Argo is a 2012 film from director/co-producer/actor Ben Affleck, based upon actual events surrounding the historic operation commonly referred to as the "Canadian Caper" and that was declassified decades after the event. The film is a dramatized version of the events that occured, featuring excellent production-work that makes the story and film all the more compelling. It is based in part on the book How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio.
During the 1979 Iranian hostage situation there was a lot of work done to figure out a solution to saving U.S. diplomats and the film dramatizes this situation, which operated on an idea by C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez (performed in the film by director Ben Affleck), suggesting that in order to rescue the hostages a possible solution was to make the operation backdrop be a cheesy sci-fi movie (named Argo) as a part of the situation that would then help them to save the diplomats.
The story of Argo focuses upon the attempt made by the C.I.A. to save hostages during the 1979 situation. With the almost unbelievable concept of the fake sci-fi film (which was promoted and advertised as a real film within the Hollywood system) the group put a lot of effort into trying to save 6 United States diplomats in Tehran, Iran through the cover of the sc-fi flick named 'Argo'. Part of the immense appeal of Argo is that the story is based on real events but it is so out-there that the circumstances of it are almost unbelievable, which makes the film draw viewers into an even more fascinating world. The real life history of what happened is fascinating and this is an immensely impressive effort to bring a dramatic Hollywood sensibility to sharing this story on the big-screen.
Argo is one of the absolute best efforts made in filmmaking in 2012. Without any doubt, this is a genuinely remarkable film. It is astonishing to think that Ben Affleck made it, if only because of the fact he was once included as a punch-line in so many movie-related jokes. His acting career has always been somewhat inconsistent. Affleck has tended to craft a solid performance in one solid film only to follow with a couple of bad films.
As a filmmaker, Affleck has proven himself to be a classy, masterful director with a keen eye for detail and the craft of storytelling (not to mention the importance of bringing the best out of the actors a filmmaker works with during production). Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck's two previous directorial efforts, were both examples of significant dramatic filmmaking and Affleck seems to have realized his talents in this arena as Affleck has become more ambitious and driven with each passing film.
Argo is Affleck's greatest accomplishment to date. Affleck's dedication to making the film feel as authentic as possible through the location-scouting work, production design, and even filming styles (as there are moments where classic 16mm cameras were used to make footage feel archival in nature) helped make this an example of impressive dramatic storytelling that successfully blended the best of Hollywood with a compelling real-life story. And there definitely are numerous ways in which the film excels, including its balance between the humorous moments connected to the fake-production of the sci-fi flick Argo and the real seriousness of the situation to save the U.S. diplomats.
With a brilliant script by screenwriter Chris Terrio, Affleck breaks the film down into what amounts to being a three part narrative story: it follows the production of 'Argo', the rescue attempt of the diplomats, and the personal life of C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez. Alexandre Desplat created a brilliant score that melds seamlessly with the storytelling. One can hope that Affleck and Desplat will work together more in the future, as one of my only complaints about Gone Baby Gone and The Town was that I was not as mesmerized by the scores. This is not an issue here as Desplat is one of the best composers working today and his effort on Argo is quite simply amazing. Argo had a great production team and everyone worked well together to form a compelling work of art and a fascinating dramatization of history.
Argo went on to win numerous awards and accolades in 2012. Perhaps most memorably, most of Hollywood decided that the film received a massive snub as Affleck was not nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Director, despite much acclaim and a general expectation for his nomination. The film went on to win the Best Picture award at the Academy Awards. This remarkable dramatic achievement was recognized as a crowning achievement of the year.
Argo: Extended Edition is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The film has received a MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encoding that presents the film with an average bit-rate around 23 mbps, which is decent (if not perfect) for a stellar presentation of a modern film production. This presentation seems to match the source and quality of the theatrical release version, which is also presented on this disc.
The film has remarkable cinematography which is well realized and preserved on the Blu-ray. The authentic nature of the film works with the filming style. Viewers will find this to be a successful transfer that is on par with the original release that only included the theatrical presentation. There are no annoying digital anomalies and the video source is notable on a number of levels, with good color accuracy, clarity, and contrast levels.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation given to Argo offers listeners the chance to hear the audio with newer 24 bit encoding at 48khz. The clarity of the lossless presentation sounds magnificent. The depth of the sound floor is well utilized with the sequences of protests in the opening of the film and the engine and vehicle sounds from the ending. The score by composer Alexander Desplat was excellent and benefits from the presentation quality. This is a really nice sound design and the dialogue is easy to understand.
Packaging and Physical Extras:
The package was assembled to be in a oversized box that matches the dimensions of the former Ultimate Collector's Edition of Ben Affleck's The Town. The outer box features embossed title treatment, on the side and front, which is a super slick and well appreciated modification. With opening the package, fans will find a surprisingly good 64 page book with some good material about the film's production, a replica Tony Mendez (as played by Ben Affleck) ID card, a map showcasing notes, a replica Argo ('79) movie poster as seen in Argo, and a CIA-style envelop noting the confidentiality of the contents, and a Digital HD UV code.
New Bonus Features:
Extended Cut (included on Disc One along with the theatrical version that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards):
This release features an extended cut running nine minutes longer. Most of the differences in the versions are found in the amount of time spent focusing in on Ben Affleck's character and his relationship with his family: his interactions with his son and wife. The cut depicts a marriage struggle between Mendez and his wife, as there is tension because of the amount of time he spends away from home. There are also some minute differences in minor tweaks, but the abundance of the material is found in few new scenes, mostly peppered at the beginning.
Exclusive Bonus Materials (Disc Two):
Argo Declassified (HD, 12 min.) is a featurette discussing the story and history of the event, featuring interviews with many who were directly involved, including Jimmy Carter, a past director of the CIA named George Tenet, and others. It also features interviews with Argo's filmmakers.
Ben Affleck's Balancing Act (HD, 16 min.) is about the actor working diligently to balance the dramatic backbone of the film with comedy (thus balancing the fine line tone of the film) and making the film more compelling and authentic with shooting location and feelings of good authenticity in production management. If you thought it might be about Affleck balancing between acting and directing you'd be wrong.
A Discussion with the Cast of Argo (HD, 10 min.) should be renamed "A Discussion with Ben Affleck featuring guest appearances by actors from the film" as it's mostly Affleck who gets to shine on this featurette, clearly edited down from something much longer and more complete. It features some interviews with other actors including Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston - others are attending the event as well, but most of this brief 10 minutes is Affleck talking (with an amazing intelligence that demonstrates his sheer dedication to Argo) about the making of the film.
Tony Mendez on Tony Mendez (HD, 11 min.) is an interview with the actual CIA operative who worked on the '79 hostage situation. In this brief piece he talks about his career in the field.
The Istanbul Journey (HD, 9 Min.) is mostly a featurette focused upon discussing the filming locations and some of the major production issues that were faced during these moments of making Argo.
Argo F@$% Yourself (HD, 1 min.) is a basic origin of the catchphrase in the film and the piece features tons of people involved in the film saying the phrase (with only a few holdouts).Theatrical Trailer (HD).
Previously Released Bonus Content:
Picture in Picture (PiP): Eyewitness Account (HD, 2 Hrs.) is an in-film commentary tack in which survivors of the Iran hostage situation and others involved in the actual events discuss what had happened. (Theatrical Version Only.)
Audio Commentary featuring director Ben Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio. (Theatrical Version Only.)
Rescued from Tehran: We Were There (HD, 17 min.) features interviews with many involved in the actual situation on which the film is based.
Absolute Authenticity (HD, 11 min.) is all about the effort by Ben Affleck and his crew to make the film as authentic as possible in bringing to life the story in a dramatic and compelling way.
The CIA and Hollywood Connection (HD, 6 min.) features interviews is a basic feature about the connection between the CIA and Hollywood, with interviews from Affleck along with some of the actors and Tony Mendez.
Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option (SD, 47 min.) is a 2005 TV documentary made about the "Canadian Caper" story that inspired Argo.
Final Thoughts:Argo was one of the best films of 2012. Upon seeing the film for the first time while it was in theaters I said out-loud at the end of the film "this is going to win best picture of the year" and only a few months later it did win the award (as I predicted it would). I ended up feeling as though there were a few better films in 2012 but Argo reserved a firm spot on my list of '"Best Films of the Year" with ease. Despite some historical inaccuracies about the depth of involvement by Canada the film is a dramatically successful motion-picture with an immense and highly memorable narrative and some incredible upper-class filmmaking. Argo is a remarkable film, and the best work by its director to date.
Fans of Argo will surely be wondering if this new edition is worth picking up for their collection, especially if they own a previous edition already. The good news is that this is easily the most definitive release of the film available to date with both the theatrical and extended editions includede, as well as many supplements that are new to this release. There are also some great collectibles and the packaging is sure to delight fans. Ultimately, the purchase is worthwhile for anyone who want to see the extended footage and for those who enjoy making-of material as it features an abundance of exclusive content.