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 destiny.
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 sledgehammer.
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 detail.
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.