The Vanishing Review
The worst thing about this film is that it’s not even unintentionally funny. Rubbish lines and situations which should be painfully hilarious are so blandly executed they become depressing instead. It’s been a while since a film has left me feeling so destitute and wretched – at least with movies I actively despise, there’s some adrenalin rush from the excitement of hatred, but this is the most insipid, uninvolving piece of worthlessness I’ve watched in some time.
George Sluizer’s original The Vanishing (Spoorloos) (see my original review of the excellent Criterion release) is one of those quiet legends of horror cinema. A brilliant, twisting, taut tale with a seemingly unsolvable mystery and a devastating climax, fast becoming a favourite with film-buffs and cine-lovers. Fast forward five years, and Sluizer announces he’s going to film a shot-for-shot Hollywood remake, terrifying the life out of as many subtitle-phobic Americans as he can.
If it was the shot-for-shot remake intended, the film as it is would simply be a thoroughly bland and mediocre retread over the same ground. What happened is as vicious a raping and pillaging of a great film as I’ve ever seen – even more tragically by the hands of its own director.
The first thing we see is Jeff Bridges playing Barney (?!) the psychopath. His performance is the total antithesis of what made Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu so frightening – there’s absolutely nothing normal about him at all. Putting it another way, if police were to interview the two same characters, which would they lock up instantly? He walks with a waddling stagger, he speaks in an accent smack bang between Droopy the Dog from Looney Tunes and Jeeves of Wooster fame (slurring, no less) and has even been thoughtful enough to add a lazy eye. Thanks, Jeff.
What meeting Barney first messes up is that there is no longer any suspense, as when, in the original, we kicked off with the two young and doomed protagonists, we wondered what might happen. Starting from the spider’s perspective, as done here, makes the flies seem all the more unimportant – in the original, both sides had equal stature in the unravelling of the plot.
Stupidly, it also shows us the method he’s going to use in the first ten minutes, utterly gutting any hint of mystery later on. So, ten minutes in, and we are already quite aware what’s going to happen to the two young lovebirds (Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock) we meet in the car. Incidentally, they have all the romantic chemistry of a cat and a dog, whereas, in the original, the two lovers had real and believable warmth and affection between them.
By losing the intricate intercutting, the film no longer is revealed almost rhythmically piece by piece, but rather chunk by chunk, making the transitions very jarring.
Kiefer Sutherland as Jeff, in the role of the obsessive man at the end of his tether searching for his missing girlfriend, never comes across more than slightly concerned (“Oh well, she’ll turn up sooner or later…”). Nancy Travis as Rita, his new girlfriend, occasionally shows hints of emotion or acting, but then they scuttle off again. One extraordinary sequence involves her dressing up like his missing girlfriend (including a wig), and starting a row with him – why does this happen? What train of thought must have been going through the scriptwriter’s mind to add this “psychologically probing incident”? Truth be told, it’s just as hopelessly random as the rest of the film.
The one place for improvement in the original was the music score; the composer this time round is the very talented Jerry Goldsmith, but unfortunately seems to have written it on the back of a napkin, hummed the gist down the phone to the producers and left it at that. It’s just as inappropriate as the original, but in a horrible, melodramatic, Hollywood orchestral way.
And I’ve saved the worst for last: the ending. What was a brilliant, inevitable and horrifying denouement has changed into the equivalent of catching the shark at the end of Jaws on a fishing line, cutting him open, and retrieving everyone who was eaten during the course of the film unharmed. And then adding a crap joke just before the end credits roll.
It’s by far the worst altered ending I’ve ever seen – a much greater bastardisation than Fatal Attraction, The Magnificent Ambersons or Disney’s The Little Mermaid, all of which destroy the very meaning of each story. In those cases, I would be happy to wax lyrical about how the changes destroy the entire message of what has gone before, but in this instance, words fail me.
None of the film’s themes of obsession or philosophy of evil as a necessary paradox come through anywhere at all, thanks to a script by Todd Graff so limp, boiled celery appears mighty in comparison.
Of course, none of this explains George Sluizer’s actually making the film, and what’s more, not reverting to an Alan Smithee director’s credit. Did he think he’d have a chance in Hollywood by remaking it this way and doing what the studios asked? Did he just give up when he realised how bad his new film actually was? Didn’t he recognise that NOTHING about this remake worked?
In any case, this is the kind of film your mother told you to stay away from when you were little. There is nothing of value in the film at all, yet, terrifyingly, 5% of people at the Internet Movie Database decided it was worth a full 10 out of 10. I just hope they thought they were voting for the original, but if you know any of these people, PLEASE let me know. I don’t want to hurt them. I just want to have a word.
The film looks super, which is a shame, as I’d rather hoped the negative had been destroyed. Colours are rock solid, the print is entirely devoid of grain and damage, detail is sharp and with little digital tinkering that I could see, it made for a very nice presentation indeed. Good old Fox.
Not a lot to say, except a very competent 2.0 surround track with a little surround and separation here and there, and everything sounding very smooth and natural. Another competent job.
My word, I’d have loved a director’s commentary for The Vomiting…Vanishing, sorry, but it looks he’s otherwise engaged. A great pity. What we have is a full-frame trailer, 15 chapter stops, static menus and 13 subtitle options.
Why, oh why, oh why? Good on Fox for giving it decent enough treatment, but when you consider some of the other classics languishing in their vaults (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, for example), it does make you think the money spent on the disc might have been more wisely spent elsewhere - just like your own. Be smart; say no.