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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"If they make it to Mexico, your child is lost."
DVD ReviewThe Oscar jinx is well documented, and although director Ron Howard was deep into pre-production on The Missing when he won his Best Director award for A Beautiful Mind, the curse still applies. By no means a bad film (but far from a good one), The Missing suffers from the pitfalls industry validation and that shiny gold statuette inevitably bring. In other words, with the Oscar on his mantle, Howard seems to be taking himself and his art too seriously, actively courting (and expecting) greatness instead of methodically plying his trade. And this slow-paced, precious, and emotionally distant western is the result.
Known for such surefire crowd-pleasers as Cocoon, Parenthood, Apollo 13, and, of course, A Beautiful Mind, Howard shifts gears with The Missing, shooting a rough, outdoorsy film brimming with grim, unpleasant themes. Yet his self-conscious style keeps the audience on the movie's periphery instead of drawing us into its core. Simply said, we watch The Missing rather than experience it, and considering the plot focuses on a mother's desperate search for her teenage daughter, who is brutally abducted by a phantom Native American savage in 1885 New Mexico, achieving such utter emotional detachment is a dubious honor indeed.
Sure, the strength and iron will of the movie's pioneer characters prohibit them from wearing their hearts on their sleeves, but Howard allows his actors to underplay to an almost deadpan degree. He so intensely constricts the marvelous Cate Blanchett and crusty Tommy Lee Jones that we absorb only a fraction of their palpable magnetism. As the cartoon character Debbie Thornberry often quips in her patented teen twang, "That is so wrong."
Blanchett portrays Maggie Gilkeson, a hard-working single mother who runs a modest farm and acts as a healer for her pioneer and Native American neighbors. Her teenage daughter Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) harbors grandiose dreams of a more sophisticated, pampered life, and Lily's haughty, selfish attitude grates on her mother's frazzled nerves. Meanwhile, Maggie's estranged father, Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), who abandoned his family when Maggie was a young girl and has spent the past 20 years immersing himself in the culture of Apache Indians, unexpectedly arrives at the farm. He hopes to reconcile with his daughter, but the bitter Maggie rebuffs him.
Yet when Lily is kidnapped while on a cattle branding expedition, Maggie is forced to enlist her father to help rescue Lily from the madman who seeks to sell her into Mexican slavery. Only Jones can navigate the treacherous Indian country and infiltrate its network in order to find the missing Lily before her caravan crosses the border. Maggie's younger daughter Dot (Jenna Boyd) refuses to be left behind, so the three set out on a dangerous, uncertain mission.
Howard deserves respect for continuing to branch out into different genres, but his decision to re-imagine John Ford's iconic The Searchers seems downright foolish. The Missing is far from strong enough to withstand the inevitable comparisons, and our familiarity with the plot lessens its suspense. Of course, by transforming the gender of the main character, Howard adds a clever wrinkle to the well-known tale that initially piques our interest. It's refreshing to see a gutsy, independent woman anchor a western, but far too soon the novelty fades. And while the New Mexico landscape offers some stunning vistas, the backdrop can't compete with Ford's beloved (and breathtaking) Monument Valley.
The Missing ultimately fails due to its overblown sense of its own importance. A nagging bravado pervades the film—both in style and content—that is both unwarranted and annoying. Instead of producing a taut, economical chase film, Howard succumbs to every director's inner demon—the temptation to create an epic. Apparently, he didn't fully learn the lessons of his previous (and disastrous) brush with historical fiction, the excruciating frontier saga Far and Away, because he repeats his mistakes. But Far and Away is largely a romance, whereas The Missing is a rugged western that requires an atmosphere of urgency and fear to fully succeed. Dragging out and slowing down the action may lend The Missing the stuffy air of prestige, but it sucks the life out of the film as quickly and efficiently as a town square hanging.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: As one would expect from such a recent release, print quality is exceptional, with no blemishes or defects marring the widescreen anamorphic transfer. Howard adopts a gritty look, and the image possesses a corresponding coarseness that compliments the subject matter but cheats the beautiful western scenery. Color seems intentionally muted, but hues are vivid enough, and contrast in daylight scenes is quite good. Still, this transfer lacks the vibrancy and visual texture an outdoor film deserves.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track is nothing special either, with only occasional surround activity augmenting the action. Guns shots possess plenty of pop, and spotty ambient effects supply welcome atmosphere, but more envelopment would help immerse the viewer in the film. Dialogue remains easy to understand throughout and James Horner's score comes through with depth and presence. More sonic action, however, would perk up the film and make the story more immediate.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
10 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hellboy, Spider-Man 2, 13 Going On 30, Resident Evil 2, Something's Gotta Give, Big Fish, The Statement, Panic Room, The Devil's Backbone, The Mothman Prophecies
1 TV Spots/Teasers
11 Deleted Scenes
3 Alternate Endings
Packaging: Amaray Double
Layers Switch: 01h:10m:47s
Eleven deleted scenes kick off the supplements, all lushly presented in anamorphic widescreen. The excisions are largely trivial, with most fleshing out character traits or more fully developing the pre-abduction friction between Lily and her mother. A three-minute compilation of outtakes follows, with misfiring (or more accurately, non-firing) guns provoking most of the laughter and disruption. Considering the sober nature of the movie, it's fun to see the actors goofing around and enjoying themselves. Also on the disc are three alternate endings, although they're basically variations on the final version. One ending includes additional footage, another cuts dialogue, and a third offers a slightly more ambiguous conclusion.
A whopping 11 behind-the-scenes featurettes provide a comprehensive look at the production's genesis and execution, as well as extensive on-set footage. The first, The Last Ride: The Story of The Missing, focuses on Ron Howard and how he became attracted to the project. He discusses how the story's three strong female characters initially intrigued him, as well as the plot's aversion to any rigid formulas. "It's a story of acceptance without total, unconditional forgiveness, and that's very relatable," Howard says. The five-and-a-half-minute piece also includes interviews with producer Brian Grazer and screenwriter Ken Kaufman, and takes the production up through its developmental stages.
The second (and longest) featurette is really a documentary, and an interesting, entertaining one at that. Running just under 30 minutes, New Frontiers: Making The Missing covers all aspects of filming, including locations, cinematography, costumes, and stunts. Howard likens directing a movie to "leading an expedition," and although he thrives on the responsibility and control, he also enjoys collaborating. "Filmmaking is thrilling," he says, "tiring, frustrating, always humbling, but ultimately I find it really exhilarating." He admires Cate Blanchett and the way she "maximizes every moment"—sentiments echoed by Tommy Lee Jones, who calls her "smart, extremely intelligent, and funny as hell." Blanchett, in turn, appreciates her non-sexual chemistry with Jones, and discusses her intensive horseback riding training that began a month prior to shooting. Producer Grazer addresses the film's violence and how it "must be extreme to have impact," and screenwriter Kaufman analyzes the various endings the production team considered. Actors Aaron Eckhart, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, and Clint Howard (Ron's brother) also chime in with their thoughts about the film and their experiences making it.
The Modern Western Score chronicles the evolution of James Horner's music for the film. The five-minute featurette includes interviews with the composer and director Howard, who describes the scoring process as a "terrifying phase" in the movie's production. Horner, who has supplied music for seven Howard films, praises the director for giving him "that kind of freedom to be part of the filmmaking team, as opposed to just coming in with a pencil and writing a theme and leaving." Horner also discusses working with Native American musicians and instruments, and the challenges of merging them with a western score and orchestra.
Casting The Missing gives Howard the opportunity to praise his actors, which he does effusively in this 15-minute featurette. The director states his "number one asset on a film is a good actor (who's) well cast," then goes on to term Blanchett "utterly unpretentious and thoroughly prepared" and Evan Rachel Wood "mature beyond her years in the best sense of that phrase." We also learn that a simple phone call from New Mexico resident Val Kilmer resulted in a substantive cameo for the actor, and that Tommy Lee Jones' native Southwest background made him a consultant of sorts on the set. Apache Language School is a fascinating five-and-a-half-minute look at a language on the verge of extinction, and the painstaking attempts by the actors to accurately speak it in the film. Two Native American tutors conducted a pre-production linguistics school and also worked with the actors during filming to ensure proper pronunciation and inflection.
The section entitled Ron Howard On... offers the director a chance to comment on various aspects of the production, as well as his own personal experiences as a fledgling filmmaker. Home Movies provides a glimpse of three silent, 8mm films—all of which possess a western flavor—Howard made while still a teen. The director reminisces about his amateur experiences in a wry, engaging manner, and all three films (the three-minute The Deed of Daring-Do, the three-minute Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death, and the eight-minute Old Paint) can be viewed in their entirety as well. The shorts prominently feature Howard's brother Clint, his father Rance (who also enjoys a cameo in The Missing), and future wife Cheryl. Howard also talks about working with John Wayne on The Duke's final film, The Shootist (1976), and discusses the editing and filmmaking processes, his personal affection for westerns, and the cinematic conventions of westerns in this breezy package of six featurettes.
Finally, three photo galleries, focusing on the cast, the production, and the locations of The Missing, present a total of 150 color stills, including portraits, landscapes, candids, and behind-the-scenes snapshots.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsRon Howard proves the Oscar jinx is alive and well with this creaky, agonizingly slow Searchers wannabe. The Missing may not be his Heaven's Gate and it surely isn't Howard's end, but it exhibits little of the flair and spirit that make many of the director's earlier works so fulfilling. Fans of the film (and of Howard) will appreciate Columbia's deluxe two-disc treatment and the wealth of extras, but all others should consider "missing" this misguided, strangely flat western thriller.
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