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The Vanishing (1993): The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

The Vanishing (1993) movie poster The Vanishing

Theatrical Release: February 5, 1993 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: George Sluizer / Writers: Tim Krabbé (novel The Golden Egg), Todd Graff (screenplay)

Cast: Jeff Bridges (Barney Cousins), Kiefer Sutherland (Jeff Harriman), Nancy Travis (Rita Baker), Sandra Bullock (Diane Shaver), Park Overall (Lynn), Maggie Linderman (Denise Cousins), Lisa Eichhorn (Helene Cousins), George Hearn (Arthur Bernard), Lynn Hamilton (Miss Carmichael), Garrett Bennett (Cop at Gas Station)

Buy The Vanishing (1993) on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

Recently deceased Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer had an interesting career that spanned the globe. Sluizer made around a dozen features nomadically, rarely shooting in the same country back to back.
His filmography begins with nature documentaries, ends with the film that River Phoenix was making when he died (it was finally completed in 2012), and includes a Rob Schneider comedy on which Schneider took over as director. Unquestionably, Sluizer is best known for the 1988 Dutch thriller The Vanishing (Spoorloos) and the 1993 American thriller The Vanishing, his Hollywood self-remake.

The original The Vanishing is highly regarded and proudly belongs to The Criterion Collection, which recently released it to Blu-ray Disc (and we reviewed). The American remake is less esteemed, having fizzled at the box office and drawn middling reviews. It recently made its own Blu-ray debut, close to its European counterpart, in a 3,000-copy disc from Twilight Time, who licensed it from 20th Century Fox's largely-neglected catalog.

This remake stars lifelong actor and recent Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges as Barney Cousins, an eccentric Seattle resident whom in the film's opening is practicing his abduction technique, monitoring his pulse, and testing his chloroform's effectiveness. More alien than Starman, Barney has a strange hairdo for any era and speaks with an inconsistent, otherworldly accent that only occasionally sounds Eastern European. He has a wife (Lisa Eichhorn) and a 13-year-old daughter (Maggie Linderman), both of whom suspect he has been meeting a mistress at the remote country cabin he has been fixing up. They're wrong; this chemistry professor remains faithful to his wife, but he's been cooking up something far more diabolical than adultery.

Jeff Bridges is creepy as Barney Cousins in "The Vanishing."

About fifteen minutes in, our attentions turn to Jeff Harriman (Kiefer Sutherland) and Diane Shaver (Sandra Bullock), a young couple taking a vacation down to Mount St. Helens. Their car runs out of gas in a mountain tunnel, sparking an argument between the pair after Jeff leaves her in the dangerously broken-down car. They make up, though, and Diane is about to start driving after a bathroom and refreshment run at a rest stop. Diane doesn't return, though, and we strongly suspect that Barney, who is spotted on the scene wearing a cast and sling, is behind her disappearance.

Jeff doesn't know what we know. Three years later, he is still committed to finding Diane or at least finding out what happened to her. He continues to put up fresh missing notices every month and maintains the cause as his number one priority as his writing career stalls. On one of many sleepless nights, he meets Rita Baker (Nancy Travis), a roadside cafe waitress who serves him milk instead of the coffee he orders and lets him crash on a backroom cot. Rita becomes Jeff's girlfriend and moves in with him, but she continually finds herself having to compete with the ghost of Diane and the all-consuming mystery of her vanishing.

Characters go in and out of focus as the film jumps around. Just as Barney starts to fade from view, he approaches Jeff and promises to give him the answers that have kept him awake for years.

Three years later, Jeff Harriman (Kiefer Sutherland) returns to the Mount St. Helens gas station where his girlfriend disappeared.

Todd Graff, an actor from "The Electric Company" and The Abyss who had just gotten into screenwriting,
remains slavishly faithful to the original film's script which Sluizer adapted with Dutch novelist Tim Krabbé from Krabbé's 1984 novel The Golden Egg (Het Gouden Ei). The Dutch and French language scenes are recreated in English almost verbatim. But then Graff departs from the original dramatically, with Sluizer's implicit blessing. The biggest revision is that this version expands the role of Rita, who is basically a side note in the original. She emerges as the heroine of this piece.

To achieve that by putting Rita on the trail of Barney and Jeff's dark adventure, the remake requires no fewer than four major contrivances. Rita ludicrously gets assists from an answer machine message, a loony yet thankfully nosy Elvis-worshipping neighbor, a far too accommodating DMV office that is about to close, and Barney's own daughter, a Wuthering Heights-reading romantic who instantly, unbelievably places her trust in Rita. All of these lead to an action-packed climax that repeatedly defies logic, as Rita, shortly after dumping Jeff and some drunken pool with a friend, suddenly becomes a finely-tuned detective and a brilliant woman of action.

The original film's bleak, haunting ending is altogether rewritten in less than satisfying fashion, as this remake has the nerve to end on a coffee joke that is sure to roll the eyes of viewers who are familiar with and fond of the predecessor's powerful conclusion.

Like many remakes, Vanishing '93 is not as good as the original. But it's also not as bad as its detractors would claim. It still centers on a chilling scenario and grips you with its mystery. While the revisions are questionable in direct comparison, they kind of are in line with the tastes of American moviegoers of the 1990s. Over twenty years after its release, this remake may remind you of other, better '90s thrillers, which it isn't far from in composition.

The acting here isn't outstanding. While the original film's antagonist, portrayed by the late Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, is certainly strange and loathsome, Bridges' oddball character is someone you can't buy as maintaining a normal job, family, and life. You also don't buy anyone, no matter how gripped by uncertainty, blindly agreeing to a road trip with him. That is certainly the original film's biggest conceit and it may be one it simply pulls off by the cultural and literal distance of a subtitled foreign language.

In an attempt to save the day, Rita Baker (Nancy Travis) questions her crazy Elvis-worshipping neighbor.

Sluizer followed this movie with Dark Blood, which was in production when Phoenix overdosed in Hollywood on Halloween 1993. The US Vanishing's insignificant reception followed by the Phoenix thriller's incompletion essentially ended Sluizer's American film career. He wouldn't again direct on American soil until The Chosen One, the aforementioned direct-to-video Schneider movie, which IMDb interestingly omits from Sluizer's résumé.

Screenwriter Graff hasn't done a great deal of note since this movie. He wrote the soon-forgotten, Razzie-nominated Fran Drescher vehicle The Beautician and the Beast (1997) and both wrote and directed a couple of well-reviewed but scarcely seen teen comedies: the 2003 indie Camp and the 2009 Summit/Walden flop Bandslam. His most recent effort was the unspectacular 2012 Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton music comedy Joyful Noise.

The Vanishing seemed to do no favors for any of its cast either. It is fascinating to see Bullock not get prominent billing a year before Speed. She is, of course, a bigger star now than all three of those who are billed pre-title put together, but she does have less screentime than all of them. Sutherland was about to begin a career lull that wouldn't really subside until "24" made him a TV action star. Not far removed from a Golden Globe nomination for The Fisher King, Bridges was in the middle of a 16-year Oscar nomination drought; the '90s wound up being the only one of five decades he's been steadily acting not to earn him an Academy Award nod. He has clearly recovered.

This movie sort of represented the beginning of the end for Travis' film career. She was flirting with leading lady status and would have that just a few months later on So I Married an Axe Murderer, Mike Myers' highest-regarded non-franchise comedy. But there aren't all that many good roles for women and she had already resigned to television by the time she hit 40, the industry's widely accepted expiration date for most actresses. At least she has remained employed and visible, currently playing Tim Allen's wife on ABC's "Last Man Standing", a sitcom somehow now in its fourth season.

The Vanishing (1993): The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.0 DTS-HD MA (Isolated Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available in Double Feature 2-DVD Set with Chain Reaction ($10.98 SRP; December 5, 2006); Previously released as individual DVD ($14.99 SRP; September 7, 2004)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Vanishing looks really terrific on Blu-ray. This shouldn't be a surprise, as Twilight Time has regularly delighted with its transfers and this is one of the younger films they've released. Still, the 1.85:1 picture quality is so excellent, you kind of wonder if maybe Criterion accidentally remastered this film while they were recently taking care of the Dutch original. There's no room for improvement or complaint with this winning release of a nicely-photographed movie.

Sound is offered in both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD master audio. I listened to the default former and found it more than satisfactory. You really notice the soundtrack's impact in some climactic thunderclaps, but give it some thought and you'll realize the tasteful remix has been effective throughout, with the Jerry Goldsmith score maintaining a frequent, fitting presence.

The Vanishing's theatrical trailer is its only Blu-ray bonus feature. As usual, Twilight Time uses the cover art as its main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only designated special feature is the film's far too revealing theatrical trailer (2:24),
which is presented letterboxed in 1.33:1 standard definition.

Also included in Set Up is an isolated score, a standard feature for Twilight Time alone these days. Offered in 5.0 DTS-HD master audio, it presents Jerry Goldsmith's music as it is used in the film but without dialogue or effects.

As usual, the static menu is simply adapted from the cover art. The Blu-ray doesn't let you set bookmarks, but does resume playback automatically. Twilight Time includes their entire Blu-ray catalog as a navigable gallery.

Finally, inside the case, we find an 8-page booklet, which is nicely illustrated and features yet another well-informed essay from Twilight Time's resident film historian Julie Kirgo. Her article considers the film on its own merits and as a critically-derided remake. The value she finds in the remake's revisions is enough to make you see it in a different light, if not develop a newfound appreciation for its departures and Nancy Travis' performance.

Who hasn't seen this woman? Sandra Bullock plays Diane Shaver, the woman who vanishes in "The Vanishing."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Vanishing appears to be an unremarkable entry in the credits of some accomplished actors and
an inferior remake of an acclaimed European thriller. While I can't dispute either of those points, I can point out that there's enough of interest to the original film's story, which is largely upheld, that keeps this American version pretty engaging, at least until its improbable and easily criticized final act. If you like the original movie or the cast assembled here, then this merits a viewing.

If you intend to give it more than one viewing, then you should be inclined to check out Twilight Time's recent Blu-ray. It offers excellent picture and sound plus some basic but welcome extras, including a persuasive essay booklet.

Buy The Vanishing (1993) on Blu-ray: ScreenArchives.com / Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
The Vanishing (1988) • Primal FearFargoGone GirlBuriedGood PeopleInsomnia
Jeff Bridges: True Grit (2010) • The Big LebowskiThunderbolt and LightfootTron & Tron: Legacy
Jeff Bridges (cont'd): Heaven's GateThe Men Who Stare at GoatsIron ManStick It | Kiefer Sutherland: Pompeii
Sandra Bullock: Fire on the AmazonGravityThe ProposalExtremely Loud & Incredibly ClosePremonition

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Reviewed November 14, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1993 20th Century Fox and 2014 Twilight Time, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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