Sam (Tom Hanks) is heartsick
after the death of his beloved wife, and even when he and his young son Jonah
try to start a new life, he just can't seem to pull it together. Finally Jonah
decides to take matters into his own hands: he calls in to a radio talk show
for advice, and ends up getting his dad on the air. On the other side of the
country, Annie (Meg Ryan) is dealing with the ups and downs of her own love
life... when she hears Sam on the radio and wonders if he could really be her
Sleepless in Seattle has
its good moments. And it's those moments that I remembered from the first time
I watched it, my memory editing out all the less interesting stuff.
Unfortunately, watching it again reminded me that the "good parts
version" of Sleepless in Seattle is woefully short, surrounded by a
lot of rather uninspired fluff.
Let's start off with what Sleepless
in Seattle gets right: its humor. When the film takes a light-hearted
approach to its material, it nearly always hits the target right on, and both
Hanks and Ryan handle their comedic material very well. There are plenty of
examples: for instance, Annie and Walter's dinner with her family, or Sam's
tentative ventures into the scary world of dating, are genuinely very funny.
The supporting cast also includes some solid actors: Rosie O'Donnell and Bill
Pullman have some funny moments as Annie's best friend and her fiancé.
But Sleepless in Seattle
doesn't seem to recognize its own strengths; far too much of the movie is spent
in the "serious" moments. The film tries to offer a profound insight
into the nature of love, loss, and finding love again. It falls flat. Part of
the problem is that both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan always seem a little awkward
with their serious scenes, and rightly so: while the comedic scenes are deftly
written, the dramatic ones are sodden with clichéd sentiment, relying on
lingering camera shots and tight close-ups to prod us into feeling sorry for
these characters. More of the problem lies in the overall story itself. It's an
absurd situation right from the start, and that's fine: absurdity is a staple
of comedy, and the humorous parts of Sleepless in Seattle handle it very
well. However, the mix of a comically absurd situation and serious emotional
drama mixes about as well as oil and water. The two are present in the same
container, but there's no integration. That's not to say that some genuinely
serious moments couldn't have been slipped in... but it would have taken
subtlety, whereas Sleepless in Seattle is about as subtle as a
Sleepless in Seattle is
also beset by a couple of other problems, one of which is the musical score,
which is a combination of generic background music and modern songs with
lyrics. The songs are annoyingly obtrusive, calling attention to themselves
when the viewer should be absorbed into the events of the story; the overall
effect is quite distracting. Part of the reason that the music is so obtrusive
is that it's a poorly chosen mish-mash of musical styles, none of which really complements
the story. We also get more than our fair share of sappy pop songs with their
gratuitous (yet ineffectual) attempts to manipulate our emotions.
I'll admit that by the end of
the film, I was also quite sick of the character of eight-year-old Jonah. He's
essential to the plot, which is fine, and he's also essential to developing the
character of Sam, which is also fine; as long as Jonah remains a secondary
character he's perfectly acceptable, and even contributes to some funny scenes
with Sam. In the second half of the film, though, the focus shifts more to him
and his antics, and the increased dosage of "cute/obnoxious kid"
becomes annoying rather than humorous.
In the end, Sleepless in
Seattle certainly does have its charming and funny moments, but most of the
rest of the film is forgettable.
The "10th Anniversary
Edition" seems to be the same transfer as the earlier Special Edition: the
image quality is a notch over average, but certainly the film would have
benefited from a new treatment. Overall, the image looks good in brightly lit
scenes, with natural-looking colors and satisfactory contrast. The print is in
good condition, with no noticeable print flaws. The more dimly lit scenes tend
to be grainy, though, and edge enhancement is fairly heavy throughout the film;
middle-distance and especially longer-distance shots are blurry and lacking in
The film is presented in its
original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. Unfortunately,
it's forced to share the DVD space with a pan-and-scan version of the film,
when that space could have been used to improve the transfer instead.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is
adequate but not stellar. The dialogue is clear and understandable, though not
always particularly sharp. The musical portion of the soundtrack does tend to
be rather obtrusive in music-only scenes, but at least it settles down when the
characters start to talk once again.
The bonus content of the 10th
Anniversary Edition appears to be the same as the earlier Special Edition; the
only difference is in the new cover art (which is dull and generic compared to
the earlier, rather clever cover). The one selling point of this edition is the
promise of a Starbucks gift card inside. However, that's rather misleading.
There's no gift card inside: you have to mail in a form, along with the DVD's
UPC code and your receipt, to get it, and the offer ends 12/30/2003.
The main special feature is an
audio commentary track from director/co-writer Nora Ephron and co-writer Deliah
Ephron. A 13-minute featurette is also included, titled "Love in the
Movies." It's actually a fairly standard promotional featurette for the
film, with short interview segments from actors and crew interspersed with
clips from the movie. The bonus material finishes up with cast and crew
filmographies, and a set of trailers for Sleepless in Seattle, My
Best Friend's Wedding, It Could Happen to You, Philadelphia,
and Nothing in Common.
If you like Tom Hanks and Meg
Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle is probably worth watching once; it does have
its funny moments. Overall, though, I found that the film didn't stand up well
to a second viewing, with too much sappy drama unbalancing the film as a whole.
It's worth a rental. Keep in mind that this edition doesn't appear to be any
different from the earlier Special Edition, so either one will do fine.