And the bug-eyed monsters? Are green, yes…
Signs tries to have a bob each way on too many horses in the race for it to turn up a net winner. The premise is simple, and schlock-ish enough: Mysterious corn circles appear all over the world, explicable by none but the proverbial crazed Doctor Hans Zarkov, formerly of NASA, whose best shot is that a greater intelligence from another world is here to say a big hello to planet earth. Maybe to make friends. Maybe to invade. Maybe to take humans for food. They’re clever than us, so who knows?
So far, so ID4. The cinematic hat-tipping doesn’t stop there, though: Independence Day begets Close Encounters of the Third Kind, begets ET, begets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, begets (creepily and effectively) The Birds.
But all this thriller/Sci Fi schtick is a ruse: the film actually ruminates on a few topics more cerebral than that, and to a large extent the thriller element just gets in the way.
For example: it doesn’t become clear till fairly late in the piece what is causing the crop circles. Up to that point, Mel Gibson and family spend considerable energy chasing rustling corn cobs around their back yard. Despite how it sounds, this is eerie, and makes a point (of which something has been made in the press notices on this film) about the new American Sense Of Unease. In the same way that Invasion of the Body Snatchers commented on the McCarthyist programme in the 1950s, there is good mileage to be made in the observation that, without much prompting, fully grown men will cack their pants when the wind blows on the plants over their back fence. But the force of that point evaporates the moment a rubbery green man pops out of the foliage and legs it, Benny Hill style, past the back porch and down the lane.
The “Signs”, it turns out, aren’t really the crop circles at all, and this is the other major bone I have to pick with this film. This is a simple matter of preference, and I don’t mark the film down on it at all, but simply mention for the record that I think it’s bogus: The film has, from the very start, a pretty obvious metaphysical/religious angle (Gibson plays an ex-priest who has lost the faith) and, while it’s finally addressed late in the film, the issue continually dangles throughout, hovering just so as you know it’s there, only you don’t know which side of the fence the film will come down on. It’s like watching a golfer take a really long birdie putt. Well, and without giving the game away, it’s firmly struck, the ball rolls true, and … in the last yard it breaks violently the wrong way and careers down a very fast green and into a bunker.
Bogey. Enough said.