in search of some sort of coherence, without ever coming close to a point.

Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland Heep, an unhappy little man who manages an apartment complex full of odd characters in the suburbs of Philadelphia. One night, after hearing noises for the past week, Cleveland confronts what he thinks is a punk kid swimming in the pool after hours. Much to his surprise, he finds a Narf, or water spirit who has come to reawaken the world of men to existence of the “Blue World,” and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, the Narf (her name is Story) doesn’t know who, specifically, she is supposed to awaken, and time is running out.

A rogue Skrut, which is a sort of wolf made of grass, is out to get her before the giant eagle takes her home. Her only hope is that the Guardian, the Healer, the Guild and the Interpreter can help her ward off the Skrut for long enough that the evil tree-monkey demons will come to take care of it, leaving her free to become a Madame Narf and lead her people to a glorious future. What?

As convoluted as the story is, its broad strokes aren’t bad. Man has, over the years, forgotten about his spiritual brethren, a magical other race of people, who are now trying to reassert themselves. That’s interesting, but Shyamalan handles the particulars in such a slipshod manner that it feels as though he is simply making it up as he goes along. And maybe he is. After all, the genesis of the film is a bedtime story he told his daughters, and the movie does its best to stick to that theme, mostly by having various characters shout, “Maybe it’s time you realized that some bedtime stories are true!”

True or not, this bedtime story has plot problems galore, but that’s not its only issue. For one, the whole movie feels as though it were shot in dim light. Much of it is hard to see and, though there are some good shots, the cinematography feels incredibly bland. Not only that, but the special effects are mostly terrible, and the acting is either just at, or below par. The pacing is slow, causing the story to plod along interminably.

The characters all buy into this whole Narf, Blue World business so quickly that there is no real conflict other than the silly looking Skrut. The worst problem, however, is that the movie has virtually no audience. If it is a legitimate fairy tale for little girls, why is it so frightening and dark throughout? If it’s for adults, why is the plot so stupid? I think I can see what Shyamalan, who casts himself as a struggling writer with the potential to save the world, was going for, but it never comes together, leaving “The Lady in the Water” to drown under the weight of its own ridiculously complex story line. Grade: D+

“The Lady in the Water” is rated PG-13 for some intensely frightening scenes.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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