Friday, April 20, 2012

Kate & Leopold: Director's Cut Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
In modern day New York City, Kate's (Ryan) ex-boyfriend Stuart (Schreiber) unknowingly finds a rip in time that takes him to the 1870s. Puzzled by the strange man with the tiny camera photographing his surroundings, 19th century man Leopold (Jackman) follows the man into the 21st century. Unaware, Stuart leads Leopold straight into the arms of his ex. What unfolds is a hilarious and sincere love story between a man and a woman from different times.  Co-written and directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line), the film also stars Liev Schreiber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Breckin Meyer (TV's "Franklin & Bash"). The film's theme song, Sting's "Until," received an Oscar nod for Best Original Song (2001).

Film (3 out of 5 stars)
Stuart (Liev Schrieber) has found a tear in the fabric of time that allows him to travel through time to 1876.  There he follows his ancestor, Leopold the Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman) where he witnesses Leopold's uncle Millard (Paxton Whitehead) chastise him as is displeased with him and insists that he choose a wealthy bride.  It's at that point that Leopold notices Stuart, who he had seen earlier in the day and follows him to his study.  He attempts to confront Stuart, but  Stuart runs back to the spot that will allow him to return to his own time and inadvertently brings Leopold back to present day New York City.

Leopold wakes up on Stuart's couch, scared and confused.  He accidentally turns on the television and stereo and quickly realizes he's in a very strange place and fears he has been kidnapped.  Stuart wants to explain but his dog really needs to be taken for a walk.  He tells Leopold to stay put and promises to be back in five minutes.  Stuart is clearly an amateur physicist and has not thought through all the ramifications of his time traveling actions.  It turns out that Leopold is the inventor of the elevator and Stuart's interference in space and time has resulted in the elevator doors opening with no elevator inside.  Stuart falls in and is taken away in an ambulance, leaving Leopold alone in the apartment.

Stuart's downstairs neighbor and ex-girlfriend Kate (Meg Ryan) comes upstairs and forces Leopold to go outside and walk the dog.  The dog drags Leopold all over the city, and he makes his way to the Brooklyn Bridge, a familiar landmark.  Leopold makes his way back to Stuart’s apartment where he meets and befriends Kate's brother/roommate Charlie (Breckin Meyer) who is an aspiring actor and he automatically assumes that Leopold's odd behavior is due to being  "in character."

Kate is working hard for a promotion in a job she is clearly not happy doing.  She gets a real shot at a promotion when she brings in Leopold (who oozes sincerity) as a spokesperson for their big client, "Nature's Bounty" margarine.  While shooting the commercial Leopold gets his first taste of the margarine which he finds disgusting and refuses to sell it.  Kate tells him that it's diet margarine and that it's supposed to be disgusting.  He lectures her on her lack of integrity and things start to fall apart.  Although Kate and Leopold had been getting so close he was about to propose, after the commercial shoot she tells him they had a great weekend and should leave it at that.

At the same time, Stuart has left the hospital for the mental hospital.  His views on time travel have led the mental hospital to hold him, but one sympathetic nurse believes Stuart and assists in his release.  Stuart is concerned that if Leopold doesn't go back to his own time, Stuart and countless other descendants could cease to exist.  Now that things have gone bad with Kate, Leopold is happy to return to his own time and will even marry anyone his uncle sees fit.  If you've seen enough romantic comedies as I have, you know that that's not a proper ending for a movie like this and you can probably guess the rest, but watch the movie! 

This is one of those movies that if you think about it, can give you a headache.  Was Leopold meant to go forward and then back in time?  I started trying to figure out if Stuart was actually a descendant of Kate as well.  The film didn't address that but Kate and Stuart dated before Kate ever met Leopold but with all the time would make sense.  In the end I decided that this movie wasn't really about scientific details, it was a romantic comedy and I wouldn't think that hard about any specific portion.Is that exactly as history was supposed to play out?  According to this movie, I think so but you can enjoy this movie without having to think that much.  On the surface it’s a cute love story about an unhappy woman meeting the man of her dreams but the he just happens to be from a different century.  Not that that's a deal-breaker since plenty of relationships start out with bigger problems than that.  

Hugh Jackman was a very good casting choice as Leopold, Duke of Albany as he played the part perfectly.  Jackman is sweet but pretentious (as a nobleman would be) and it comes off as all together charming.  He is believable as the Duke in 1876 and plays the fish out of water in present day New York City just as well.  Liev Schrieber is a lot of fun as the the frazzled comic relief who causes all of the trouble but is also the one who brought Kate and Leopold together.  Meg Ryan would not have been my first choice to play opposite him, but  I think they worked well together in this film.  The sci-fi twist of the film adds a nice level of freshness to the usual romantic comedy genre and director James Mangold (Walk the Line) keeps things moving well.
Video (3 out of 5 stars)
Kate and Leopold is presented on Blu ray in 1080p with an AVC encoded transfer with a 1.78:1 ratio.  The scenes are grainy and there is quite a bit of digital noise throughout.  I preferred the subdued, 19th century look of the film. The present day look was uninspired.  Close-ups did have good detail and skin tone was consistent overall.  Black levels were decent but not as dark and solid as I would have liked.  This is an average transfer that's better than the previous DVD release but should have been even better than this for it's move to Blu-ray.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Kate and Leopold's DTS-HD Master Audio presentation fared better than the video.  Although it didn't possess the traditional sound effects to rock your sound system it was better than many other films of its type.  The dialogue was clear and consistent throughout and the soundtrack played a prominent role in the film, including Sting's Oscar nominated song "Until."

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)
Kate and Leopold has a short but significant list of features.  The only feature that I think is missing is a gag reel which would have been fun to see with this cast.
  • Audio Commentary - Director James Mangold discusses the film and its inspiration.  He also talks about bringing 19th century New York to life in an enjoyable commentary.
  • On the Set Featurette - Interviews with the primary actors and crew.
  • Deleted Scenes - Available with optional Director Commentary, there are over 8 minutes of deleted scenes.  Many deal with the confusion about the two time frames; none would add anything significant had they been left in the final cut.
  • Costume Featurette - This featurette centers around the film's costume designer Donna Kazowska and her work, most significantly with Leopold.
  • Sting "Until" Music Video
Final Thoughts  (3 out of 5 stars)
Even though the previews were making me wonder if I had made a bad choice with this one, I did enjoy Kate and Leopold.  At first I wanted them to explain more about who Stuart was, and I kept thinking too much about the details of time travel.  As a romantic comedy, it’s a pretty cute movie.  Hugh Jackman is charming and does a pretty good job of adapting to present day New York City.  "Cute" is the highest praise a romantic comedy can strive for in my book and Kate and Leopold definitely achieved cuteness.  Without Hugh Jackman I think the movie wouldn't work as well since he carries the entire film, and they are lucky he signed on.

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