Antipathy toward Manoj Night Shyamalan was easy after Lady in the Water, but the slip-sliding trajectory of his upcoming eco-thriller The Happening has our hearts suddenly and surprisingly enlarged with pity. After a while, there's only so much you can hold against a guy whose actors' line readings are scarier than his plot, who unironically claims he's got something on The Exorcist and whose latest double-shot of bad buzz suggests Shyamalan's days as Genius Autocrat Brat are spiraling to a close. For starters, the flagging Manoj Mystique™ gets the point-counterpoint treatment in today's NY Times:
"It never really worked," argues David Weitzner, the former head of worldwide marketing for Universal and an adjunct professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. "It's pomposity on the part of studios to think that the public is going to respond to an advertising message that says to see the film because it's from the director of another film. It's stupid and to some degree, it's fueled by ego." ...
Mr. Shyamalan, who will get his name above the title for The Happening, still believes that a director's name on the marquee — one that is not Steven Spielberg's — can sell a blockbuster as easily as a star's can.
"The problem is the assumption that if I am selling the movie — because I'm selling me — that I'm being egotistical. If Will Smith did the same thing, it would be perceived very differently," he said. "You're supposed to be hidden if you're a director. That's a rule that who said in the movie business?"
Manoj, Manoj, Manoj. Seriously — have your lawyer add a clue to that pricey contract rider of yours. No one cares about your ego, just your tone-deafness: Recent tracking has The Happening distantly trailing The Incredible Hulk among June 13 openings, with only 54% of survey respondents noting Awareness of the film and a genuinely tragic 2% acknowledging Un-Aided Awareness. In other words, it's conceivable that maybe "Oscar-nominee Mark Wahlberg" and Zooey Deschanel have greater name value among The Happening's target demo than "M. Night Shymalan." We're just saying.
But that beingsaid, there is no truth to the death-knell rumors that The Happening won't screen for critics; we're told the studio is putting the film out there June 10 — two days after its planned junket and not in time for weekly critics' deadlines. We'll be there, naturally, hoping all the while his newfound press-shyness doesn't take; we kind of just want to take the poor bastard out for a drink.
UPDATE: A Fox spokesman sends word that press will have the opportunity to view The Happening during the junket on June 8-9. Hooray.
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]