When five year-old Oliver Hughes disappears while on holiday in France, it sets off a nearly decade-long search for his whereabouts. “The Missing,” a STARZ Limited Series, is a dramatic thriller that takes you inside the mind of a father, Tony (played by James Nesbitt of The Hobbit trilogy and Jekyll), desperate to locate his lost son. With help from a legendary detective (played by Tchéky Karyo of Goldeneye and The Patriot), Tony embarks on an obsessive quest to find his son and those responsible for his disappearance. A gripping puzzle with twists and turns at every stage, Tony’s exhaustive search fractures his relationship with his wife, Emily (played by Frances O’Connor of “Mr. Selfridge" and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), and threatens to destroy his life. Told through a complex narrative, “The Missing” unfolds over two time frames simultaneously.
An eight episode self-contained story that originally ran on BBC One, but got distributed by Starz here in the United States, 'The Missing' tells a taut and terrifying tale of a young boy who disappears in 2006 and the impact it has on a number of characters (not the least of whom are his father and mother) both at the time of the vanishing as well as eight years later when new clues start to unravel the truth of what happened.
The kidnapped boy is a Brit named Ollie Hughes, and his parents are Tony (James Nesbitt) and Emily (Frances O'Connor). While vacationing in France, Ollie disappears in a crowded bar as his father is trying to get something to drink for them both. Each episode jumps back and forth between the events shortly after Ollie went missing and the current-day search, where Tony has become a man totally obsessed with finding out what happened to his boy. But it's not just Tony who's changed in the future. Emily has gotten remarried to one of the British officers (played by Jason Flemyng) who worked on the case in the past, while Tony finds a new ally in retired French investigator Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo), who still harbors some degree of guilt about never being able to find out what happened to Ollie. Other characters have changed over the years as well, and this series has a lot of fun peeling back the layers of what has happened to these people over the years.
While the damaged relationship between Tony and Emily is certainly at the heart of much of what transpires in 'The Missing', I found the most interesting and engaging on-screen chemistry to occur between the characters of Tony and Julien Baptiste. In fact, it's Tcheky Karyo's character who is perhaps the most interesting to watch as this series unfolds, and in many ways he shares the starring role of 'The Missing' along with fellow actor James Nesbitt.
Because of the nature of the case and the fact that many of the events take place in France (although 'The Missing' was primarily shot in Belgium), it's hard not to make comparisons between this series and Director George Sluizer's 1988 film The Vanishing. Even though Sluizer's movie dealt with the kidnapping of a woman rather than a small child, there's are numerous similarities between the obsession that Tony Hughes has in 'The Missing' to that of Rex Hofman in Sluizer's film. But it's a favorable comparison, and I feel safe in saying that if you're a fan of the original 'The Vanishing' (aka 'Spoorloos'), you're going to enjoy 'The Missing' quite a bit.
Each episode of 'The Missing' ends in true soap-opera like fashion, which keeps the viewer engaged although things do lean towards the implausible at times, particularly since the case in question has been cold for eight years. Still, there's no denying that at the end of every show, you'll be dying to see what happens next. Another point of note is that, although 'The Missing' has been renewed for a second season, these eight episodes encapsulate a complete story and neither this case nor these characters will continue into the second year (when a brand-new mystery will be introduced). I'm a big fan of these types of single-season arcs (which have also been done in shows like True Detective and Fargo), and hopefully this trend will continue in additional television series.
While this Blu-ray release isn't all that it could have/should have been (read my description of the A/V quality and extras below), there's no denying that the actual show itself is pretty darn engaging and worth checking out. In fact, the acting and story are so good, this is one of the few instances where I'm still recommending a title despite some video issues and an unimpressive amount of extras.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Missing' appears on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the two 50GB discs. An insert advertising Starz's other original series is also included, as is a slipcover that matches the artwork of the keepcase's slick. Disc 1 in this set is front-loaded with a promo trailer for Outlander, a pair of promo trailers for DaVinci's Demons, as well as one for Season 2 of Black Sails. There are no front-loaded trailers on Disc 2. The main menu consists of a montage of footage from the series, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is Region A-locked.
I was unable to find out exactly what equipment was used for the shooting of 'The Missing', but it does appear that the episodes were shot digitally, rather than on film. While this is by no means a horrible presentation, there are some issues here with the video, and the fact that the look of the series aims to be rather drab and dreary to begin with doesn't help matters a whole lot.
The most noticeable problem with the image is frequent 'shimmering' in the form of aliasing and other stability problems that seem to occur mostly in wide shots, pans and the backgrounds of other scenes. Noise is a pretty big issue here, as buzzing pixels can be seen dancing around in solid backgrounds and/or on the actors' clothing almost consistently throughout the eight episodes on this release.
Despite these problems, details are actually pretty good in many shots, although oddly flat in many others. The same goes for the appearance of the actors – with nice facial details in some scenes, while less defined in others. While some of these problems may indeed have to do with the transfer, I'm guessing a lot of them come from the source camera(s) used for the shoot. For a story this engaging, it's a shame it doesn't look better, but after an episode or two, most viewers should be able to tune out the visual glitches and just enjoy the storyline.
The only audio option here is an English DolbyTrueHD 5.1 track for each episode that, while certainly unspectacular, more than fits the bill for this series. 'The Missing' is primarily – although not always – a show that is dialogue-heavy, and the spoken word here is fairly crisp and clear throughout. The lossless track doesn't excel at immersiveness, but there is some use of the rears, like in scenes involving rain, large crowds, or the few action scenes that occur.
In terms of any noticeable glitches (you know, like the video has), there are none to be found here. While certainly not a lossless track that will show off your audio set-up, there's nothing here distracting, either – although keep in mind that even with occasional surround use, these are primarily front-focused tracks.
Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
Despite a paltry selection of bonus materials and some issues with the video quality, 'The Missing' is an engaging mystery with some great acting and memorable characters. By jumping back and forth between two timelines, viewers not only get to piece together the puzzle of what happened to the missing child in this story, but what happened to change the lives and personalities of most of the characters as well. This was probably one of the best new (and certainly the most unsung) series on pay cable last year, and it's worth checking out. Recommended.