The Missing review by Mike Long

When you see a movie in a darkened theater, it's very easy to lose track of time. Even if you know the running time of the film going in, one can get caught up in the movie and ignore how long the film has been going. But, watching a movie at home, especially on DVD, creates a different situation. One can easily check the DVD for the running time and look at the DVD player to see how much time has elapsed. This can work against certain films, such as The Missing, where, despite knowledge of the film's total length, one becomes convinced the movie is never going to end.

The Missing takes place in New Mexico, in the year 1885. Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) is a "healer" (frontier doctor) who lives on a ranch with her two daughters, Lily (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dot (Jenna Boyd), and two ranch-hands, Brake (Aaron Eckhart) and Emiliano (Sergio Calderon, the head-on-a-stick guy from Men in Black). Life is rough for this group, but they manage to survive. One day, Maggie's estranged father, Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) comes to the ranch seeking medical treatment. As they haven't seen each other in years (he ran off to join a Native American tribe), Maggie is very cold to her father. Brake, Emiliano, and the two girls go off on a cattle-drive, but don't return when scheduled. Maggie soon learns that the group was attacked by a band of rogue Indians, several members were killed, and that one of her daughters has been kidnapped. Attempting to put the past behind her, Maggie asks her father, who is an experienced tracker, for assistance in finding her loved ones.

The Missing is a big-budget Ron Howard film with a stellar cast, which was released in November, expecting to draw big box-office, critical accolades, and award nominations. But, this $65-million movie has only grossed around $25-million so far domestically, was dismissed by critics, and ignored by audiences. Why is that? The answer is complicated, as there are several things wrong with the movie. As far as I'm concerned, the main reason for the film's box-office failure can be traced to its misleading ad campaign. The theatrical trailer and TV spots for The Missing made the film look like a psychological thriller and perhaps even a supernatural horror movie. The previews were dark and eerie, telling us only that Cate Blanchett's children were missing. In truth, the movie is nothing like this at all. The Missing is a straight-ahead western. In the extra features on the DVD, director Ron Howard refers to the film as a "thriller". Sorry, Opie, it's a western. The film may be more brutal and depressing than your average western, as the treatment of the kidnapping victims is very violent and may be difficult for some to watch, but that doesn't change the fact that the film has all of the trappings of a western. Those expecting a spooky movie will be sorely disappointed.

OK, so it's not a supernatural (or otherwise) thriller, what's wrong with that. What's wrong is that the movie is long and boring. Remember earlier when I commented on keeping track of the running time of a film? Going in, I knew that The Missing was 137 minutes long. So, when there was an escape attempt by the captives, or a resuce attempt by Maggie and the movie wasn't at the 2-hour mark yet, I knew that those attempts wouldn't be successful. I probably wouldn't have noticed that fact if there was anything compelling about The Missing. The story is very hackneyed and predictable, as we know going in that someone is going to be "missing" and that someone else will try to find them, and nothing else happens. The characters, especially the villain, are very cliched. If the film had been shorter, it may have worked, but I doubt it. The acting in the film is good, most notably Blanchett and young Jenna Boyd, who impressed me after seeing her this film and the polar-opposite Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. As in The Fugitive and The Hunted, Tommy Lee Jones plays a skilled tracker (I guarantee this guy loses his car keys all the time in real life) and is the same stoic character that he always plays. The real star of The Missing is the gorgeous scenery, which is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Salvatore Totino. The Missing had huge potential, but failed to deliver. So, unless your a western movie completist, you aren't "missing" anything.

The Missing find its way to DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film is being released in two separate DVD packages, one with a full-frame transfer and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fantastic, as the picture is free from grain (even during the stunning daytime landscape shots) and there are no noticeable defects from the source material. Howard has shot the film with a slightly diffused look, but the action is always visible in the dark scenes and the colors look fine. I didn't notice some artifacting problems, but not enough to fuss over. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which is just as good as the visuals. The dialogue is always sharp and clear, and there is no distortion. The score by James Horner sounds great and the occasional moments of surround sound add to the film.

The Missing is one of the few recent big-budget titles to not include an audio commentary, but there are plenty of other extras to be had on this 2-disc set (with the bulk of the extras housed on Disc 2). The DVD contains 11 deleted scenes (with a "Play All" feature) most of which are brief, with incidental moments or further character development. Also included are 3 alternate endings (with a "Play All" feature). These endings are essentially the same as the ending to the theatrical cut, but they offer additional information. "The Long Version" (how scary is that?) does change the finale somewhat, but basically everything is the same. A 2 1/2 minute outtake reel shows that some fun was had on the set of this dour film. There are 5 featurettes included here. "The Last Ride: The Story of The Missing" (6 minutes) deals with the story and how the screenplay came about, but doesn't touch on the source novel at all. "New Frontiers: Making The Missing" (29 minutes) is a standard "making of" featurette, as it touches on the film's production, regarding the weather, costuming, casting, and stunts. Howard talks about his role as director of the film and the locations, offering a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage. Composer James Horner is profiled in "The Modern Western Score" (5 minutes). Casting director Jane Jenkins and Ron Howard talk about the actors in the film with "Casting The Missing" (16 minutes). With "Apache Language School" (6 minutes) we learn how the cast was tutored in the Apache language and customs which were presented very authentically in the film. The next section of extras is called "Ron Howard On...", and is broken down into 7 sections. In "Home Movies", Howard talks about three short 8mm westerns he made as a teenager, and those three films ("The Deed of Daring Do", "Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore, and Death", and "Old Paint") are included here. Tying things into The Missing, Howard talks about his work with John Wayne on The Shootist (3 minutes), His Love for Westerns (2 minutes), and Conventions of Westerns (3 minutes). Howard also talks about The Filmmaking Process (1 minute) and Editing (2 minutes). The extras are rounded out by 3 photo galleries (cast, location, and production) and the trailer for The Missing.

3 out of 10 Jackasses

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