A strange, interesting little film whose premiere is apparently going to be on video, "Sleeping Dictionary" certainly has some flaws, but it's a beautiful, quiet and well acted little film. The film stars Hugh Dancey as John, a Brit dispatched in 1937 to the outpost of Sarawak to join the colonial government and educate the area. When he arrives there, he finds that his tutor in the local language (and in the bedroom - hence her title, "Sleeping Dictionary") is the beautiful Selima (Jessica Alba, of TV's "Dark Angel"). Of course, he eventually falls for her - although who wouldn't fall for Jessica Alba, especially Alba dressed in little tribal outfits.
The two don't hit it off right away, as he's against the idea of having her "tutor" him. Eventually though, the two start to become more interested in one another, although he eventually finds himself called away after revealing a dark secret in the jungle that is harming the natives. When he returns, he brings a wife with him, although he finds himself still attracted to Selima.
The film certainly had positives and negatives. Some of the early scenes with the natives were a bit goofy and occasionally reminded me of a "Simpsons" episode where Homer found himself stuck on an island of natives, who looked to him for education. There's also not enough happening in the early going and, as a result, the film can seem rather slow at times. I liked Alba's performance here, as she's sweet and likable, although her accent borders on silly. Alba and Hugh Dancey are good together, though and the two have a sweet, playful chemistry. Brenda Blethyn and Bob Hoskins are good here, although I'm not quite sure why the two actors were interested in such minor roles. Technically, this is also a fine production, with stunning locations and beautiful cinematography.
"Sleeping Dictionary" starts off rather awkwardly, but once it gets going and becomes more dramatic, the film really started to come together quite nicely as a romantic drama. The film was rather inconsistent and could have been paced a bit better, but overall, I enjoyed it.
VIDEO: "Sleeping Dictionary" is presented by New Line in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. A beautiful-looking film that appeared to have a decent-sized budget, the film's cinematography and locations translate well to DVD on this excellent transfer. Sharpness and detail are exceptional, as the picture remained impressively crisp and clear throughout.
The only occasional fault present was edge enhancement, which only appeared in slight amounts during a couple of scenes. The print appeared nearly spotless, as only a couple of very slight specks were spotted. No compression artifacts - or other issues, for that matter - were seen.
The film's warm, rich color palette was presented quite well, as colors appeared accurately rendered and well-saturated, with no smearing. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked natural.
SOUND: "Sleeping Dictionary" is presented by New Line in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. Surprisingly (given the genre), the film actually offers a very pleasant audio experience. The jungle scenes offer constant ambience in the surrounds, and although this is not an official EX soundtrack, those with back surround capability will find that it adds an even greater feel of envelopment. Audio quality is top-notch, as sound effects remained crisp and clean, as did dialogue and score.
EXTRAS: Just the film's trailer, as well as trailers for other New Line titles ("Cherish", "Storytelling", "Invisible Circus" and "Five Senses").
Final Thoughts: "Sleeping Dictionary" started off a little awkwardly and slowly, but once it started to become more dramatic and emotional, the film became more involving. For a direct-to-video feature, it boasts surprisingly high production values and gorgeous scenery. New Line's DVD doesn't offer much in the way of supplements, but audio/video quality is exceptional. Rent it.