Woody Allen Double Feature (US - BD RA)
Jonathan looks at two more Woody Allen classics now out on Blu-ray...
When cryogenically preserved Miles Monroe (Allen) is awakened 200 years after a hospital mishap, he discovers the future's not so bright: all women are frigid, all men are impotent, and the world is ruled by an evil dictator... a disembodied nose. Pursued by the secret police and recruited by anti-government rebels with a plan to kidnap the dictator's snout before it can be cloned, Miles falls for the beautiful - but untalented - poet Luna (Keaton). But when Miles is captured and reprogrammed by the government - to believe he's Miss America - it's up to Luna to save Miles, lead the rebels, and cut off the nose... just to spite its face. (From the MGM synopsis)
This was actually my first time seeing Sleeper, which is a little embarrassing to admit as I'd like to think I'm a big Woody Allen fan. But the truth is that I enjoy Allen's more dramatic films, or at least the ones that mix his trademark sense of humor with sweet melancholy like Annie Hall or Crimes and Misdemeanors. This is closer to Bananas. His older, purely comical efforts just don't have the same lasting appeal on me, but there is no denying the charm and wit on display in Sleeper. Rather than lampoon sci-fi as a genre, Allen uses the futuristic setting as an excuse to put a spin on his usual style of humor. For instance, in one scene a doctor asks him to explain some pictures and television phenomenons. Allen gets to riff on pop culture while the future scientist accepts his words as facts. There's plenty of sci-fi references, including a HAL-like computer and some sets that bring 2001: A Space Odyssey to mind, but for physical humor Allen turns to Charlie Chaplin. There's one sequence where Allen's character Miles is dressed up, pretending to be a robot. When he is sent to the robot factory to get his head removed, he makes a clumsy escape that plays in sped-up time, making use of the props around him. Its impossible not to think of Modern Times. According to the IMDb trivia section, Allen originally wanted to make a futuristic movie where people were forbidden to talk, and he would use that premise to make a silent film. Perhaps the Chaplin references were his attempt to pay tribute to that original idea.
Sleeper looks great on Blu-ray. I couldn't spot a digital artefact from beginning to end, and I tried. The image maintains a very consistent and healthy level of grain with no signs of digital tinkering. I've included caps from the DVD release for comparison, and as you may notice the Blu-ray has a warmer push to it. The Annie Hall Blu-ray had a similar look. I haven't seen a 35mm print of Sleeper, so I'm not sure exactly how it is meant to look, but the Blu-ray image never looks overcooked. Black levels are great and are consistent with the previous release. There are a few noticeable scratches and damage marks throughout, but nothing major. As with the previous Woody Allen classics that MGM/Fox released, this only comes with a DTS-HD 1.0 track. It serves the film just fine, but there's nothing special about it. I never had a problem making out what any characters were saying. Volume levels aren't a problem, but I did notice that the opening production logos when I first put the Blu-ray into my drive were significantly louder than the film itself. The only extra is an HD Theatrical Trailer, but its a fun one. It shows Woody Allen working on the film while a narrator asks him about it. He tells lie after lie about the film while footage is shown to the contrary.
Top: MGM DVD (2000)
Bottom: Fox Blu-ray
Hannah and Her Sisters
The eldest daughter of show-biz parents, Hannah (Mia Farrow) is a devoted wife, loving mother and successful actress. A loyal supporter of her two aimless sisters Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Diane Wiest), she's also the emotional backbone of a family that seems to resent her stability almost as much as they depend on it. But when Hannah's perfect world is quietly sabotaged by sibling rivalry, she finally begins to see that she's as lost as everyone else, and in order to find herself, she'll have to choose - between the independence her family can't live with.. and the family she can't live without. (From the MGM synopsis)
This is one of my personal favorites from Woody Allen. In the late 70's he hit big with Annie Hall and Manhattan, but if you ask me he peaked in the 80's and really honed the thoughtful, character-driven side of his storytelling that those films introduced. The plot of Hannah and Her Sisters doesn't sound like much. The story revolves around three sisters and some men in their lives. There are awkward dates and affairs, bickering between siblings and parents, and not much else to distinguish its content from a modern day soap opera. But nobody handles characters quite like Allen did in that era. Just thirty minutes into the picture every character feels fully developed, and even the less likable ones manage to be sympathetic. Michael Caine won an Oscar for his performance. Even though he is courting an affair, you can't help but be charmed by his bumbling lovesick antics, or when he can't help but act against his better judgment. Dianne Wiest, who also won an Oscar, is flawless as Holly. She's the sister that is still trying to figure out what to do with her life. Woody Allen brings his usual hand-wringing mannerisms to his performance as Mickey, but here he gives himself a vulnerable role that allows him to show more depth than usual. Its no surprise that he can play a debilitated hypochondriac well, but he totally sells Mickey's eventual enlightenment as well. The story is told through multiple narrators, some long dramatic takes and some cleverly insightful flashbacks. Allen's direction feels more assured than ever as he manages a difficult balancing act with complete ease. His wit is also fully intact, with many laugh out loud moments that you could miss if you aren't paying full attention. This is essential Woody Allen, and I'm thrilled to see it on Blu-ray looking better than ever.
Though it came out 13 years after Sleeper, Hannah and Her Sisters does not benefit from the transition to high definition nearly as well. Again, digital tinkering does not seem to be a problem, and the image is a definite step up from the DVD. That said, the grain over this film is maddeningly inconsistent. At times it has that gorgeous 35mm appearance, but every now and then the grain becomes unusually thick and blotchy, resembling something closer to digital noise. When it happens, it's especially noticeable in the darker areas of the pictures. It could be that certain scenes were not in as great a shape as others. The DVD has the same noise in the black levels, though the lower resolution helps to mask it. That is really my only complaint. More often than not it looks terrific. Colors are intact, so I'm not left questioning how the film is supposed to look as I was with Sleeper. The Blu-ray looks like it may be just a tiny bit brighter than the DVD release. Again, we only have a DTS-HD 1.0 track, and again its perfectly acceptable if nothing to write home about. It's flat, but it gets the job done. Once more, the only extra is an HD theatrical trailer. This is a more straight forward trailer than Sleeper, but it has some footage from a deleted scene that makes it worth a look for fans.
Top: MGM DVD (2001)
Bottom: Fox Blu-ray
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays/DVDs and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Release Date: 15th January 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 English, Dolby Digital 1.0 Spanish, Dolby Digital 1.0 French
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Theatrical Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Mia Farrow, Michael Caine
Genre: Comedy, Drama and Sci-Fi
Length: 194 minutes
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