Mel Gibson returns with UFO flick ‘Signs’

David Scales - Staff Writer

If you have ever been a UFO buff or a digressed trekkie, there is always that inevitable conversation about all those funny little crop circles in the midwestern cornfields.
These strange symbols caught the attention of the whole world when they were first discovered. Now the circles are more clearly seen in the new sci-fi blockbuster “Signs.” The film tells a story of the mysterious crop circles in a way that breaks from the traditional roles.
Mel Gibson returns to the screen as Graham Hess, a preacher who has been dealt a devastating loss when his wife is killed in a car accident. Joaquin Phoenix plays the helpful brother who has a talent for baseball, but did not make the final cut because of rule-breaking rebelliousness.
Cherry Jones, famous for her roles in “Erin Brokovich” and “Cradle Will Rock,” plays supportive sheriff Caroline Paski. She was, by a quirk of fate, the same one to deliver the bad news to Gibson’s character about the death of his wife.
Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin play the parts of Gibson’s children, which he raised since their mother passed away.
Director M. Night Shayamalan has some very interesting features in this film since recent films “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable,” making it one of the better UFO films.
First, this is not the kind of film that is loaded with all that wonderful CGI eye candy that most space movies are using far too liberally. This one actually relies on the story to carry the audience from one scene to the next.
There are not many details about the aliens. The facts and little snippets of information that come from the brain of Culkin’s character, who seems to be a little too smart to be believable, are basically accurate but vague enough to keep the audience guessing.
This was a great move by Shayamalan, because it adds to the air of mystery and helps raise the level of threat when the entire world is glued to their TV’s watching those little rotating lights in the sky and betting where the next circles will appear.
The best part of this film is that no one really gets a good look at the aliens. There is a basic shape and a few barred teeth, but that is all. This is very cool, because the few special effects that are included at the climax genuinely pull off that dormant air of danger that the audience thought went away.
It is good that Mel Gibson signed on to this project, because only he could bring the character to life the way it should, to make the story work. The lost-his-faith preacher shtick is getting very old, but Gibson prevails by keeping the kids away from the dreaded anal probes.
Its a relief this is not another blow-the-aliens-into-little-pieces-of-green-carnage by elite marines or lanky wing nuts like in “Independence Day” and the “Aliens” series. “Signs” actually grabs you and holds you throughout the film.
The suspense is not exactly gradual, but precise and very well timed. The best special effects are those lurking in the imagination of the audience. Shayamalan does his best with this movie because of its believability and well-planned vagueness. Before you watch it, be sure to buy plenty of aluminum foil.