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

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Could it be a coincidence that Twilight Time has chosen to release the 1993 The Vanishing on Blu-ray the same month that The Criterion Collection is releasing the 1988 original? Probably not—and it happens to be great timing, as the two films make for a thought-provoking double feature. Sadly, what could not have been foreseen was the passing of Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer last month. Being the director of both versions, it’s unfortunate that Sluizer didn’t quite live to see the in-tandem reissuing of his most famous works. The ’88 original is a bone-chiller make all the more unnerving due to its relative plausibility. Can’t blame Suizer for accepting what was probably a good paycheck and the opportunity to work with some big Hollywood names, but the ’93 version devolves into campy silliness.

Vanishing 93 (214x280).jpgThe basic story remains very much the same. A young couple, Jeff (Kiefer Sutherland) and Diane (Sandra Bullock), are vacationing when they stop to fuel up at a gas station. Diane runs into the minimart to grab some beverages and never comes back. As in Sluizer’s original (both films are based on Tim KrabbĂ©’s novel The Golden Egg), we’re told right off the bat who abducted Diane. In fact, in the ’93 version the focus shifts demonstrably toward the sociopathic kidnapper, presumably to maximize the presence of Jeff Bridges. In what is possibly his most howlingly bad performance, Bridges plays family man Barney. In an attempt to prove himself incapable of perpetrating a horrible act (following a heroic rescuing of a drowning victim, met with enthusiastic praise from his daughter), Barney compulsive commits it anyway. Jumping ahead a few years, Jeff is still trying in vain to find Diane.

The biggest change in the remake is the addition of Rita (Nancy Travis), Jeff’s new love. This is a good idea, as Todd Graff’s screenplay explores whether or not a new relationship can thrive in the shadow of the unsolved mystery shrouding Jeff’s previous relationship. Jeff is a writer and his publisher tasks him with penning the story of his and Diane’s ill-fated romance. The decision to keep this preoccupation a closely-guarded secret from Rita turns out to be disastrous. As the couple’s dysfunction thickens, this new dynamic provides a viable emotional path to continue going down. Sadly, Sluizer and Graff cop out by crafting an overheated variation on the ’88 version’s climactic showdown between Jeff and Barney.

As a pulpy, silly thriller, The Vanishing isn’t unwatchable. It’s just depressingly uninspired and conventional. Bridges speaks with an accent of unknown origin and tries as hard as he can (or perhaps not hard enough?) to turn Barney into a memorable nutjob. Sutherland, to his credit, does a respectable job of capturing the same prickly, off-putting quality displayed by Gene Bervoets in the original. Though Bullock was not yet a star, her star quality is nonetheless felt during her limited screen time. As for Nancy Travis, I’ve seen an awful lot of vitriol directed her way, but she delivers a credible performance as the “new woman” who can’t crawl out of the long shadow cast by Diane.

Vanishing 93 1 (380x275).jpgThe Vanishing arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p presentation that is sturdy without being revelatory. Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography looks a bit drab in what looks like a dated, older transfer. Aside from the odd fleck of print debris, the source seems to have been pretty clean. This looks pretty decent, just not remarkable in terms of detail and clarity. The disc offers the choice between two DTS-HD MA mixes: 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo. I screened it in 5.1 and found it to offer a nicely balanced soundscape with a nicely prioritized Jerry Goldsmith score.

A Sluizer audio commentary or interview would’ve been fascinating, but there’s nothing of the sort to be found here. I wish we could hear the late director’s justification for remaking the film in such a manner. As for supplements, we get only the Twilight Time standbys: an isolated score track and film historian Julie Kirgo’s new booklet essay. Kirgo is her usual thoughtful self, though throwing around the A-word (“art”) is a little unwarranted with regards to this particular film. Not only would I stop far short of referring to Sluizer’s remake as “a work of art” (what would that make his original then, holy scripture?), I disagree with her speculation that critics objected to the injection of a female hero. The problem isn’t with the ascension of a badass heroine. It’s with the unconvincing, belabored plot mechanics through which she engages the villain.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition of The Vanishing is limited to 3,000 copies. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information while supplies last.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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