I remember seeing my first crop circle on CNN back in the 1980’s. I don’t remember the broadcasters making too much of a big deal about them. They were not the top story you would think they would have been- but the story was more light hearted and left to the end of the half- hour. That didn’t seem to be appropriate, though. Somehow, cable news and other media outlets didn’t know what to do with the crop circle phenomenon. Having these entities just “show up” should have been a bigger story. Even back then I thought that the crop circles were signs that we were on the brink of a mystical if not new biblical era. And the notion that we were living in a time of sorcery, either angelic, demonic or alien caused some fear and subtle mass hysteria and wonder all at the same time.
For those of you who were
around at the time and can remember, and for those who were not but
can imagine, there was a brief period where the circles were a major
subject and topic of discussion about meaning. They were an object
of obsession for cultist, religious fanatics and others who thought
the crop circles were signs from above. These symbols that could only
be clearly seen from the air were thought to be messages, encrypted
code from either God, extraterrestrials or some other higher power.
Even recently, I read in a “holistic” magazine the link between crop
circles and the beaching of porpoises… as if the crop circles were
warnings from a more superior force. Even in the light of proof that
many of these crop circles are hoaxes, there are many unanswered questions
about those proven not to be pranks.
The unsolved mystery of
the true nature of crop circles is the Lost Ark, Shankara Stones and
the Holy Grail of our time. Yet somehow, many theories about the crop
circles exclude God, as if he wouldn’t try and communicate with us
in this manner. Nobody understands why God would do something like
that or why he would choose that way to get our attention. Somehow,
when God flags someone down, it’s been anything from a burning bush,
to sending Gabriel down with a giant trumpet to a thundering voice
calling someone out by name. I don’t know what would be the modern
equivalent to that would be. Perhaps the phone ringing and you answer
to hear the voice of George Burns: “Hey, It’s your Ol’ Granddad, Jahova…
How’s it been? Hey… Jesus and I were here and wondering if you could
do us a favor and get your few billion brothers and sisters together
and clean up your acts. Satan is down in the stables of hell and he’s
saddling up the four ponies…”. If the crop circles are messages from God, who knows that they
aren’t some hidden message tapping into our subconscious.
The other side of the
coin might be these are demonic and doing the same to our psyche.
Signs is many things, a slice of life movie, about a somewhat typical family
struggling with the death of the mother/wife while experiencing what
could be the end of history. Signs is also about this same family’s struggles as they are overwhelmed
by nude extraterrestrial conquistadors bent on capturing to either
enslave or eat unsuspecting earthlings. Finally, and most importantly,
it’s about a minister who had given up on his faith due to personal
tragedy and who wins his faith back once and for all by facing this
As the movie opens, the
setting is on a small corn farm in Pennsylvania.... Mel Gibson plays
Graham Hess, a former Minister who has lost his faith after the loss
of his wife in a fateful truck crash. One morning he’s unable to hear
his daughter or his asthmatic son. All he can hear are his two dogs barking madly. After running
through the cornfield, he and his much younger brother, Merrill (Joaquin
Phoenix), find the kids
in the midst of the latest crop circle. They quickly learn from the television news the circles are
Not much of a big deal,
really… lets just watch the news and try and get on with our lives…
The boy Morgan (Rory Culkin) is having mild asthmatic attacks as a
result of his fear, and Bo (Abigail Breslin) insists that all the
water tastes stale or contaminated. Graham and Merrill try to cope with what they think are teenage
pranksters messing around the barn. Part of the fun yet frightening
aspects of the movie is how the viewer is able to see just enough
behind the curtain of this magic and see glimmers of what is really
In the quintessential
fashion of all “B movies”, everyone steps into their stereotypical
rolls: the son digging
for answers in the strangest places, the young girl trying to be tough
but vulnerable and looking for protection, the uncle/younger brother
who is in total denial that there is anything really wrong while the
father does his darndest to be the rock. They’re all frightened. Who wouldn’t be. Bright
lights in the sky over every major city in the world and sightings
of creatures is scary enough. Nobody knows how this is going to end,
either playing a few notes of a catchy tune with the folks from about
the galaxy in a starship lit up like a Christmas tree like Close
Encounters, or yelling and screaming like Corporal Gorman: “Game
Over, Man… Game over” while Ripley is arming herself against the drooling
grown-up chest busters in James Cameron’s Aliens.
Either way…life isn’t going to be the same ever again.
There are heavy themes
in this movie that are neither glossed over the way other Pop Corn
movies do, nor are they heavy handed the way “Oscar contenders” try
to do. Instead, it’s casual the way normal people do while watching
the television and having a few cans of soda. What is the nature of
faith, what is the nature of God and to what extent are we alone are
some of the issues touched upon similar to the way it was handled
in EARLIER Spielberg films.
In a way I wish more movies
about aliens would handle the conflicting notions of God versus extraterrestrial.
Are we truly alone, or is there Someone or something looking out after
us. Might life really be just a cosmic crapshoot and we are all alone
in this universal Titanic where we’re colliding with an onslaught
of ubiquitous icebergs and it’s everyone for himself? Signs weaves these questions into the plot in a thoughtful laid back way
that would almost garner an Academy Award if they weren’t so uptight.
There are so many little events that help build the tension and the plot while we are able to get to know this family as if they would be us or our neighbors. It’s the kind of directing craftsmanship that we’re familiar with in Mr. Spielberg's films and his influences are flawlessly displayed here in Signs. You jump out of your chair from some of the spooky events, not so much because you’re frightened for yourself but because you’re emotionally invested in the characters. This movie sucked the family and me in and like all good Block-Busters do, I was drawn into the action. In Signs, M. Night Shyamalan picks up the mantle of making pure Pop Corn movies handed down by Steven Spielberg who - as we all know by now - has moved on to make more serious movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. In the event that there is a script co-written by M. Night Shyamalan still floating around for the next Indiana Jones movie… I hope it gets made before it’s too late. Signs proves he has the talent to get it done.