Blu-ray Review: Sleepless in Seattle - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Twenty years on, Sleepless in Seattle has grown remarkably quaint, but its modest charms remain. Nora Ephron’s Oscar-nominated (for Ephron’s original screenplay and Harry Connick Jr.’s song, “A Wink and a Smile”) romantic comedy might even confuse younger viewers, that’s how dated it has become. No one has a cell phone or a computer. Communication changed so rapidly in the few years that followed its 1993 release, Ephron mined similar but updated territory with the same two stars in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail. It’s the appeal of said stars—Tom Hanks as widower Sam Baldwin and Meg Ryan as journalist Annie Reed—that still manages to the sell this creaky conceit.

Specialty label Twilight Time has recently added Sleepless in Seattle to their catalog of limited edition, exclusive Blu-ray releases. Given the film’s on-going popularity, not to mention its two-decade anniversary, it’s downright astonishing that Sony would license such a bankable property to an outside company. With only 3,000 copies pressed, be sure to head over to Screen Archives (Twilight Time’s exclusive distributor) if you’re interested. Earlier this year the label issued Tom Hanks’ other 1993 film, Philadelphia. Quite a year for the actor, already an A-lister but, beginning with that year, breathing rarified air as both megastar and Oscar-winning “serious” actor. The light-as-meringue Sleepless represents the flipside of his persona, while Philadelphia found him stretching his chops further than he’d ever done.

Sleepless cover (213x280).jpgSleepless in Seattle has become something of a pop culture touchstone over the last 20 years. The story holds up as a labored but gently funny trifle. Imagine a Woody Allen script adapted by a sitcom writer. That’s not meant as a slight against the late Ephron, who certainly carved out her niche in Hollywood with a series of beloved films. It’s just that the chatty, sometimes mildly angsty characters do take on the qualities of watered-down Woody. Sam is mired in a state of perpetual grieving over the untimely passing of his wife. His precocious, eight-year-old son Jonah (Ross Malinger, winningly underplaying) calls a Dr. Laura-type radio program and explains what he perceives as his father’s need for a new love interest. The radio host milks the scenario for all it’s worth, requesting to speak to Sam.

Surprisingly open, Sam touches listeners’ hearts with his warm recollections of his wife. One such listener is Annie, who develops a borderline-unhealthy obsession with Sam. She absolutely must meet him and the plot becomes a series of near-encounters as Annie basically stalks Sam. It’s all airy fantasy; the ideal woman for the ideal man, separated by several states. Annie is in Baltimore, while Sam has recently relocated from Chicago to Seattle. The whole movie is a succession of maneuvers meant to get Sam and Annie in the same place at the same time: the top of New York City’s Empire State Building. No reward for anyone guessing how it ends up (even if you’ve managed to not ever see the film in all these years). With likeable leads and a supporting cast that includes Rosie O’Donnell and Bill Pullman (as Annie’s sarcastic friend and dullard fiancĂ©, respectively), getting to that inevitable conclusion is an endearing (if slight) journey.

Sleepless booklet cover (238x280).jpgThe Blu-ray debut of Sleepless arrives in the form of a solid, if unremarkable, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer framed in the film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Renowned cinematographer Sven Nykvist went for a dusky look here and as such the image is clear but dim. Occasionally a bit on the soft side, this just isn’t a particularly attractive film but the presentation shouldn’t be faulted. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is fine, with an obviously focus on centered (if sometimes lacking in resonance) dialogue. Rear channels are engaged primarily for soundtrack tunes.

Marc Shaiman’s sweet score is offered as an isolated track in DTS-HD MA 2.0 and is the only new special feature (these isolated tracks are a hallmark of Twilight Time releases). Carried over from a previous DVD edition is a commentary by Nora and Delia Ephron. There’s also a 13-minute promotional featurette, “Love in the Movies,” and the music video for Celine Dion’s “When I Fall in Love” (both presented in standard definition). Another regular feature of Twilight Time release is a reliably excellent essay by Julie Kirgo in the booklet.

Those wishing to celebrate the anniversary of Sleepless in Seattle, Nora Ephron’s most enduringly popular work, would do well to snag a copy of this limited Blu-ray while supplies last.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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