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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "The Mission" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
Real Name
Ronald Epstein

The Mission

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1986
Rated: PG
Film Length: 125 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish

The year 1986 was a great year for film. It was a
year that brought us (among others) Aliens, Blue
Velvet, The Color of Money, The Fly, Platoon, Top
and Stand by Me. With all these
stellar heavyweights, I can easily how a film like
The Mission got lost in the shuffle. It
certainly wasn't a film I had any interest in
seeing when it was released, but having just
completed watching it for the first time ever, I
am deeply saddened that it took me 17 years to
see this absolutely marvelous film that managed
to touch me so very deeply, I feel as if I have
just witnessed something extremely special.

Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) is a Jesuit priest sent
to South America to convert natives. Venturing
deep into the forest over great waterfalls, he
establishes a mission to convert a native tribe.
The priest teaches the natives how to survive on
a plantation where they harvest bananas and make
musical instruments.

Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro) is a Portuguese
mercenary and slave trader. He has just taken
asylum with the local church after killing his
brother (Aidan Quinn) for cheating with his wife.
Mendoza seeks penance by joining the Jesuits in
their life of sacrifice in the jungle highlands.
It is there that Mendoza lives amongst the Indians
he once hunted. In his new environment, he learns
to live and love under the will of God.

Tensions arise upon the arrival of a visiting
Cardinal (Ray McAnally) who is to decide the fate
of the mission. The Spanish and Portuguese empires
are fiercely trying to pressure the Catholic Church
into expelling the natives from their mission
sanctuary to restore their circulation in the slave
trade. When the Jesuits are told to abandon the
natives, they decide to stay put. This forces
Rodrigo to choose between his vows and his sword.

The Mission is based on historical fact,
about the fight between the Catholics and Jesuits
in South America, over slavery around the period
of 1750. Despite the fact that film can be often
painful to watch, it is a deeply arresting visual
experience. Cinematographer Chris Menges never
ceases to provide us with spectacular beauty in
almost every frame of this film. The Mission
ended up winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography,
and it's easy to see why -- the film is a visual

The Mission arrives in a brand new two-disc
special edition. A cardboard slipcover contains a
pull-out that opens to a 3-pane gatefold. Two DVDs
sit in plastic hub housing . The far left pane
contains a complete Scene Index from the film. On
another pane sits the same sort of index listing
for the featurette that resides on Disc Two.

How is the transfer?

As one would expect from Warner Brothers, this is
an outstanding transfer of a catalog title. The
film's earth-toned colors are solid with no
bleeding or smearing. Greens look particularly
vibrant here in their lush forest and plantation
settings. Images are well detailed, which is
important in showcasing Chris Menges' magnificent
cinematography of the South American wilderness.
The only problem I saw within the transfer was
that at different moments in the film, fleshtones
tended to be overly reddish.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is quite
excellent, though there is very little in the way
of directionality across all 5 channels. Audio is
mostly front-heavy, with clear distinct dialogue
in the center channel and satisfying separation of
audio left and right. Though the rears occasionally
provide ambient support (you'll find the waterfall
sequences to be enveloping), there isn't a whole lot
of back activity going on here. The real star of
this mix is the majestic score by Ennio Morricone,
complete with an angelic chorus, that is reproduced
beautifully with outstanding dynamics. Bass is well
handled by the .1 LFE, most effectively during the
shots of the crashing waterfall. In fact, one of
the few times the action becomes entirely enveloping
is during a battle sequence near the end of the
film where a pursuit ends at the edge of the
waterfall. Here you'll find yourself completely
surrounded by the sound of rushing water and booming
underlying bass.

Special Features

Let's begin by talking about the bonus material
available on Disc One....

First up is the full-length commentary by
director Roland Joffé, and I must say, it's
a wonderful treat to listen to this distinguished
Englishman. Joffé begins by giving us a very
honest overview of history and its constant clash
of cultures. Though these disputes are never
pleasant, there's always a human element involved.
It is this human element that became the most
appealing factor in making The Mission.
Right off the bat, Joffé talks about meeting a
tribe of Waunana Indians, who up until that point,
had never seen a white man. These Indians didn't
accept Joffé as a human being since he looked
nothing like them -- so instead, they labeled him
as some sort of "ghost." The director talks fondly
about his cast members, particularly Robert De Niro,
who he feels showed a tender side of himself in
this film that is very true to his real-life persona.
I was shocked to learn that while filming at two
separate falls in both Columbia and Argentina,
De Niro never hesitated to go barefoot amongst
snakes and scorpions, while dragging the net of
armor behind him. It's also interesting to learn
that through method acting, De Niro went through
the same personal attitude changes that his character
did. This initially caused a little bit of a
distancing problem for both cast and crew, but after
a few weeks, the actor, like his character, became
more open to those around him. Throughout this
commentary Joffé has interesting and often humorous
observations about the clash of cultures as well as
the human spirit itself. Very heartwarming!

A cast and crew filmography page is rather
limited, giving us only highlights of an individual's
film career. Two awards pages give us an
idea of the number of honors this film received.

Also included here is the film's original
theatrical trailer

Let's now take a look at the Disc Two...

This entire second disc is dedicated to a
fascinating 57-minute feature entitled, Omnibus:
The Mission
, which takes us on an incredible
journey inside South America where we meet a European
film crew that includes director Roland Joffé who
have come to persuade the Waunana Indians to portray
the film's Guarani tribespeople. What the director
ultimately found was a destroyed community full of
individuals who lacked any sort of self respect.
Without planning to exploit these people, Joffé
approached them and asked if they would like to be
part of his film, rewarding their cooperation
with money that would be distributed amongst the
various communities. It took some time for the
Waunana Indians to gain the trust of these white
people, and soon they found themselves amongst a
large film crew who transported 4 villages by bus
and plane to the movie's film locale. For the rest
of this featurette we watch how these Indians come
to terms with making a film (and believing they
would not get killed in the process). After a
while, the Indians were enjoying the filmmaking
process so much that they began writing their own
lines and practiced them amongst themselves. In
addition to all of this, we learn quite a bit about
the history that surrounds this film and the
political struggles that still exist today in the
Cauca region. Of course, disputes were bound to
arise during the course of filming, and in one
sequence, we watch the cast of Waunanas as they
vocalize their disputes against contract wages.
For fans of The Mission this is simply the
greatest "making of" featurette that anyone could
hope for. Outstanding!

Final Thoughts

The Mission is a sweeping picture of epic
proportions. This powerful historic drama carries
a very serious message and in the process, ultimately
draws you into its humanity.

Warner Brothers has done an exceptional job with
this film's transfer, and the bonus 57-minute
featurette on the second disc makes this DVD
package a very worthy investment at a $20 price tag.

I am going to HIGHLY RECOMMEND this film in hopes
that people give this title the viewing it deserves.
As I noted previously, I wish I had discovered it
years ago.

Release Date: May 13, 2003

All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality


Senior HTF Member
Apr 15, 2002
great review Ron, as I almost forgot about this coming out.

Looks like another winner from Warner


Jon Sheedy

Stunt Coordinator
Jun 30, 1997
Great review Ron....glad to hear that you enjoyed THE MISSION so much! I've been looking forward to this title, and I'm very happy to hear ya report that Warner's has done a good job on the DVD.

Fans of great cinematography should order immediately, as should fans of Ennio Morricone.

I must admit however that, as much as I love THE MISSION, I sometimes have a bit of trouble with Bobby D. in this film. As I watch the film, I must make a concious effort to accept DeNiro as Rodrigo...frequent slips occur though, and I see DeNiro PLAYING Rodrigo.



Senior HTF Member
Sep 13, 1999
Real Name
Chris Caine
the score makes the movie, and has been a CD staple for many.

Ennio's best!

bring it on!

Jim Rankin

Stunt Coordinator
Jan 31, 1999
Excellent review Ron, not to give away my age but I saw this in a military theater the year of it's release in 1986, and it has always remained one of my favorite historical epics. I felt the jobs done by Irons and DeNiro were top notch, and there are several reasons to want to own this set.

Roger Rollins

Supporting Actor
Jun 19, 2001
An exceptional film, often forgotten of late. Thank you for an excellent review, Ron! Can't wait to get this! The extras sound terrific.

James Edward

Supporting Actor
May 1, 2000
This has been one of my 'wish that was out on DVD' films. I'm there on May 13... To hear it was done so well is fabulous news.

Randy A Salas

Apr 25, 2002
I can easily how a film like The Mission got lost in the shuffle.
It might seem that way now, looking back. It wasn't a popular film, as far as box-office take (neither was Color of Money, Blue Velvet or Stand By Me). But The Mission was a big deal among critics in 1986 (which doesn't mean it got all positive reviews) and in year-end awards. It received 7 Oscar nominations (winning only the one for cinematography), 11 BAFTA noms (won 3), 5 Golden Globe noms (won 2) and won the Golden Palm and technical prize at Cannes. I'm not sure I'd qualify a film that was nominated for best-picture and best-director Oscars as being overlooked, but you're certainly right that other films were more popular.

I also want to add that director Roland Joffe is a huge fan of the DVD format. I talked to him about it recently and will post some of his comments once I transcribe everything.

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
Real Name
Ronald Epstein

Let me first take this opportunity to give you
a well overdue welcome to this forum. I have seen
your replies within my review threads on many an
occasion and I have just been far too busy to reply
to some of the comments you have made.

I am particularly fond of the fact that you read
what I write, but at the same time a bit paranoid
for the fact that I write these reviews purely as
an uneducated amateur, while you represent someone
who has made reviewing a professional career.

I hope you will be tolerant of what I do here. :)

I had completely overlooked the fact that The
was nominated for a BEST PICTURE Oscar
in 1986. My comments were certainly directed towards
the viewing public that most likely overlooked this
gem in favor of more popular films that were out at
the same time.

Thanks again, Randy, for being part of this forum.
Please feel free to continue to politely pull at
my shirt tails whenever I may make a factual error
in my review.


Randy A Salas

Apr 25, 2002
I am particularly fond of the fact that you read
what I write, but at the same time a bit paranoid
for the fact that I write these reviews purely as
an uneducated amateur, while you represent someone
who has made reviewing a professional career.
Ron, thanks for the kind comments, but you undersell yourself. As the entertainment-wire editor for a major daily newspaper, I read dozens of DVD columns and reviews from a variety of newspapers, syndicates and wire services around the world. Your thoughtful, honest reviews are better than most of them. You might consider yourself an amateur, but I know of some professionals (by their weekly bylines, not personally) who could learn from you. You can quote me on that.

I hope you don't take my follow-up posts as criticism or horning in. I'm just trying to complement your already-useful information.


Stunt Coordinator
Aug 1, 2000
Ron, I don't think you have any reason to apologize. I think the film is clearly overlooked now. Just because a critic remembers it from '86, doesn't mean that anyone else does. I constantly list this film as one of my favorites of all time and my friends look at me with glassy eyes because they have never heard of it.

If it wasn't at least somewhat overlooked, why else would it have taken so long for this masterpiece of a movie to come out on DVD?

You shouldn't sell yourself short on what you do. I certainly mean no offense to Randy (who might very well be great at reviewing DVD's), but there are "plenty" of film critics who have absolutely no idea how to review DVD's for home theater buffs and still have no idea what a good picture on a DVD looks like. My guess is that just as many, if not more people are reading your reviews as read those in major newspapers. Your (uneducated :rolleyes:) reviews offer something different and that is why they are good.

Anyway, regardless, this movie is truly a great one on many levels and if there are people out there who haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to take a look. I'm glad to hear the transfer was good as this is a film that clearly deserves good treatment.


Supporting Actor
Sep 14, 2001
Great review Ron. I've been looking forward to this title to come out on dvd and it appeared that Warner's has done an excellent job. I figured this would be a single disc release since the film never screamed at the box office but I'm quite pleased with Warner's decsion for taking the time to do give this beautifully tragic film the justice that it deserves. Now, what about the omission of an dts soundtrack...;)

Richard Travale

Senior HTF Member
Feb 27, 2001
The Island, Canada
Real Name
Rich Travale
Great review Ron. I have to say that I have loved this movie since the first time I saw it.
The scene where Gabriel first sees the waterfall with the trumpets playing was absolutely majestic.


Second Unit
Sep 19, 2000
Thanks for the review, Ron.

Can't wait for this one! Too bad there isn't an isolated score of Ennio's best work, but the rest looks superb.


Senior HTF Member
Oct 31, 1997
First of all: I'm all over this one. Street Date Purchase all the way.

Second, regarding Ron and Randy's comments, I think that both are right in this instance. Sure The Mission was critically hailed and known at the time, but mostly by critics and "Industry" people. Certainly in the "general public's" consciousness this film, I do agree with Ron, was overlooked. Whenever I mention this film to my friends, I generally get blank stares. When I mention De Niro is in it, even some "die-hard De Niro fans" give me an odd look, like I'm putting them on.

Although nominated for quite a few Oscars, it is an unfortunate tendency in our society that we mostly remember the Winners. The Shawshank Redemption probably being the exception to that rule in recent history (there are others in the past I'm sure, but I'm not enough of a historian to rattle them off). Bottom line is that most people can name the Best Picture Winners but not the four other films nominated in that year.

DaViD Boulet

Senior HTF Member
Feb 24, 1999
When the DVD format was first brought into existence and I saw the glory of 16x9 video on my 16x9 Proscan TV...This was one of the first films about which I said to myself "I can't wait to replace my LD copy with the DVD version of the this when it finally comes out!"

I've waited a long time and I'll be priviledge to revisit this wonderful film in 16x9 glory!!!

dave :)

DaViD Boulet

Senior HTF Member
Feb 24, 1999
Oh...I should add that everyone who doesn't already have it should rush out and buy the soundtrack on CD TODAY!

Amazing soundtrack...one of the best...

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