Director George Sluizer's The Vanishing (1993) - the American remake of his own widely hailed Dutch film, Spoorloos (1988) - is an intensely creepy thriller about the mysterious disappearance of a young woman (Sandra Bullock) from an all-too-ordinary roadside service area. Over the next few years, her increasingly desperate boyfriend (Keifer Sutherland) searches for her obsessively, unaware that her sociopath abductor (Jeff Bridges, giving a weird, brilliantly insinuating performance) is watching him - and waiting to make contact. Featuring a subtle yet terrifying score by the incomparable Jerry Goldsmith, available on this Twilight Time release as an isolated track.
In the 21st century, I think most fans can agree that remakes to movies that are already excellent to begin with are almost always a waste of time. However, back in 1993, it made more sense for Hollywood to be interested in remaking 'The Vanishing', as director George Sluizer's original film was a Dutch release, and in the days before Netflix and cable channels devoted to foreign films, it was highly unlikely that Sluizer's first movie was going to get in front of a whole lot of American eyes…or at least many who lived outside metropolitan areas with art house cinemas or away from towns with video stores that stocked foreign titles.
But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it, and this remake of 'The Vanishing' represents everything that can go wrong. While it retains much of the original storyline, almost everything that's changed or added here manages to sink the rest of the movie with it. It's a shame, because 'The Vanishing' has the ingredients to be a great movie…it just falls into too many Hollywood clichés to get there.
In the original 'The Vanishing', Sluizer played around with the movie's timeline – first showing us the abduction, then flashing back in time to show us the development of the kidnapper. Here, for whatever reason, Sluizer tells things more or less in chronological order, revealing the identity of the villain, Barney Cousins (Jeff Bridges), in the movie's opening act – which totally ruins the surprise of where the kidnapping takes place, since in the original viewers didn't get their first glimpse of the villain until moments before the crime occurred.
There's also a significant issue (at least in this viewer's opinion) with the way Bridges plays his character. In the original film, the villain (played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) was terrifying because he was 'the killer in plain sight' – essentially someone you'd never suspect was up to no good. Bridges, on the other hand, plays Barney so creepily that it's almost unbelievable that everyone around him doesn't suspect that he's up to no good. Perhaps Bridges wanted to separate his performance from the original, but it's totally the wrong choice for this kind of movie.
The co-lead of 'The Vanishing' is played by Jack Bauer…err, make that Kiefer Sutherland, whose Jeff Harriman is probably the closest portrayal to the counterpart in the original movie. Sutherland is able to convey the proper level of both anguish and obsession over the loss of his girlfriend, Diane (Sandra Bullock, in one of her pre-Speed roles). While this is a young Sutherland who is still very much developing into the actor we know and love today, he's very good here, even though his character is mostly one-note and easily manipulated by Bridges' character throughout (but this is in keeping with the original film).
My biggest complaint about this version of 'The Vanishing' is the addition/expansion of a new girlfriend that Harriman gets several years after the kidnapping. In the original film, she makes a quick exit and is merely there to convey how Jeff can't be close to anyone as long as he is obsessed with finding out what happened to his first love. Here, the character (named Rita and played by Nancy Travis) is given a much bigger role. First, she spends a big chunk of the middle of the movie complaining to Harriman about how he should forget about the disappearance and focus on her (this kind of annoyed me, since Rita comes off as both needy and unsympathetic to Jeff's past). But the bigger issue with the character comes towards the film's conclusion, as Sluizer throws his original (and terrifying) ending out the window in exchange for a brand-new closing act that pits Rita against Barney and manages in the process to turn this version of 'The Vanishing' into little more than another Hollywood slasher flick, instead of the tense psychological drama that the Dutch original was.
At the very least, though, 1993's 'The Vanishing' makes a nice companion piece to the original. I reviewed this release shortly after checking out the Criterion version of the 1988 film and it was a neat way of examining what things work and what things don't work when creating a remake. For that reason…and perhaps only that reason…this title is worth a look.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Vanishing' appears on Blu-ray in a standard keepcase, which houses the dual-layer 50GB disc, along with an 8-page (including front and back covers) color insert featuring an essay by film historian Julie Kirgo about this American remake. The disc isn't front-loaded with any trailers or advertisements, and the main menu consists of a still of the same image as the keepcase slick's front cover, with menu selections at the bottom of the screen.
This Blu-ray release is region free.
I was actually surprised by the level of detail provided in this AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer. While it maintains the look of film with visible (but only occasionally intrusive – mostly in darker shots) grain, there's a level of sharpness and clarity here that you usually don't see in transfers of older films – particularly ones that have been dumped over to Twilight Time for distribution, but this is a very nice job.
Almost all instances of dirt and debris have been removed from the movie, and the bright daylight scenes show a wonderful amount of depth. There's a scene early in the movie where Jeff Bridges' character approaches a rather attractive woman in the city and one can make out details several city blocks deep into the background. On the other hand (as I noted above), darker scenes aren't so lucky. While black levels aren't particularly bad, the level of grain in nighttime shots is such that the image comes off with a much flatter and softer look than scenes that take place during daylight hours.
Skin tones are fairly consistent throughout, and nicely rendered – neither being overly reddish or overly pale. I could not detect any noticeable issues with banding, haloing, aliasing or the like. All in all, a very nice and mostly noteworthy transfer.
This is one of the rare cases where a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn't much better than the accompanying 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track, as very, very little of the 5.1 track makes use of the rear speakers throughout the movie. In fact, I found myself checking my speakers to make sure they were connected properly when I didn't notice anything coming from the rears. An occasional loud noise or clap of thunder during a rainstorm in the movie would notify me that the rears were working just fine…they just weren't being used very much.
Also, all of the main dialogue comes from the front center speaker, with Goldsmith's score being divvied up between the front right and left speakers. If any LFE use occurred during the movie, it was in those rare instances when the rears actually kicked in. So essentially what we have here is a 3.0 track inside a 5.1 skeleton. There's nothing wrong with the audio in and of itself, just don't expect to be wowed or feel a sense of immersion from the track. However, the spoken word is crisp and clear, and the musical soundtrack is nicely balanced with the rest of the audio.
In addition to the lossless 5.1 track, a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also available, as is a 5.0 DTS-HD isolated score track (detailed in the bonus materials section below). Subtitles are available in English SDH.
This is one of the few Hollywood remakes I can think of that fails because it deviates from the original, as opposed to most remakes that fail because they're not original enough. By adding an unneeded character and moving away from a darker ending, director George Sluizer has turned his borderline masterpiece into just another serial killer flick. However, even with all its flaws, 'The Vanishing' is worth a look, if only to compare it with the superior original.