Blu-ray Review: Argo (The Declassified Extended Edition)

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Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2012, Argo has been reissued by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as a special double-disc Blu-ray edition. Dubbed the “Declassified Extended Edition,” probably the main attraction is the longer cut of the film, which adds nine minutes to the original 120-minute running time (the theatrical cut is included as well). William Goldenberg won an Oscar for editing Argo, so re-cutting it is certainly a risky proposition. While the film isn’t hurt by the extra material, it’s hard to argue that any improvement has been made to an already perfectly entertaining experience.

Revisiting Argo, which was first released on Blu-ray in February 2013, makes it even clearer that the bit of formerly-classified history upon which the film is based really plays out like a novelty. When the Shah of Iran was given U.S. asylum by the Carter administration in 1980, the U.S. embassy in Tehran was attacked by Iranian revolutionaries. While the majority of the embassy’s employees were taken hostage, six managed to sneak out and were secretly sheltered by the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor. We’re presented with a montage and voiceover at the film’s outset, cramming decades of background history regarding U.S.-Iran relations into a few minutes. Don’t worry if you’re not a history buff, the thrust of the story involves the attempts to get the six escapees safely out of Iran.

Argo extended display (380x200).jpgThat’s where director-producer-star Ben Affleck enters as CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez. He concocts a barely plausible scenario in which the six escapees will pose as a film crew scouting locations for an exotic sci-fi flick to be shot in Iran. They’re to be outfitted with detailed cover identities. Everything will be verifiable via an entirely bogus production team established by the CIA in Hollywood. A suitable script, titled Argo, is optioned and a real producer, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), is hired. Everything about the phony production has to be look completely authentic, as the lives of the six embassy employees are at stake.

Argo is basically a political thriller laced with biting Hollywood satire. While it’s an engrossing, well-acted, and occasionally very funny film, it has a glaring weak spot. As written, Mendez isn’t much of a character. He’s the hero, of course, the man-with-a-plan who remains stalwart and determined in the face of adversity. But at his core he’s just a guy doing his job. There’s nothing compelling about him. It doesn’t help that the six escaped embassy workers aren’t more than loosely-sketched characters at best. The extended cut does throw in some extra material about the strain Mendez’s job puts on his family life.

Argo ambassadors house (380x157).jpgThe story itself is a great yarn, something so out-of-left-field and unlikely that it’s hard to believe it actually happened. For better or worse, screenwriter Chris Terrio (who also won an Oscar for his work here) embellishes the climactic getaway. It makes sense, considering the outcome is more or less a foregone conclusion and a matter of public record. Whether or not tension (or any other dramatic element, for that matter) should be manufactured for the sake of telling a “true” story is endlessly debatable. Affleck is a skilled enough director to make it work, but these elements do underline the ultimately superficial nature of the story he’s telling.

Argo looked and sounded great on its original Blu-ray and nothing has changed with Warner Bros.’ reissue. The “new” material blends seamlessly with the original theatrical cut. The considerable digital effects work is totally invisible amidst the fine-grain 35mm cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. The transfer accurately conveys the film’s somewhat retro look, which includes some 8mm and 16mm footage. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is quite active in all channels, especially during crowd scenes such as the time Mendez takes the escapees out to an open market. As with the transfer, the newly-added scenes present no noticeable audio differences.

Argo group outside (380x158).jpgNew video-based supplements for the “Declassified Edition” are found on the second Blu-ray disc in the package. There are about an hour of featurettes, highlighted by “Ben Affleck’s Balancing Act” (16 minutes) and “Tony Mendez on Tony Mendez” (11 minutes). The former focuses on Affleck’s highly ambitious multi-tasking, while the latter is self-explanatory. We also get “Argo Declassified” (12 minutes), which expands on what was already available in the initial round of supplements, “A Discussion with the Cast of Argo” (10 minutes) and “The Istanbul Journey” (9 minutes), detailing the film’s overseas shoot. All of the original Blu-ray’s supplements have been carried over.

Argo Affleck behind camera (380x254).jpgThere are some neat print-based supplements in the package as well, found within the sturdy slipcover box that holds everything (the only weird quirk in the design is an annoying strip of Styrofoam that sits above the Blu-ray case to keep it in place). There’s a mini hardcover book with lots of photos, actor profiles, and other information. Additional materials are found in a “confidential” envelope, hold closed by a bit of Velcro. I liked the laminated replica of Tony Mendez’s (or rather, Ben Affleck as Mendez) CIA staff badge. There’s also a folded mini one-sheet for the never-produced film Argo and a map outlining key locations from the film.

Major fans of Argo will probably find the “Declassified Edition” worth the upgrade. It’s certainly a great choice for those who don’t already have the previous edition in their collection. Again, I don’t think the extended cut makes Argo any better than it already was, but this deluxe package is well produced and comprehensive.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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