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Oscar-nominated ‘Argo’ delivers in every conceivable way

Published: February 18, 2013 | 9:20 am
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Blu-ray widescreen, DVD widescreen and UltraViolet digital copy, 2012, R, language and violent images

Best extra: They’re all good, but start with the commentary by director/star Ben Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio.

THE CARTOONISH storyboards that open the movie only seem incongruous.

In his commentary, director Ben Affleck says they serve a dual purpose. They foreshadow the “quasi-comic” nature of his film – a best picture Oscar nominee – and indicate it’s not a hard history lesson, that there’s some storytelling going on.

Boy, is he ever right. If the gist wasn’t absurd enough – that a CIA operative would get six Americans out of Iran by pretending to be members of a Canadian film crew – there are laugh-out-loud moments when Tony Mendez (Affleck) goes to Hollywood and meets with a makeup artist (John Goodman) and producer (Oscar nominee Alan Arkin) to set up his plan.

And the story? In case you’ve been living in a vault, it’s the real deal. When the U.S. Embassy was overrun in November 1979, six staffers fled to the residence of the Canadian ambassador. They hid for nearly three months, but with the Iranians closing in, Mendez pitched his idea: They would masquerade as filmmakers scouting locations for a sci-fi movie called “Argo,” then fly out of the heavily-guarded airport.

The operation was declassified by President Clinton in 1997, which makes Affleck’s achievement all the more commendable. Even though you know how it turns out, that takes nothing from the tension he generates.

Another of “Argo’s” many strengths is its attention to detail. Affleck, who majored in Middle Eastern studies, says in the (HD) feature “Absolute Authenticity” that when he approaches a film, “everything has got to be real. I have a high standard for design, dress, background.” It shows. He talked to the embassy staffers and then-President Jimmy Carter. Everything, even fleeting, minor instances, was based on someone’s recollections. He had his cast live together as the real diplomats did because “it’s hard to act familiarity.” Viewers of a certain age will appreciate that only three newscasts are shown on TV.

It all plays dead perfect on Blu-ray.Colors are saturated, giving the picture a sort of period feel. Shadows are lively, detail is always solid. A consistent, unobtrusive grain imparts a true film experience. No problems with the audio. (The film is nominated for sound editing and mixing.) Separation is natural and there’s plenty of depth. The soundtrack shifts seamlessly from Middle East strains to Booker T. and The M.G.s, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin.

There isn’t a dud among the extras, either.

The commentary with Affleck and Chris Terrio (a nominee for adapted screenplay) is informed, engaging and sprinkled with anecdotes. The new features are all in high-def. Besides “Absolute Authenticiy,” they include “We Were There,” which brings in Mendez, Carter and the diplomats, and “The CIA and Hollywood Connection,” which goes into the set-up. “Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option” is a 2005 Canadian documentary that examines the risks that government took. Among the participants are Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife.

Capping the package is a picture-in-picture feature that pairs eyewitness accounts with what’s playing out on screen. If it gets a little repetitious, so what? This is the kind of story that bears repeating.

― Craig Shapiro


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