The Vanishing (1993) Blu-ray Review: So Bad That It Actually Becomes Good

That smudged printing on Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland's résumés can be seen in a much clearer light now.
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Once upon a time, I received a copy of an Italian-made English-language movie that had been dubbed into Italian before somebody who obviously did not learn the King's language as their primary form of verbal communication next created English subtitles translated from the Italian translation. There was also an instance in photoplay history where an adaptation of Shakespeare was produced for German television; the Bard's original work transcribed into the local Germanic tongue, only to wind up dubbed back into English - from the German conversion, nonetheless - for a subsequent (and probably poorly-received) television airing in the United States some time down the road. My point with all of that, in case you haven't caught on yet, is that things often get lost in translation, folks. And that brings me to the the topic at hand: the 1993 American remake of the 1988 Dutch-French flick, The Vanishing.

The early '90s. It was a time when pastels were an acceptable form of fashion, people sported hairstyles that even Kurt Cobain would have shaken his head at in shame over, and nary a movie trailer was produced without the thunderous voice of Don LaFontaine narrating. It was also a time where studio executives really didn't have much going on, to wit they often panicked and would grant the greenlight for not one, not two, but four features starring hip hop duo Kid 'n Play. Remakes of old TV shows and foreign films were also quite popular (something we still encounter, sadly), produced solely to get people back into the cinemas they had previously stormed out of after wasting good money to see an assortment of sorry sequels such as Jaws: The Revenge and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier during the final years of the previous decade.

One such remake was The Vanishing, which was unusual not because it was weird American movie moguls realized the Dutch even had film stock, but more so because they actually hired the same director of the original to helm the remake. Thus, the late George Sluizer beget his career Hollywood - a métier that, sadly, did not even last as long as the acting careers of Kid 'n Play. And the reason for that was attributable to the fact that, though Sluizer surely knew his own work better than anyone else, it simply didn't transcribe well into something America's modern mainstream moviegoers would be able to appreciate. Of course, then again, it might have had someone hired the right kind of screenwriter to adapt the tale. Instead, they brought in the guy who later penned The Beautician and the Beast.

Here, Jeff Bridges, sporting a little more weight in the face than we're used to seeing (thus making him look more like his brother Beau than anyone probably cared to point out to him), stars as a sociopathic family man (it happens) who spends the first part of the movie carefully rehearsing and practicing the act of kidnapping a young woman (and this part of itself is the best part of the movie). When he has finally practiced enough to finally commit the crime, he chooses a young Sandra Bullock as his victim. This, in turn, creates much drama for her boyfriend, Kiefer Sutherland, who then obsessively searches for his lost love over the course of the next three years, ne'er able to uncover so much as a clue as to what happened to her that day. (Sadly, Bridges' abduction also served as a catalyst for further Sandra Bullock-related crimes, such as unwanted, unnecessary sequels to Speed and Miss Congeniality.)

Well, Kiefer ("What, you want me to wear a pastel yellow jacket? OK, sure!") Sutherland eventually starts to move on with his life, especially once a pushy Nancy Travis (who I am fairly certain has ruined every movie she ever appeared in) decides the desperate, despondent, shell of a man she forces to drink dairy products is just what she needs in her life. And her in his. Alas, it's not that easy, and Sutherland continues to search for the answer behind Sandra's disappearance behind Nancy's back, before Jeff Bridges returns to the film - now sporting a heavy, bad Dutch accent for some reason, despite his character being a lifetime native of Seattle - offering our tormented hackeysack carrying protagonist a chance to find out what truly did happen.

And it is here that, after American screenwriter Todd Graff insults his audience with such things like Bullock's character's name being perfect anagram material, that he completely alters the tone of the original movie by giving Nancy "The Kiss of Death" Travis a chance to be a heroine - in a finale that is so positively pulse-pounding that you can practically set your watch to it. Reportedly, Sluizer initial treatment for his original version also sported a happy ending, but decided it wasn't going to work. In this case, he was approached to make the film only if it featured a happy ending because American viewers wouldn't appreciate a bleaker conclusion. Ironically, it was that new ending he was instructed to put in that really caused his audience to pan the film.

Well, that and one really bad accent, a terrible hairstyle or two (Bridges shared the same stylist as River Phoenix, by the look of things) a few bland performances, uninspired paint-by-numbers writing, nightmarishly awful continuity, a frequently inappropriate music score by Jerry Goldsmith (who apparently, either mistook the film as a comedy or completely saw through the charade of sordid seriousness and started writing accordingly) and the casting of Nancy Travis in general. And still, despite of its many faults, The Vanishing ultimately emerges as being enjoyable - mostly because of said faults. In fact, truth be told, the only thing that would have made the movie funnier would have been if Kid 'n Play appeared in it (sadly, the token black character vacancy is filled by a crazy old lady with an Elvis fetish; thank you, Mr. Graff).

With Sluizer's original work recently released on Blu-ray, it was only fitting for the HD masters of this 1993 laughfest find its way to disc. And the folks at Twilight Time have taken that indubiously unenviable task on forthright, presented the title in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a gorgeous 1080p transfer that is far clearer than any previous release. One need only look at the Fox opening to see this for themselves, and the clarity is present during the rest of the film, whether it be in the constantly shifting bloodstains on Bridges' face and corduroy threads to Mr. Sutherland's pastel yellow jacket. Nighttime scenes and their accompanying black levels are quite strong, and viewers will finally be able to spot the sawdust on Jeff Bridges' shoes that is so pertinent to the already absurd ending. Truly, if you've been considering giving the movie another chance over the years or are an actual fan (hey, people paid to see House Party 3, right?), this release is most assuredly for you.

The feature film is presented with several audio options, highlighted by 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA lossless soundtracks. Purists will no doubt want to stick with the 2.0 version, as it is closer to what was intended for cinemas, while the 5.1 mix is quite nice in its own right. A third audio option presents Jerry Goldsmith's isolated music score in 2.0 DTS-HD MA. English (SDH) subtitles are also available, should Jeff Bridges hilarious weird accent start to fill up the room with increasingly loud giggling. Apart from Julie Kirgo's liner notes, the only other extra included here is the movie's original theatrical trailer, which is interesting inasmuch as it not only includes clips from many deleted scenes and B rolls (I would have loved to see these scenes in their entirely, but chances are they no longer exist, and Fox certainly didn't offer them to Twilight Time if they do), but is narrated in typical '90s fashion by the late Don LaFontaine himself.

Yes, boys and girls, something most assuredly became lost during the translation here. But in the end, that actually works in the favor of the American remake of The Vanishing. It's bad, sure, but it's quite good because of how unintentionally funny it is. As such, I actually recommend it, but be sure and act fast, since The Vanishing (1993) is limited to a pressing of only 3,000 copies from Twilight Time, available exclusively from Screen Archives while supplies last.

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