Rodrigo Mendoza was a violent soldier-for-hire in 1750s South America. Now he is a man of peace serving the Rain Forest Indians he once enslaved. But armies of Spain and Portugal threaten the lifestyle and safety of the native peoples. Now Rodrigo may have to pick up his sword and musket once again.
Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi, Ronald Pickup, Chuck Low, Liam Neeson
Won for Best Cinematography.
Nominated for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Score-Ennio Morricone.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish
Runtime: 125 min.
Release Date: 5/13/2003
• Feature-Length Commentary by Director Roalnd Joffe´
• "Omnibus: The Mission" - A Gripping Hour-Long Documentary Look at the Film's On-Location Shoot in Argentina and Colombia
• Cast/Director/Writer Film Highlights
• Theatrical Trailer
TV - Mitsubishi CS-32310 32";
Subwoofer - JBL PB12;
DVD Player - Toshiba SD-4700;
Receiver - Sony STR-DE845;
Center - Polk Audio CS175i;
Front Channels - Polk Audio;
Rear Channels - Polk Audio.
The Mission (1986)
Reviewed by David Williams (March 2, 2003)
The Mission contains all of the elements needed to be a great film – it was helmed by a director with one of the most powerful debuts in all of film (Roland Joffe - The Killing Fields); it was shot by an Oscar winning cinematographer (Chris Menges); it was written by a renowned screenwriter (Robert Bolt - Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, A Man For All Seasons); had a score composed by one of the all-time greats (Ennio Morricone); and contained an impressive roster of actors to portray the primary roles. In my opinion, the film was … and remains … a landmark in cinema and although there are still many reviewers out there who remain torn over whether or not the film is a sanctimonious/pious documentary, it doesn’t change my opinion one bit and I simply cannot recommend this film enough.
The film is based on the events of the Treaty of Madrid in 1750 and during this time, Portugal and Spain were pretty much the reigning “superpowers” of the world. The two countries essentially drew an imaginary line across the country of South America and determined who would control what boundaries. But each country had different ideas about what to do with the current inhabitants of the land. It seems that the Spanish saw the tribes in the area, the Guarani Indians, as a potential converts for Christianity, while the Portuguese saw them as nothing more than slave labor. Between what the Portuguese government wanted and what the Spanish government wanted and what the Vatican wanted, the area was in a constant state of flux and instability.
The film opens as we see a Jesuit priest tied to a tree/crucifix and those who put him there, the Guarani Indians, push the cross into a rapidly flowing river and watch it as it plunges over a raging waterfall. After the death of this priest, a new one is sent in to take his place and it’s then that we meet Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons). He shows up to carry on the work of his martyred brother and when he stops to take a rest from his long and physically draining journey and begins playing a musical instrument, the Indians emerge from the hidden depths of the jungle, surround him, and study him somewhat. Sensing that he means them no harm, they accept him as one of their own.
Meanwhile, below the falls, some European settlers have set up a plantation that is being worked by the Guarani’s. A mercenary/slave trader named Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro) has been supplying the settlers with “slaves” to work their plantation and during a raid above the falls for more Indians, Mendoza encounters Gabriel and his Jesuit mission. However, this won’t be the last time the duo meet, as a few months later, in a fit of rage, Mendoza kills his brother and feeling extreme guilt for his deed, he seeks repentance from the Jesuit missionaries. Gabriel, Fielding (Liam Neeson), and the other missionaries assign Mendoza a difficult challenge in exchange for forgiveness of his sin and they have him scale the falls again and again … however, he must do it with his heavy armor and sword draped off of him in a satchel. Feeling forgiven, Mendoza becomes a member of the Jesuit priesthood and after some coaxing, is welcomed in by the Indians he once persecuted and under the protection of the church, the Indians live harmoniously with the Jesuits, producing lovely violins and flutes and learning to sing Christian hymns as well as any choir in Rome.
However, the political climate starts to change and the Portuguese and Spanish governments decide to enter a treaty (mentioned earlier) that will have the Spanish handing over some territory over to the Portuguese – territory where many missions have already been established. The Vatican sends over an emissary, Altamirano (Ray McAnally), and it’s up to him to decide what missions will remain under the Church’s protection and what missions must be done away with. Altamirano is getting pressure from all sides and decides that he will visit each of the missions individually before rendering his decision. Gabriel knows that without the mission, the Guarani will become nothing more than laborers and slaves and he does all he can to help persuade Altamirano.
While Altamirano finds himself impressed with the work that Gabriel, Mendoza, Fielding, and the others are doing, he hands down the edict that the Jesuit’s, as well as the Indians, must leave the San Carlos Mission as soon as possible. Altamirano tries unsuccessfully to explain the political ramifications of his decision to the priests and demands that they leave the mission – and the Indians - at once. However, God’s will doesn’t change with the ratification of a political treaty and therefore, the priests decide to remain – regardless of the Church’s decision.
The Guarani refuse to leave and choose to defend their home, with the Jesuit priests right alongside of them. When the European troops start moving in on the mission and the bullets start to fly, Gabriel, Fielding, and Mendoza must make some very difficult decisions. Refusing to take up arms and armed only with their faith, the holy sacraments, and the cross, they are faced with certain disaster in the face of the advancing army.
The film is full of didactic social commentary, as it shows what happens when a “conquering” force or people impose their will on an unsuspecting/unwilling people. Who are we to judge what culture is more superior than another? Is forcing someone to be a slave somehow better than forcing them into Christianity in return for your help? Are we really so arrogant to think that a peaceful, remote colony of Indians, left to their own devices for thousands of years, really want to become “westernized”? Are we helping these people by introducing them to our culture or are we simply annihilating one culture for the sake of another?
The Mission also forces us to think about other issues as well. What if it were all gone tomorrow and we were on the receiving end of having our culture destroyed (or taken from us); what would we take with us? What would be so important to us that we couldn’t leave it behind? While everyone has their own answers to these questions, with current events such as they are, The Mission rings true even in today’s society, if not more so than before. The film also shows us how powerful our conscience can be – especially when it leads to action.
The Mission is as moving as it is majestic and rewards the viewer with as many questions as it does answers. This is simply a great film that begs to be viewed and experienced more so than read about and it comes with my highest recommendation.
The DVD Grades: Picture A / Audio B+ / Bonus B-
Warner has given The Mission an absolutely spectacular transfer in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with anamorphic treatment. The film looks outstanding for its Region One premiere and Warner has handled this one with kid gloves.
The Mission contains a very lush palette, with the inviting hues of the South American jungles taking center stage. The palette was perfectly rendered and there was no smearing or oversaturation noted at any time. The entire film was properly balanced and contrasted, while detail was sharp and right on the money at all times. The film’s cinematography from Oscar-winner Chris Menges is a beauty to behold and thankfully, Warner has made every effort to make sure that it has been transferred perfectly over to DVD. The film maintained deep and profound black levels throughout and allowed for superb shadow detail and delineation. The Mission is a film that begs to be seen and thankfully, Warner has made sure that you’ll get the best image possible when you run the film through your DVD player.
The film contains no discernable flaws, as about the only thing I noted were a couple of instances of edge enhancement and grain and nothing more. Print flaws were non-existent, as was any sort of noise, print flaws, or artifacting. This image is as close to perfect as they come and quite simply, The Mission has never looked better.
The Mission looks amazing and Warner has absolutely knocked one out of the park with their handling of the transfer. Warner has brought on the big guns on this one and while the studio is responsible for countless spectacular-looking transfers, The Mission definitely stands out as one of their best - especially when you consider the age of the film itself. I simply can’t say enough about how great The Mission looks … you’re just going to have to see it to believe it.
Warner brings The Mission to DVD with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that while not very bombastic in nature, does an excellent job of creating a pleasing auditory experience.
The film is very dialogue driven and therefore, your surrounds don’t get quite the workout that a recent action blockbuster might give you. This track earns its keep by immersing you in the jungles of South America with discrete environmental effects that are used to full effect. You can hear the rushing waters of rivers and waterfalls, breezes blowing through the trees and forestation, as well as the chatter and activity of the birds and animals that inhabit the jungle. While not as aggressive as I may be making it sound, there is a general sense of immersion and ambience created at many times throughout the film. However, other than the aforementioned moments, there are rarely any occasions where split surrounds and intense panning were noted. Even so, the overall experience was quite pleasing.
The Mission is a very dialogue-driven film and thankfully, Warner’s track keeps everything sounding very crisp, clean, and intelligible. Dialogue was always properly balanced with all of the other elements in the track and everything sounded quite nice. The film contains one of the most haunting scores I’ve ever heard and Ennio Morricone masterpiece is definitely the highlight of the audio transfer, as Warner has made every effort to make sure that the music comes across very rich and full – with superb dynamics and fidelity. The score masterfully combines the singing of choirs, Indian panpipes/flutes and sweeping symphonic sounds to create a unique and moving piece that becomes as much a part of the film as the characters that star in it. The LFE doesn’t get much play in the track, as it only pops up in a couple of the busier scenes and was used to prop up certain moments of the illustrious score.
Warner has also included a Dolby 2.0 Surround track in French, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Warner breaks down the supplements across two discs in order to maximize the transfer for the lovely image we discussed earlier. There’s not a ton of material included on Warner’s set, but between the commentary and documentary, there’s some really great information to be gleaned from what is included.
First and foremost is an Audio Commentary with director Roland Joffe and he’s very candid with his thoughts about the film and about how it has come full-circle with today’s events. He gives us some marvelous backstory on the film and the time he spent with the Waunana Indians (who has never seen a white man before Joffe). It’s an incredible story and Joffe recalls certain events with unbelievable clarity. He delves into some great discussion about the film and its subject matter and he’s very philosophical with his comments. Joffe understands the material on so many levels that the commentary is able to consistently remain interesting and engaging throughout. Joffe covers many aspects dealing with the production of The Mission and his comments are a literal treasure trove of information and anecdotes from behind-the-scenes. If you’re a fan of The Mission, this is absolutely one supplement you cannot miss. Well worth every second spent checking it out. (For more on Joffe’s thoughts about the film, check out the interview we have linked on the main page of DVDMG.COM.)
The remainder of the extras are pretty straightforward as Disc One closes out with one-page of text-based Cast & Crew info and two-pages of text-based Awards that the film won. Warner has also included a Theatrical Trailer for the film as well.
There’s only one supplement to be found here and it’s entitled Omnibus: The Mission and clocking in at almost a full hour, this is the definitive “making-of” featurette for the film that gives viewers an in-depth look at all the work that went into the South American shoot. While many of the themes in this documentary are echoed in Joffe’s commentary, it doesn’t take away from actually seeing Joffe and company go through the motions via the powerful imagery included in the supplement. We see the cast and crew hard at work on location with the Waunana Indians (who played the Guarani) and we see how the filmmakers and the Indians worked, played, and lived together while making this influential film. There’s a lot of marvelous footage here, as Warner has given us the end-all, be-all, behind-the-scenes look at The Mission. The documentary is one of the more interesting I have seen in some time and anyone interested in the film will find themselves captivated with this supplement.
Warner has wisely spread the extras across two discs in order to maximize the room on Disc One for the film itself and while the quantity of the extras may be disappointing to some, Warner has settled on quality and the results are superb.
The Mission has been a long time coming on DVD and Warner has absolutely knocked its Region One release out of the park. Not only is the story gripping and compelling, but Warner has given the film a respectable stable of supplements, a nice audio transfer, and an absolutely superb video transfer. The Mission is the perfect package and comes highly recommended. Pick yourself up a copy when it streets in May.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3255 Stars|| Number of Votes: 215|