I wound up eating crow back in February when I made the (perhaps overconfident) assertion that Argo wouldn’t win the Academy Award for Best Picture. In the weeks leading up to the 2012 Oscars ceremony, the film continued to rake in a variety of honors, making it clear that I had underestimated a project that I had found entertaining and skillfully directed, but not necessarily one to capture Hollywood’s top prize. I know I was not alone in this admittedly gut level reaction to the film, despite the accolades, but awareness of the Academy’s ranking process for Best Picture nominees would have helped me make a more calculated assessment of its chances. Alas, my ignorance was not remedied until it was too late, resulting in my humbling, but thankfully metaphorical, meal.Shortly after the film’s February 19th Blu-ray release, news came of a UK Blu-ray featuring an extended cut of the film with 10 additional minutes of material. Originally slated to hit North American markets on September 3rd, the title was pushed back three months, maybe to capitalize on the holiday shopping season, but I suspect because a certain bit of news about Affleck being the next Batman (announced just 12 days prior) would have overshadowed its release. Now that the furor over the casting has died down, a little attention can be thrown back on the actor-director’s previous, less controversial project.Unfortunately, a bit of controversy or surprise would have been welcomed with Argo: The Declassified Extended Edition. As it is, with its slightly longer version of the film and some new bonus material, it doesn’t deviate from what we’ve come to expect with these special editions from Warner Home Video, which tend to cater to the film’s superfan but offer little for either the casual collector or those uninterested in the myriad of extras. There’s also the question of why the extended version was not included in the first release, making this subsequent edition seem mostly like a money grab by the studio. The upside is the additional content is so inconsequential, and the audience for it so narrow, that those who enjoyed the theatrical cut and already have the first Blu-ray needn’t feel like they’re missing out on a thing.Note: The following includes material from my review of Argo’s February 2013 Blu-ray release.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Other
Run Time: 2 Hr. 10 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer), BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 12/03/2013
Anti-American sentiment is at a fever pitch in the country formerly known as Persia. The exiled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who fled at the height of the Iranian Revolution and is suffering from severe medical problems, has temporarily found refuge in the United States. Iranian militants, led by the Muslim cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, are calling for the former monarch’s extradition, but the U.S. Government refuses to turn its back on the man it helped install as Iran’s supreme ruler almost 40 years ago.Outraged over America’s longstanding support of the Shah, student protesters and activists assembled at the U.S. embassy in Iran’s capital city of Tehran manage to breach its gates on November 4, 1979, overtaking the facility and holding hostage its diplomats, office workers and security personnel. However six Americans – including Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Mark and Cora Lijek (Christopher Denham and Clea DuVall), Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), and Joe and Kathy Stafford (Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishé) – manage to avoid capture, exiting from an unmonitored back door just as the rest of the building is overrun. The group eventually finds sanctuary in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), but it’s only a matter of time before Iranian forces (literally) piece things together.As the embassy hostage crisis drags on into months with no resolution in sight, the CIA begins looking for ways to “exfil” or extract the six refugees that have been dubbed the “House Guests.” Operative Tony Mendez AKA Kevin Harkins (Ben Affleck), dissatisfied with the scenarios his colleagues are floating, comes up with an audacious plan. Calling on Hollywood makeup artist and sometime CIA contractor John Chambers (John Goodman), Mendez suggests the six Americans pose as members of a Canadian movie crew scouting locations for a science fiction film. The idea is met with some resistance, but given the lack of other feasible alternatives, Mendez is given the go-ahead to lay the necessary groundwork.Guided by veteran movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), the team selects a script (Argo: A Science-Fantasy Adventure), acquires office space for the shell production company, and generates enough promotional materials and trade publicity to sell the fake project as real. It’s enough to fool the casual observer, but the true test will come when Mendez is on Iranian soil with six, hastily trained Americans, each of whom will be relentlessly scrutinized by everyone from Iranian civilians to the country’s Revolutionary Guard. Even the most seasoned operative would be unnerved by the scenario, let alone inexperienced civilians; if they manage to sell their story and escape the country, it will be nothing short of a miracle.For his third directorial effort, Ben Affleck spreads his wings, leaving his native Boston stomping grounds – featured in both Gone Baby Gone and The Town – for an environment significantly removed in both time and location. The new challenges hardly give him pause as he’s crafted a late-70s period piece that feels authentic down to the shag haircuts and corded communication hardware.But beyond the film’s detailed production design, Affleck tells an engaging story with skillful pacing and tension, while also successfully deviating from expected “dramatic thriller” territory. He strikes this balance right off the bat with the quasi-animated opening sequence highlighting the history of conflicts in Iran, and again when he injects some good natured ribbing of Hollywood into the scenes with Goodman and Arkin. In less capable hands the shifts in tone could come off as distracting, if not destructive to the narrative, but all of it comes together to make for a compelling glimpse into a “you can’t make this up” moment in global politics and history.The same enthusiasm can’t be mustered for the director’s performance as the lead, unfortunately; his low key approach doesn’t make the character seem unflappable, just oddly disengaged when it was probably controlled intensity he was after. While it doesn't undermine the film, it does stand out as an issue in an otherwise seamless effort.The additional content of the extended version essentially deals with the affect the CIA has on Mendez’s personal life. There are more scenes of him interacting with his son over the phone, as Mendez and his wife are going through a trial separation (an issue that was not as clear cut in the theatrical version). There’s also a significantly different introduction to Mendez, which shows him dealing with the more demoralizing aspects of his job. While the moments certainly highlight the price one pays to be in that line of work, it’s not exactly headline news and ultimately doesn’t add anything to the primary narrative. If anything, it’s a bit of a distraction, and wise to have been excluded from the theatrical cut. Fortunately, both cuts of the film are available on the release.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer features satisfyingly inky black levels, a full and uncompromised range of contrast, and a richly saturated color palette evocative of the depicted era’s still and motion picture imagery. Overall sharpness is impeccable, with a visible grain pattern that appears healthy and unmanipulated by noise reduction measures. The opening of the film does include a variety of material, like archival news footage and actual Super 8 film shot on location, which offers an interesting visual comparison of sources for those interested in such things.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp, detailed and intelligible, though subtitles may need to be engaged for some of the heavier Iranian accents. Surround channels are seamless and enveloping, providing support for the score and a variety of environmental effects – crowd and office noises and the occasional helicopter flyover. Low frequencies never approach LFE territory, but the track has impressive depth and dynamic range throughout.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
The Extended Edition adds a mix of video pieces and physical items to the previously released extras, which provide some useful historical information and context to Argo’s fictionalized tale. The new extras don’t provide any additional insight into the events, but fans of the film will appreciate items like the prop reproductions and the hardcover book.(The following items are new, with the video pieces located on a second, single layer Blu-ray disc.)Argo: A Cosmic Conflagration Movie Poster: Reproduction of the fake movie poster measures 14” x 20”.Map of Tehran: Includes notes and locations from the film, including the University of Tehran, U.S. Embassy Compound, the escape route, the Canadian Embassy, the Bazaar, and the Mehrabad Airport.Tony Mendez CIA ID: Laminated badge with Affleck as Mendez measures 3” x 4.25”.Book: The 64-page hardback book measures 5.5” x 7.5” and includes information about the production, cast and crew biographies, and numerous images from the film.UltraViolet Digital Copy: Redeem by December 3, 2015.Argo Declassified (11:34, HD): The featurette describes how the story first hit the radar of producer David Klawans, the work journalist Joshuah Bearman did for Wired Magazine on the operation, and how the story was ultimately converted into a screenplay.Ben Affleck’s Balancing Act (15:32, HD): The featurette includes interviews with members of the crew as they discuss how they tried to strike the right tone for the film, one that was neither overdramatic nor glib.Argo F*ck Yourself (1:28, HD): Features members of the cast and crew having a go at the signature line from the film.A Discussion with the Cast (10:17, HD): A panel discussion after a screening includes Ben Affleck, Alan Alda, John Goodman, Brian Cranston and Clea Duvall.Tony Mendez on Tony Mendez (11:26, HD): The man himself talks about his service with the CIA, how he first got acquainted with makeup artist John Chambers, and his memories from the Hollywood Option hostage rescue operation he devised.The Istanbul Journey (8:35, HD): Takes a look at the locations used in the Turkish city to portray itself as well as stand in for Tehran.Theatrical Trailer (2:35, HD)(The following items were previously released, and are located on the Blu-ray containing both cuts of the film.)Picture-in-Picture: Eyewitness Account (2:00:22, HD): Interviews with surviving members of the House Guests, Tony Mendez, Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife Pat, former President Jimmy Carter, and many others relate the events of the Iran Hostage Crisis and Mendez’s extraction efforts.Commentary with Ben Affleck and Screenwriter Chris Terrio: Available with both Korean and Chinese subtitles.Rescued from Tehran: We Were There (16:51, HD): For those looking for less of a commitment, the interviews from “Eyewitness Account” are edited into a more condensed form.Argo: Absolute Authenticity (11:19, HD): Through behind the scenes footage and interviews, the featurette highlights the production crew’s attention to detail and efforts to impart a sense of realism to the film with its design, costuming, location scouting, and more.Argo: The CIA and Hollywood Connection (6:05, HD): Provides an overview of the CIA effort around Argo, John Chambers' work with the agency, and Tony Mendez’s professional and personal relationship with him.Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option (46:34, SD): Produced in 2004 for Canada’s History Television, the documentary is probably the most in-depth about what actually went down with the caper, particularly with the Canadian government’s heavy involvement in the effort.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
Though it features the same high quality presentation as the previous Blu-ray release and expands on an already sizable collection of bonus material, Argo: The Declassified Extended Edition doesn’t offer much to incite a repeat purchase for those who picked up the first release. Ardent fans of the film, however, will likely find it a worthwhile item to buy come release day or to receive as a gift for the upcoming holidays.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
Support HTF when you buy this title: