The opening sentence of Roger Ebert’s review of M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie went off like a shot around Twitter today: “The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.”
When I saw that line, I have to admit to a perverse, if slight, grin.
See, I had noticed something interesting a few M. Night Shyamalan critical muggings back. Uncannily, each of his movies seems to get panned a little bit more than the one before since his big 1999 breakout hit, The Sixth Sense.
It’s unscientific, I know, but if you check Shyamalan’s record at Metacritic.com, the evidence is right there. Each of the director’s films after Sixth Sense has gotten a worse reception — some, like Unbreakable, were generally liked. But after that, the howls greeting each film seem to get louder and louder. Here’s the breakdown, with Metacritic’s subjective scoring system, which tries to convert reviews to a 100-point scale and then average them all:
The Sixth Sense (1999) Score: 64
Unbreakable (2000); 62
Signs (2002); 59
The Village (2004); 44
Lady in the Water (2006); 36
The Happening (2008); 34
(Shyamalan made two films before Sixth Sense — 1992’s Praying with Anger and 1998’s Wide Awake — but neither have scores at Metacritic.com.)
And now, his newest film is starting to get reviews, and they are vicious. (We joined in the chorus: “confusing, drab, sluggish.”)
Apparently, switching to a new genre — a live-action version of a Nickelodeon cartoon — won’t be rescuing Shyamalan from his decade-long critical decline. In fact, it seems pretty assured that he’ll easily score even lower than The Happening and its killer grasses.
Shyamalan’s inexorable march downward leaped out sometime back, as I mentioned, but I haven’t checked to see if other directors can match his movie-for-movie downward curve. Can you think of any others?
UPDATE: The score for The Last Airbender is in, and it’s a 25! So yes, Shyamalan’s record remains intact. But now the real drama begins — how can he keep this going and do even worse than a Metacritic score of 25 on his next movie?
UPDATE to the UPDATE: Actually, it looks like Shyamalan has a shot at keeping this thing going after all. Here’s the log line to his next film, due next year, titled The Night Chronicles: Devil: “A group of people trapped in a elevator realize that the devil is among them.” Getting under Airbender‘s 25 won’t be easy, but a movie set entirely inside an elevator sure seems like it should give him a fair shot! (All right, he’s only writing this one, not directing it, so I guess it won’t count towards his amazing Metacritic run. Still. An elevator.)