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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Missing: Superbit (2003)

Maggie: Why didn't you stay?
Samuel: There's an Apache story about a man that woke up one morning and saw a hawk on the wind. Walked outside and never returned. After he died, he met his wife in the spirit world. She asked him why he never came home. He said, "Well, the hawk kept flying." There's always the next something, Maggie. And that will take a man away.

- Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: December 14, 2004

Stars: Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones
Other Stars: Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Eric Schweig, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer
Director: Ron Howard

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for violence
Run Time: 02h:17m:00s
Release Date: October 26, 2004
UPC: 043396071476
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B C-AA- D-

DVD Review

Directors fresh off an Oscar victory face a dilemma: How to follow-up after such success? Some chose another high-gloss, "serious" story and flounder (John Madden, who directed the sluggish Captain Correlli's Mandolin after earning acclaim, if not Oscar gold, for Shakespeare in Love). Some do something completely different, and it works (after Forrest Gump, Robert Zemeckis made Contact, arguably the better film). Some, well, some don't do anything at all (James Cameron). Ron Howard, who rarely takes a break between films whether they're good or not, decided to blend options one and two. 2003's The Missing is a radical change from the much-beloved A Beautiful Mind, a western/horror pastiche with a plot worthy of a dime store novel, but is crippled under the weight of studio sheen and budget bloat befitting a "best director."

Cate Blanchett plays Maggie, a frontier doctor raising her children alone. Just when it looks like she might find happiness with a farmhand (Aaron Eckhart), he's murdered by a band of thieves who also kidnap one of her daughters (Evan Rachel Wood), hoping to sell her into slavery, or worse, in Mexico. Enter Maggie's estranged father, Samuel (Tommy Lee Jones), who left his family when she was young to rides the trails with the Sioux. He offers to help find his granddaughter, and, perhaps, get to know Maggie a bit, all while fending off the dark magic of the chief bandit, an old world magician who has a fetish for collecting pictures of the women he kidnaps.

The Missing, which stretches for an interminable two hours plus, might have been a fairly effective thriller at half the length—early scenes are loaded with tension and simmering with suspense, but once the kidnapping occurs and Blanchett and Jones go following after, the film settles down into formula, with frequent, time-wasting subplots that go absolutely nowhere. We spend a few minutes getting to know another victim, a young mother who is kidnapped along with her toddler. We see her being mistreated; we see her plot an escape with Evan Rachel Wood's character. Then her daughter dies of exposure and she promptly shoots herself, spoiling Malone's escape attempt in the process and moving the picture from point C back to point A, with no real change save the members of the audience slowing nodding off during all of the "action" and the addition of enough brutal violence to justify that R rating. There are easily half a dozen such examples throughout. If Howard and screenwriter Ken Kaufman had focused on the core of the narrative (the estrangement between the adult leads), the movie might have been pretty effective. If nothing else, though, it would have been at least 20 minutes shorter, and better for it.

There's no denying the fact that the film looks good, at least. Howard knows how to stage a scene, and Salvatore Totino's icy cinematography successfully blends elements of the horror and western genres. But the actors flounder. Blanchett, despite a flawless American accent, is miscast and too pretty by half for her down-home character. Tommy Lee Jones plays Tommy Lee Jones Variation #67 (brooding, emotionally remote), and is buried under a ridiculous head of hair. And the villain (Eric Schweig), a superstitious voodoo cannibal, is so cartoonish, his eyes may as well bug out of his head à la Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

I realize what Ron Howard wanted to do with this picture, coming off of his Oscar success with A Beautiful Mind—prove his versatility by directing a gritty genre piece. But The Missing still has all the studio sheen of a film by a proven Oscar winner with access to far too much money for the movie he's making. With a tighter script and a smaller budget, it could have been a nice twist on the familiar "savage Indian" story. Instead, it's, well, a Ron Howard Film. Did I mention he won an Oscar?

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As is usually the case with Superbit titles, The Missing looks great on DVD. But then, it looked pretty good already, by all accounts, so I'd only recommend an upgrade if you've got a screen large enough to pick up the subtle difference between the two. That said, the disc looks great, with a crisp, muted color palette, exceptional detail, and deep blacks throughout. Some scenes show a bit of grain added for stylistic reasons, but otherwise, this is a very clean transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Missing's audio mix comes in nearly indiscernible DD 5.1 and DTS flavors. Both are good, but the focus is more or less on subtle manipulation of the soundfield, rather than showy effects sequences. Small noises—wind, rain—work in the surrounds, while the front mains expertly handle the score and the dialogue. When big scenes do pop up (the flash flood), the audio responds admirably.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: No extras on this, the third incarnation of The Missing on DVD (including the original widescreen special edition and a budget-priced full-screen version). Then again, "no extras" is really the point of the whole Superbit marketing gimmick, so you'll have to decide if you'd rather have a disc of features or a purportedly superior transfer.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A B-movie that should have been a taut, thrilling 85 minutes long, The Missing is a bloated, miscast mess with a few effective scenes and a lot of filler. Violent, unpleasant, and unfocused, it's a rare, nearly total, misfire from director Ron Howard.


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