The Films (4.5/5, 2.5/5)
*This review contains spoilers
Filmmakers have been remaking their own films since nearly the dawn of film itself. A famous example would be Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much made by the maestro during his run of U.K. films in the 1930's, and again during his U.S. Golden Period in the 1950's. What is infinitely more uncommon, but has become more so in recent decades is foreign directors coming to the U.S. to remake their international breakthroughs for American Audiences. Just in the last decade this has occurred with Takashi Shimizu coming to the states to adapt his Ju-on films into the American "The Grudge" remake or Michael Haneke taking his disturbing Czech masterpiece Funny Games, and doing a shot for shot remake starring Michael Pitt, Naomi Watts, and Tim Roth. If we had to point a beginning to this trend it may be with the late George Sluizer's The Vanishing (1988), and it's 1993 American remake.
The Vanishing has an astonishingly simple central conceit. A young couple are going on a vacation, they stop at a gas station to refuel. While they are there the young woman enters the store adjacent to the gas station to get drinks, and the woman never returns. In contrast to a typical thriller, we are then introduced to the murderer, but not given any hint to what he actually did. We also rejoin the boyfriend, who has spend the last 3 years coming to terms with the disappearance, and though he's tried to move on, he has not been quite successful with this bit of unfinished business in his backstory. He is finally given the opportunity, by the murderer, to find out what happened to his former lover, but only if he agrees to experience what she went through first hand.
I'm going to be forthright in admitting that while I'd heard of The Vanishing I had not seen it prior to my viewing. However, when mentioning it to my wife, she immediately recalled viewing it when much younger, so a bit of a role reversal there. I watched both films in one night back to back to give myself the complete Vanishing experience. The Vanishing (1988) is an interesting experience, because it plays more like an anti-thriller than a thriller. We open with the plot driving disappearance, but going on from that we meet the murderer which dispels any notion of mystery in the typical sense. What we are left with is more of a character study, which works two fold. When we meet Raymond the murderer, we see how a normal, domesticated man can basically flip a switch and commit such an atrocity. When we deal with Rex, the boyfriend affected by Raymond's murderous deed we see the after effects of a disappearance/murder on those left behind. In that regard The Vanishing feels like a thematic companion to another 2014 Criterion Blu-ray release, Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock.
The 1993 film which came 5 years after the original, and was released by Twilight Time in the same month as the original plays slightly differently than the original. I am trying to resist using the word Americanized, but that is the term that comes to mind. I can understand a director being hesitant on doing a shot for shot remake like the aforementioned Funny Games remake, as that would bore many an artist, and of course, working in the American Studio System typically will give a filmmaker less freedom than working independently elsewhere. The Vanishing remake is interesting in the sense that the original Vanishing effortlessly feels like a thriller without feeling like it's falling victim to the clichés of that genre. The 1993 Vanishing, however, feels more like a genre effort. through and through.
The comparison of The Shining's Jack Torrance from book to Kubrick's adaptation comes to mind when comparing the two films. In the book, a good man was corrupted, and progressed into darkness, and in the Kubrick film, we as a viewer were able to sense in Nicholson's version of the character from the outset that this is a man on the verge of snapping. In the 1988 film the killer was a simple domestic gentleman that explored his evil side, the murderer Barney in the 1993 feels like an evil gentleman being domesticated.
Outside of that, the third act of the original feels like a more deeply psychology experience, while the American version seems to rely more on genre trappings to create suspense and drive the film to it’s conclusion.
Director George Sluizer passed away in September of this year just prior to both Vanishing's Blu-ray bow. It simply cannot be a coincidence that both films appeared on the format in the same month, and as such I feel that Criterion and Twilight Time are daring their more open-minded and cinematically adventurous viewers to dive in to both sides of Sluizer's vision.
Audio/Video (5/5, 4/5)
Criterion presents their Blu-ray of the Vanishing (1988) in a splendid 1:67:1 MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer. This transfer is nothing short of stunning with excellent colors, deep inky blacks, and exquisite fine detail. There is a nice organic grain structure present as well.
The Twilight Time edition of the 1993 is presented in a 1080p 1:85:1 transfer and also looks quite nice as well. The color is excellent, blacks are solid, flesh tones are accurate, and there is some nice grain present. There is some softness in spots, and some minor (seriously very minor) source damage that can be seen throughout).
For the 1988 Vanishing Criterion have presented the film with an LPCM French/Dutch 1.0 track. The track is quite good with dialogue and score coming through nicely. The Twilight Time edition of the 1993 has DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 tracks in English both work quite nicely with dialogue coming through clearly, as well as Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score. I did not detect any issues with either track.
Extras (3/5. 2/5)
Criterion have put together a decent slate of extras for their release of the Vanishing. This includes a video interview with George Sluizer, and with actress Johanna ter Steege. We also get the films trailer, and liner notes.
The Twilight Time edition of the film contains the trailer, and an isolated score track.
I love interesting double features, and sitting down and watching a director's original vision, and his American remake is certainly that. The Vanishing 1988 is a tight excellent anti-thriller, while the 1993 film while also effective fumbles a bit with some over the top performances, and a tacked on happy ending. Both Blu-ray's look and sound fantastic. The Criterion has some excellent extras pertaining to the '88, while the Twilight Time continues their tradition of including an isolated score track which is certainly worthy in this case.