“ de­rived from my taste for Hayao Miyazaki and for mar­tial arts and spir­i­tu­al­ity and all that stuff”

With ev­ery new film, the re­views get ever more neg­a­tive, and per­sonal. But mer­cu­rial di­rec­tor M Night Shya­malan is de­ter­mined to ig­nore the crit­ics and keep up his re­la­tion­ship with his au­di­ence, he tells Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

MNIGHT SHYA­MALAN has food poi­son­ing. Hav­ing en­coun­tered some am­biva­lent sushi, he has spent his first few in­ter­views in a state of sweaty, chun­der­ing un­ease. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions he felt he might have to bolt for the door, but now seems to have achieved tol­er­a­ble in­ter­nal equi­lib­rium.

“It’s pretty po­etic that this should hap­pen on the jun­ket for this movie,” he says.

My ears prick up. I wouldn’t have dared say so my­self, but, con­sid­er­ing the crit­i­cal pum­melling he has re­ceived for The Last Air­ben­der, a morn­ing of vom­it­ing does seem an ap­pro­pri­ate over­ture to the film’s press jun­ket.

It turns out that he is not be­ing quite as satir­i­cal as I had hoped.

“It was over­whelm­ing on all lev­els,” he says. “I did not an­tic­i­pate the toll a movie of this scale would take. I know my com­fort zone. I am the kind of guy who has trou­ble stay­ing in a house if it’s not well de­signed.”

If Shya­malan is to be be­lieved, the di­rec­tor, now a trim 40, has been car­ry­ing on a bat­tle with the press since his third film, the spiff­ing The Sixth Sense, over­pow­ered all com­ers at the box-of­fice in 1999. It’s cer­tainly true that his last few movies have re­ceived an ex­tra­or­di­nary ham­mer­ing. Lady in the Wa­ter mer­maids in the swim­ming pool) was de­cried as pre­ten­tious and con­fus­ing. The Hap­pen­ing (neu­ro­tox­ins whis­tle through the un­der­brush) was re­garded as lu­di­crous. The notices for those films seem like raves, how­ever, when set be­side the evis­cer­a­tions of The Last Air­ben­der.

Still, de­spite the rum­bling in­nards and the bad word, Shya­malan seems in sur­pris­ingly friendly mood. The Last Air­ben­der – an epic fan­tasy in­volv­ing sa­cred chil­dren and el­e­men- tal con­flicts – is based on a pop­u­lar an­i­mated se­ries. It is, thus, the first film he has di­rected that is not en­tirely his own cre­ation. The pic­ture is also very dif­fer­ent in tone to his ear­lier work: con­tem­po­rary sus­pense is re­placed by wide-screen de­pic­tions of al­ter­na­tive re­al­i­ties.

It looks as if he was mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort to frus­trate ex­pec­ta­tions.

“It was not so agenda-driven,” he says mildly. “It de­rived from my taste for Hayao Miyazaki and for mar­tial arts and spir­i­tu­al­ity and all that stuff. Also, I ama fa­ther and I amvery sen­ti­men­tal about that. That makes me do things I would never ex­pect.”

But he does ad­mit that the film feels like a de­par­ture? When you say “M Night Shya­malan” peo­ple think: spooky set-up, murky sur­round­ings, fi­nal twist. They don’t think: imag­i­na­tion­land, magic child with ar­row on head, huge fly­ing badger.

“I ac­tu­ally think that, since The Sixth Sense, I have made a very di­verse se­ries of films. I made Un­break­able af­ter that, which was very dif­fer­ent. Around the time of The Sixth Sense, I wrote Stu­art Lit­tle. So, I think I had a di­verse ap­proach. I think, maybe, peo­ple will see The Last Air­ben­der as the ‘op­er­atic’ as­pect of my style, as op­posed to the min­i­mal­ist thriller as­pect.”

He goes on to ex­plain how he gen­uinely in­tended to make Un­break­able – his fas­ci­nat­ing 2000 film con­cern­ing the dy­nam­ics of the comic book – into an opera with com­poser James Newton Howard. As you will have gath­ered, M Night Shya­malan is not short on self-be­lief. Mind you, he could not have achieved his con­sid­er­able suc­cess with­out be-

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