This is Shyamalan's first movie in which he has played a significant role as one of the supporting actors. The film received a negative response from critics; with criticism revolving around the film's lack of consistency, characterization, and egotistical moves (Shyamalan casting himself as a messianic writer and the film critic as a one dimensional jerk), along with it being considered a comedy and not a drama. The film was also a financial disappointment grossing merely $72 million against a $70 million production budget.
One evening, Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), who became the superintendent of a Philadelphia apartment complex after his family was murdered, discovers Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), a naiad-like character (called a Narf) from the Blue World, in his building's pool, immediately rescuing her from an attack by a "Scrunt", a grass-covered wolf-like creature that lies flat.
Story is here to find the Author, a specific writer whose book will better humanity's future. After questioning residents Farber (Bob Balaban), Bell (Mary Beth Hurt), Dury (Jeffrey Wright), and five nameless smokers, Brown discovers the author, Vick Ran (M. Night Shyamalan), who is writing The Cookbook, containing views and ideas so significant they will inspire a future President, a great Midwestern orator, to greatly change the world for the better. Vick meeting Story eliminates his fear and sharpens his inner voice, but he learns he will be assassinated because of the controversial nature of his ideas.
The Tartutic, an invincible simian trio that serve as the Blue World's peacekeepers, have forbidden Story from being attacked while returning home. The Scrunt nonetheless does just that because Story is destined to be a great leader as well. To return safely, she will now need the help of a Symbolist, a Guardian, a Guild and a Healer. Story believes Heep to be her Guardian; Heep asks Farber, a West Coast émigré turned film critic, to help him figure out the others' identities. Working off movie tropes, Farber misadvises Heep, leading him to a flawed conclusion that Dury is the Symbolist, the smokers are the Guild, and Bell is the Healer.
Heep asks Story how to "practice" for the confrontation but nearly dies in the process, convincing him he's not the Guardian. The next night, Farber's bad advice leads to their plan's immediate failure. In the confusion, Farber is killed and Story is mortally wounded by the Scrunt. Dury suddenly realizes his son Joey (Noah Gray-Cabey) is the Symbolist. Interpreting the information on cereal boxes, Joey deduces the true Guild is composed of seven sisters, that two new men must be present, and that the Healer is male, soon revealed to be Heep. He goes about healing Story by "bringing forth [his] energy" (his repressed grief). Story's departure starts again, but the Scrunt attacks; it is stopped by the gaze of Reggie (Freddy Rodríguez), a lopsidedly muscled tenant who is the true Guardian. Reggie's gaze, capable of compelling the Scrunt to slowly retreat, is distracted by the cry of the Great Eatlon, a giant eagle who will ferry Story home. When Reggie breaks eye contact, the Scrunt leaps, but the Tartutic arrive and drag it away. Heep thanks Story for saving his life as she hugs him goodbye. The Great Eatlon lands, enfolds Story in one of its wings, and takes flight. The film ends as each tenant watches as she is ferried into the storm.
The film was originally planned to be produced by Touchstone Pictures—just as Shyamalan's previous four films were released by Walt Disney Studios—but ultimately no deal was reached. Disney executive Nina Jacobson had spoken with Shyamalan about the film's storyline, the idea for which studio chairman Dick Cook didn't understand. Shyamalan was reportedly angry about the response, claiming that Disney "no longer valued individualism". Despite the fact that Disney was willing to completely fund the film regardless, Shyamalan rejected their offer and eventually presented the project to Warner Bros., who agreed to finance the film. The events that led to the making of the film were featured in a book, The Man Who Heard Voices, by Michael Bamberger.
Shyamalan established a production facility at the Jacobson Logistics warehouse site in nearby Levittown, Pennsylvania, where sets for the apartment complex and a half-city block of row houses were built. Occasional footage was shot inside the overflow area of the warehouse. Most of the filming was completed after work hours.
Having already formulated ideas for the score the previous year, James Newton Howard wrote it during the early part of 2006, and the orchestral score was recorded over a period of four days in May by the 91-piece Hollywood Studio Symphony.
The soundtrack was composed by James Newton Howard. The last four tracks are non-soundtrack Bob Dylan covers from singer/songwriter Amanda Ghost, Indie rock band A Whisper in the Noise, and rock 'n' roll revivalists Silvertide. Howard won the IFMCA Award for Best Film Score for Lady in the Water in 2006, as well as the awards for Best Original Score for a Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film, and Best Single Cue of 2006 for "The Great Eatlon"
- "The Party"
- "Ripples in the Pool"
- "The Blue World"
- "Giving the Kii"
- "Walkie Talkie"
- "Cereal Boxes"
- "Officer Jimbo"
- "The Healing"
- "The Great Eatlon"
- "End Titles"
- "The Times They Are A-Changin'" – A Whisper in the Noise
- "Every Grain of Sand" - Amanda Ghost
- "It Ain't Me Babe" – Silvertide
- "Maggie's Farm" – Silvertide
In its opening weekend (July 21–23, 2006), the film grossed a total of $18.2 million, placing third in the United States box office results for that weekend. It was Shyamalan's lowest opening for any of his five major films. As a result of the negative reviews and poor word-of-mouth, its second week fell sharply to $7.1 million, pushing its total to only $32.2 million. Its third weekend was no better, falling another 62.1% to $2.7 million. As of 2011, its total was $42.285 million. In addition, the film made only $30.5 million in the foreign box office, pulling its tally to approximately $72.785 million internationally.
Lady in the Water received negative reviews around the time of its release, having an overall rating of 24% on the review conglomerate Rotten Tomatoes. At Metacritic the film scored a 36, based on 36 reviews. Of Shyamalan's role in the film, Mark Kermode said, "It's like someone pouring petrol over their heads and setting fire to themselves."
Variety magazine wrote a scathing advance review that appeared on July 16, 2006. Common complaints about the film were that little effort was put into getting the viewer to believe in the world, that few moments of the film could be taken seriously, and that Shyamalan was using the film as a form of self-indulgence; instead of having a minor cameo, as in most of his films, Shyamalan cast himself as a visionary whose writing changes the world, and another character included a film critic — portrayed by actor Bob Balaban as arrogant, self-assured, and passive — who comes to a violent end. Many reviewers attacked this perceived self-indulgence: Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote of the story, "Apparently those who live in the water now roam the earth trying to make us listen, though initially it’s rather foggy as to what precisely we are supposed to hear —the crash of the waves, the songs of the sirens, the voice of God —until we realize that of course we're meant to cup our ear to an even higher power: Mr. Shyamalan."
Frank Lovece of Film Journal International said, "Fans of actor Paul Giamatti or of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan may get something out of Lady in the Water, a fractured fairy tale about a water nymph who comes to a Philadelphia apartment house to deliver an important message. Anyone else is likely to be perplexed by the muddled mythmaking or actively astonished at the self-indulgent ego of a writer-director-producer who casts himself in the role of a visionary writer whose martyrdom will change the world."
Michael Medved gave Lady in the Water one and a half stars (out of four) calling it, "...a full-out, flamboyant cinematic disaster, a work of nearly unparalleled arrogance and vapidity", adding, "...Lady in the Water is all wet..."
Also panned was the fact that the film was based on a bedtime story Shyamalan told to his children; Pete Vonder Haar of Film Threat commented: "If Shyamalan is going to use his kids as a focus group for future projects, maybe he should start making movies for Nickelodeon already and stop wasting our time." Coincidentally, Shyamalan went on to direct a film adaptation of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender television series, which also received overwhelmingly negative reviews.
CNN's Tom Charity, among others, has called Lady in the Water the worst film of 2006. It was listed by Variety as one of the ten "biggest (financial) losers" of 2006. Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe wrote that though the film is "built on too much ponderous self-regard...[t]here is a good chunk of Lady in the Water that is simply too well made and affectingly acted to dismiss as a mere exercise in arrogance."
An internet reviewer named the Nostalgia Critic called this film "The funniest Shyamalan film ever" due to the ridiculous names (such as Story, Narf – a verbal tic that Pinky from Pinky and the Brain has – and Scrunt, which he says are names a drunk mother would come up with while thinking of a half assed bedtime story), and many bizarre scenes in the movie that caused him to laugh, particularly the scene where Heep and Story are suddenly screaming where she points at a pool while the Scrunt (which he calls a Chia Pet on steroids) chases after them, and a scene where Joey is interpreting the future with cereal boxes, which sends him into a laughing fit and thinks he'll follow it up by interpreting the second coming of Jesus with a spice rack.
Conversely, the film was ranked 6th in the influential film magazine Cahiers du cinéma's top ten films of 2006, above films such as Terrence Malick's The New World.
The film was released simultaneously on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray by Warner Home Video on December 19, 2006. Lady in The Water is the only M. Night Shyamalan film that was ever released on HD DVD.Children's book
Shyamalan, who credits the development of the movie to a bedtime story he told his children about what happens in their pool at night, wrote the 72-page children's book Lady in the Water: A Bedtime Story (Little, Brown, New York, ISBN 0-316-01734-5) to coincide with the movie. The book's illustrations were made by Crash McCreery. It was released on the same day as the film, on July 21, 2006.
The book describes the narf, scrunt, Tartutic, and Eatlon, in detail, their roles are identical to those in the film. The book includes details not present in the film and omits others: additional details include the description of the sensations experienced by a vessel upon its awakening and the suggestion that a narf's presence activates the lawn sprinklers. The roles of Madame Narf, Healer, Symbolist, Guild, and Guardian are only suggested and not stated openly.The Man Who Heard Voices
The Man Who Heard Voices (Gotham Books, New York, ISBN 1-59240-213-5), by Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger, recounting the making of the film, was released July 20, 2006.