Missing is political filmmaker extraordinaire Costa-Gavras’s compelling, controversial dramatization of the search for American filmmaker and journalist Charles Horman, who mysteriously disappeared during the 1973 coup in Chile. Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek give magnetic, emotionally commanding performances as Charles’s father and wife, who are led by U.S. embassy and consulate officials through a series of bureaucratic dead-ends before eventually uncovering the terrifying facts about Charles’s fate and disillusioning truths about their government. Written and directed with clarity and conscience, the Academy Award–winning Missing is a testament to Costa-Gavras’s daring.
Criterion presents Missing in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (despite the back packaging stating 1.85:1) on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The film was previously released on DVD by Universal as one of their economy titles (you can find it for $5-$8 in most places.) I’ll give that release some credit as for a single-layer release (for a 2+ hour film) and economy pricing it actually didn’t look that bad. It did look a little blotchy, had its share of artifacts but it was still watchable and better than I would have expected.
Saying that, though, the Criterion still presents a much better picture. It’s definitely a much smoother looking picture that’s also a little sharper (though the film’s shooting style seems to lend it a slightly soft look at times.) Colours are a bit of an improvement, better saturation. The colour palette of the film is fairly drab, trying to keep a documentary look to it, but it still has its strong points and there are many instances where the colours still come off fairly vivid. The hotel room that the Lemmon character stays in has some horrendous green wallpaper which looked a little dull to me on the Universal release but appears much bolder here (consequently making the wallpaper even more ghastly to look at.) Skin tones look very good and black levels are quite strong as well.
I assume the same print that was used for the Universal disc was also used here. The Universal release actually presented very little in the way of print damage but the Criterion release is almost spotless. There is some flickering at times and the print’s grain is still present (which I prefer) but neither of these is at all bothersome.
In general I felt this release captures the film’s look perfectly and it’s definitely a step up from the Universal. For this aspect alone I would recommend the Criterion over the previous budget DVD and even feel it would be worth the upgrade.
With my comparison to the Universal release I am going off of memory as I don’t own it. I recall the picture more vividly than the sound, unfortunately. I do recall that it was read as a stereo track and that overall it was fairly bland.
The Criterion edition presents the film with a Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track and it does sound pretty good, at least leaving a better impression with me than the Universal release. Dialogue is still fairly weak and Vangelis’ score doesn’t sound as good as I would have hoped but the track still has some decent range to it, sound effects like gun shots coming off fairly loud and sharp. The track overall is quite crisp and clean, presenting no distortion or noise.
One area this release most definitely beats the Universal release in is the area of supplements. The Universal DVD had nothing, not even a menu (that’s right, no menu.) Not only does this release have a menu, already trumping that DVD, it also comes with a second disc of insightful supplements related to the film and the actual events that were the basis for the film.
I thought I would first mention the subtitles here. Both English and Spanish are spoken throughout the film and English subtitles are provided for any dialogue spoken in Spanish. Compared to the Universal DVD more of the Spanish dialogue appears to have been translated here where only the more important lines spoken in Spanish were translated on the older release. Maybe not important overall but I appreciate this extra bit of effort.
Moving on to the actual supplements, disc one only presents one feature, which is the trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen. The remaining supplements are found on the second dual-layer disc.
Up first is Costa-Gavras, a 32 minute interview segment with the director. As pointed out on the menu page this segment is actually taken from two interview pieces: The first 3-minutes comes from a French news program broadcast in 1982 and the final 29-minutes are taken from the French DVD released in 2006. In the first bit he comments on Reagan and politicians in Washington having seen the film and then gets into comparisons with the situation in El Salvador at the time, while the newer chunk of the feature features the director talking about making the film. He comments on what first attracted him to the project (he had wanted to make a film about the disappearances that occur in Latin America) and was attracted to this project on Charles Horman not so much for the political element but more because of the relationship between the father and wife. He discusses casting (there is mention of Paul Newman but an interview found on another part of the disc reveals Newman never returned any calls, so to speak) and fighting to get Lemmon for the role, who was primarily known for comedic roles (others wanted Ed Asner but Costa-Gavras felt there was one scene he wouldn’t be able to do.) He also gets into shooting in Mexico City and some of the issues he ran into, such as a problem getting tanks for a sequence, and some of the interesting “cheats” that were used to get around certain problems. Unfortunately because of these revelations I now notice one scene doesn’t look quite right. Overall he covers just about every aspect in the making of the film, even touching on its release. The segment is in French with English subtitles and clips from the film are also in French, suggesting that this was completely lifted from the French DVD. The segment feature is divided into 8 chapters and is presented in anamorphic widescreen (the first 3-minutes, though, are in the standard format and on 4:3 televisions it will appear to be boxed in with black borders all around.)
The second feature presents Joyce Horman, wife of Charles Horman, in an interview conducted by Criterion in 2008. The interview has been divided into 6 chapters, runs about 30-minutes, and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. This interview steps away from the film and concentrates specifically on the actual events that inspired the film. Joyce talks about Charles and their road trip that eventually took them to Chile where they settled. She talks about the government and then the coup and the violence related to it, and then goes over her husband’s disappearance and the investigation that followed, even bringing up details not shown in the film. She obviously doesn’t hold a very high regard for the American officials she dealt with down there and she brings up the suit that she filed against the State Department. There’s mention of the book and then her reservations about a film, but she felt comfortable once Costa-Gavras was brought on board, her and her husband being big fans of the director. In one of the creepy (in a cosmic way) aspects of the interview she reveals that when she first arrived in Chile she learned Costa-Gavras was there filming State of Siege and actually tried out for a part just to work with the director in some small way. She talks a bit about the film but she sticks mostly with the events and it makes for a great firsthand account.
Producing Missing is a 17-minute feature put together by Criterion gathering interviews with producers Edward and Mildred Lewis and Sean Daniel, and author Thomas Hauser. Mildred Lewis appears to be the one that got the project rolling when she came across a review for Hauser’s book, The Execution of Charles Horman. She then read the book and then pushed her husband into making the film. The two go over putting the film together from finding the director to casting it, covering some of the same aspects that Costa-Gavras did during his interview segment on this disc. Hauser focuses more on researching and writing the book while Daniels talks about pushing Universal to pick up the film after other studios passed on it. Surprisingly, despite it being a high profile film and some of the controversy surrounding it, which included the State Department releasing a statement that, in the end, accused the film of lying outright, Universal never touched the film and let the filmmakers make it the way they wanted. They even took out an ad posting their response to the government’s statement. This is another great informative piece and put together with the other two interviews these supplements cover the making of the film quite extensively. This supplement is divided into 5 chapters.
Moving on to archival footage, the next supplement presents news footage from the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. For English speaking viewers (who will make it up the vast majority of viewers who will watch this DVD) it has a somewhat annoying presentation, though through no fault of Criterion’s. Since the footage was shot for a French news station all English is translated for French viewers. The set up has the interviewers ask their questions in French to the participants, which includes Ed Horman, Jack Lemmon, Joyce Horman, and Terry Simon, followed by a delay as the question is translated to English for the interviewees through an ear piece (which must have been cranked because you can hear it at times.) After this the interviewee will answer in English but then a French translator speaks over them, drowning them out, translating it back to French for the original French audience. We then get English subtitles translating the translation.
As I said this was filmed originally for a French audience so I guess I really shouldn’t complain, but I still have to admit it was a little obnoxious at times. Still the first half of this feature, which runs 20-minutes, is great just for not only getting an interview with Jack Lemmon about the film, but also with Ed Horman. Lemmon talks about his work in the film and Horman talks briefly about the film and the actual events.
The second half of the interview is exclusively with Costa-Gavras and is entirely in French with English subtitles. I found this segment the best of the entire interview because not only do I think the director makes for an excellent and engaging interview subject but he also seems somewhat annoyed with his interviewers. What I found interesting was how the two interviewers really try to paint the U.S.A. in such a negative light (how the government could let such things depicted in the film happen, or that the studios only made the movie only for money, etc.) and appear to be trying to get confirmation from the director, who has none of it. Amusingly it even appears he’s trying to avoid politics altogether, trying to focus on other aspects of the film, and eventually, maybe hoping to shut the one interviewer up, brings up how The Battle of Algiers was banned in France yet there wasn’t even a hint about Missing being banned in the U.S.A. and played freely and wasn’t censored in any way. Despite my little annoyance with how the first half is presented this was probably my favourite supplement on this release. Despite it not having a chapter menu it has been broken down into 5 chapters.
I was a little disappointed with the next supplement, Pursuing Truth, a 20-minute feature that’s primarily a talking-head piece with Peter Kornbluh talking about how he and his organization were able to convince the Clinton administration to declassify a lot of the documents about the American government’s involvement in the coup that overthrew Allende. These documents also included information on Charles Horman’s murder. There’s some interesting stuff here but I think I may have been hoping for more information about the coup, Pinochet, and even more on the U.S. government’s involvement other than the fact that simply, yeah, they were involved. There’s nothing concrete presented about Horman’s death, though I wasn’t expecting a “smoking gun”, but the documents do allude to the fact that there was suspicion that U.S. intelligence down in Chile did play a part, either directly or indirectly, in Horman’s death. It’s worth watching but maybe I was hoping for some sort of cap to cover the events that served as the inspiration for the film. This feature is anamorphic and has been divided into 5 chapters.
The final supplement on here, called In Honor of Missing, is video taken in 2002 from the Charles Horman Truth Project event. Running 21-minutes and divided into 9 chapters, the feature presents speeches by Gabriel Byrne, Chilean Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdés, Chris Lemmon (son of Jack Lemmon,) Defense attorney David Kendall (who represented Universal during a libel suit brought against them because of the film,) actors John Shea, Sissy Spacek, and Melanie Mayron, Joyce Horman, Reed Brody (special counsel, Human Rights Watch,) and Costa-Gavras. The participants talk about either the film, the effect it had on them and others, and even Charles Horman himself. This event is mentioned in a few places throughout the disc’s supplements and recordings from it so we can see it first hand was a nice addition.
That closes off the disc’s supplements. As usual Criterion includes an insert, this one being a rather thick booklet about 36-pages long. Inside is a nice essay on the film by Michael Wood, another by Terry Smith who writes about the Horman family, the events in Chile, and the making of the film. There’s also a reprinted, translated interview by Gary Crowdus with Costa-Gavras that appeared in Cineaste. It’s another great interview, Costas expressing surprise that Universal didn’t interfere (other than stating some names should be changed for legal reasons) and his frustration with some of the differences with making a Hollywood film, like dealing with the Writer’s Guild over the credit of writer, John Nichols. And then finally you get the “State Department’s Response to the Film”, which pretty much accuses the film of being full of lies. It then has a short reply from Costa-Gavras.
And that covers it. There isn’t a commentary but I feel the film doesn’t really require one. Plus the supplements spread over the second disc cover the film and its subject pretty thoroughly and I’m sure a commentary may have been somewhat redundant. As I hoped Criterion has put together a very informative and rather thorough collection here, everything well worth looking through.
This release is a huge improvement over Universal’s budget disc in all aspects. I will say for those only concerned with owning the film you can’t go that wrong with the Universal disc as it’s much better than I would have expected for a budget release. But the Criterion release certainly beats it on every level and is well worth the extra money. The transfer is a nice improvement and the supplements are quite informative and interesting to go through. I highly recommend this release for those that don’t already own the film on DVD and also think it’s worth the upgrade for those that do own the older DVD.