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When Harry Met Sally... (30th Anniversary Edition)

Shout Factory // R // January 8, 2019
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted January 10, 2019 | E-mail the Author

Perhaps the best romantic comedy of its era or since then, Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally... (1989) remains enduring and iconic 30 years later. At its center is an outstanding script by the late, great Nora Ephron, further tightened by the strong chemistry and improvisational skills of its stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. It's been called "the best Woody Allen film he never made" for obvious reasons: full of letter-perfect dialogue, memorable New York locations, and on hell of an ending, it deftly avoids clich├ęs that usually hamper modern "rom-coms" and presents fully-realized, relatable characters we can't help but root for. Made in the second half of a near-perfect decade for its director (right after The Princess Bride and before Misery), When Harry Met Sally... is career-defining work for almost everyone involved.

The short version: they won't, they definitely won't, they might, they won't, they do, they definitely won't ever...and yep, they will after all. Toss in a few timeless quotes, one uncomfortable scene to watch with your parents, an unbalanced game of Pictionary, respectable switch-hitting, not-so-respectable karaoke singing, a brutal blind date, an undeserved slap, and a handful of sweet true stories (as interpreted by professional actors), and you've got a hit.

From start to finish, When Harry Met Sally... is about as perfectly-paced as comedies get; a few questionable wigs aside, we move through the various time periods in an effortlessly seamless manner. It maintains a comfortable tempo during all but the most stressful situations -- and even when things slow down considerably right after the 60-minute mark, that just makes its urgent New Year's Eve climax feel all the more effective. Fundamental strengths like these make When Harry Met Sally... feel more enjoyable on repeat viewings, and every time I watch it I forget that everything happens in just 96 minutes. It's also got greatly understated cinematography by future director Barry Sonnenfeld, who worked with Reiner one more time (on Misery) before permanently changing careers. Although New York is far from the most unique setting in any genre, Sonnenfeld captures a lot of great sights as the weather gradually changes from Autumn to Winter during the film's second half. Nora Ephron's script -- again, with occasional improv by Crysal and Ryan -- is strong enough to carry the film on its own, but having a great-looking backdrop certainly doesn't hurt.

Luckily, When Harry Met Sally... has always been fairly well-represented on Region 1/A home video through the years. It was released twice on DVD -- maybe more, if you count multi-disc collections and the like -- and at least twice on Blu-ray, so seeing it yet again in this format seems like overkill. And while it's true that Shout Factory's new 30th Anniversary Edition (under their "Select" line, which I thought was usually reserved for lesser-seen titles) isn't all that much more impressive than past MGM Blu-rays, it still appears to represent the most complete version on home video to date. Featuring a new and exclusive 4K-sourced transfer of the film and one new retrospective bonus feature (plus all of the old ones), it's a well-rounded effort that should mostly appeal to those who haven't upgraded their DVDs yet.

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Shout Factory's 1080p transfer of When Harry Met Sally... is sourced from a recent 4K scan of the original camera negative. To be fair, MGM's previous Blu-rays looked very good in their own right, but this seems to be an improvement: image detail and textures are strong and well-defined, colors are nicely saturated, and overall contrast levels look smooth with no obvious crush or white blooming. When Harry Met Sally... has always been a deceptively good-looking film: Barry Sonnenfeld's cinematography is fantastic with a few standout autumnal and winter landscape shots: a brief outdoor scene filmed under reddish leaves, also used as the old Special Edition DVD's cover artwork, was apparently shot just before a downpour after which all the leaves fell. This isn't the only nice-looking outdoor scene in the film, but one of its most memorable. The well-lit interiors are also impressive, which really goes a long way in maintaining the film's purely natural but inviting atmosphere from start to finish.

NOTE: The images on this page do not necessarily represent the title under review.

Trailing slightly behind (but only by design) is the default DTS-HD 5.1 audio track, which is precisely as front-loaded as you'd expect from a dialogue-heavy romantic comedy. Still, everything here gets the job done: conversations are (ugh) crystal-clear with modest separation, while panning effects and occasional surround activity are reserved for music cues and more crowded scenes. Ultimately, this is a film that looks better than it sounds, but there's no room for improvement here so I can't be too hard on it. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature only.

Shout Factory's menu offers simple navigation with access to chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. This 30th Anniversary Edition arrives in a standard keepcase with two-sided reversible artwork, a matching slipcover, and no inserts. As usual, it's a very nice-looking package that suits the material perfectly well.

Plenty to dig though, but most items are recycled from past Blu-ray and DVD editions. The sole newcomer is "Scenes from a Friendship" (45 minutes), a brand-new chat with Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal as they reminisce about the film 30 years later. Not surprisingly, their other collaborations are touched upon (meeting on the set All in the Family, This is Spinal Tap), but the core of their bond is obviously more personal than professional. There's a lot of great stories -- some of which are repeated on older extras, including a joint audio commentary and ten-year-old featurette -- but their obvious comfort and mutual respect for one another makes this an easy and accessible watch. A word about Shout Factory's quality control, or lack thereof: this conversation was primarily shot with three different camera angles but in two different aspect ratios (1.78:1 and 2.00:1), which creates a number of jarring transitions. Even near the end, a brief split-screen shot is used, as well as one shot that's framed even wider at 2.35:1. This doesn't match the otherwise smooth and accessible conversation, while varying light levels and color temperatures between alternating close-ups and the wider angle make things look even more amateurish. At least there aren't any sound issues.

Everything else is sourced from earlier Blu-rays and DVDs. These recycled extras include two Audio Commentaries (one with Reiner flying solo, and a more engaging group track where he's joined by Crystal and screenwriter Nora Ephron) and a load of short to mid-length Featurettes including "How Harry Met Sally", "It All Started Like This", "Stories of Love", "When Rob Met Billy", "Creating Harry", "I Love NY", "What Harry Met Sally Meant", and "So, Can Men and Women Really Be Friends?". Also carried over are seven rough-looking Deleted Scenes, a hilarious Harry Connick Jr. Music Video, and the film's Theatrical Trailer. Overall, it's about as complete a collection of extras as we're going to get.

When Harry Met Sally... is about as iconic and enduring as romantic comedies get: featuring top-tier performances, an outstanding script by the late Nora Ephron, and great direction by Rob Reiner, there's very little fat and a near-endless string of memorable moments, quotable lines, and perfectly-timed comedy gold. It's maintained a great reputation during the last three decades, which makes now as a good a time as any to catch up if you've never seen it. Shout Factory's new 30th Anniversary Edition ups the ante ever-so-slightly from MGM's earlier Blu-rays, serving up a new 4K-sourced transfer and at least one welcome new conversation with Reiner and Billy Crystal (plus the old extras, of course). When Harry Met Sally... comes Highly Recommended, but less so if you already own it on Blu-ray.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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