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The Vanishing

Directed by George Sluizer. Starring Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis, Sandra Bullock, Park Overall, Maggie Linderman, Lisa Eichhorn.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 5, 1993

A few years ago there was this haunting Dutch movie about a woman who vanishes from a crowded highway rest stop, her tormented boyfriend who spends three years obsessed with learning her fate and the abductor whose demented machinations we watch from the beginning. It was called The Vanishing and it was directed by Dutchman George Sluizer. It was a perfectly good little movie that stared down the banality of horror and the madness of not knowing and finally, left the viewer with a positively bone-chilling conclusion. It created a kind of existential suspense and you definitely got the feeling that Edgar Allen Poe would have admired the story. But why settle for a perfectly good little Dutch movie when there might be a chance of having an American blockbuster? Thus was born The Vanishing, the American version. Sluizer was imported to these shores to remake his suspense story, a scriptwriter was hired to essentially rewrite the original in English (despite a distinctly American flavor, the story's events are remarkably faithful to the original with the only substantial changes occurring in the last act) and excellent actors like Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland and Nancy Travis were hired who, if not major box office attractions, were at least bigger draws than their Dutch counterparts. What they came up with is a good, psychological thriller that, I suspect, packs more of a wallop if you have not seen the original. Minus the element of suspense, you wind up focusing on the alterations in the story. The primary change is in the development of Travis's character. Here she becomes a full-fledged, active heroine whose involvement in the story alters the course of events. Of course, the trade-off for the welcome enrichment of her character is the eradication of the original movie's unyielding trajectory and bleak ending. The re-make allows the possibility of romance, renewal and liberation from obsession. And that, I think, is some of what I'm getting at when I say that the re-make is more American in its feel. Thematics are more carefully spelled out here, losing much of their European existential slant. For example, the words “forever” and “infinity” are uttered so often that you wonder if the folks at Hallmark had anything to do with writing this script. Also, Bridges's portrayal of the villain is a bit more deranged than in the Dutch version which revealed its evil perpetrator as all the more frightening because of his utter normality. Arguably, it's not fair to compare these two films because, especially in a suspense story, the second one seen will always be diminished by the initial impact of the first. Yet these two Vanishings present a particularly interesting study in the mechanics of modern filmmaking. Me, I'll opt for the subtitles in this go-around.
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