Kate & Leopold: The Director's Cut [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (28th July 2012).
The Film

In 2001, helmer James Mangold—hot off the success of his Oscar winning adaptation of “Girl, Interrupted” (1999)—went, thematically and creatively, in the complete opposite direction and set out to make his mark in the comedy genre. To make a film that that was different, a twist on the usual slop cooked up by rom-com creators of the day, as it were. The result was “Kate & Leopold”, a romantic comedy that uses time travel to team up a pair of star-crossed, or temporally displaced, lovers. Kate (Meg Ryan) is a modern woman for the early 21st century. Leopold (Hugh Jackman) is a young duke—and apparently the inventor of the modern elevator, a fact that becomes important in the later acts of the story—from the 19th century, transported from the New York of his day (1876, to be exact) to the bustling Big Apple of the new millennium. Mangold, who co-wrote the script with Steven Rogers, seems to think that the peculiar fish-out-of-water-and-more-importantly-time tale, which he uses as a ship to steer his way through a crowed sea of cliché banality, is enough to make his film more memorable, worthy and far cleverer than the average entry in the rom-com genre. He’s wrong, mostly, but in a way sort of right too. The film isn’t great, but it does entertain and feature a truly terrific performance… but before I get ahead of myself, the plot…

As we meet Leopold, the outrageously long-named and also Duke of Albany, he’s about to attend a grand ball. At this ball, his uncle (Paxton Whitehead) informs Leo he must find a wealthy woman to marry because the family will not put up with his eccentricities—they can’t afford to any longer, because they’re broke. At the ball, Leopold notices a strange man in strange clothes, who he first noticed earlier that day during a speech at the construction site of the recently raised Brooklyn Bridge. The man is furiously taking notes and using an odd device—what the modern audience knows is a disposable camera. Intrigued, Leo abandons his party guests and gives chase until both men end up atop the beams of the as-yet-finished Brooklyn Bridge during a violent rainstorm, one following the other off the edge in a dive towards the open sea.

Suddenly, Leopold finds himself not meeting the chilling waters of the river below, but instead the bustling and busy city streets of New York, circa 2000. No terrible accident, just a soft landing into the future. He learns that the strange man is named Stuart (Liev Schreiber), and that Leopold is actually the man’s great grandfather. More importantly, Stuart reveals that he’s a physicist studying time travel and that he recently discovered a portal to the past—Leopold’s past. Realizing the mere presence of Leopold in the present day could cause a number of troubles for both men, Stuart whisks Leo back to his apartment, where he works at trying to get his relative back to his time before the portal closes in a few days. In the meantime, Leopold meets Stuart’s ex-girlfriend and downstairs neighbor, Kate McKay—a cynical career woman—and is again, intrigued. Leopold learns that Kate is in marketing research, and takes her job very seriously, to the point where her personal life is a mess. Leopold likes her; she grows to like him too; of course, Leo looks and lordly but respectful manner certainly don’t make that a difficult task for Kate. Along the way, Leo encounters Kate’s beleaguered brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer), an aspiring actor, and Kate’s colleagues at the firm, including her dutiful assistant Darci (Natasha Lyonne) and her bastard of a boss (played perfectly by Bradley Whitford, at the time in between seasons of “The West Wing” (1999-2006), who crafts the sort of dickish prick only he can).

Mangold directs with a sure hand, and he and his co-author create a world and characters worth spending some time with. The film is certainly funny, and quite entertaining for the most part. I’d even call it witty, in parts; especially in it’s critiques of the acting and filmmaking worlds. In the "Director’s Cut", included here on Blu-ray, Mangold even makes fun of Hollywood rom-coms—appearing in a cameo essentially as himself; an overworked director disenchanted by the marketing research people like Kate, who tear his movies apart to make then more palatable for a mass audience—with a scene depicting a test screening of a detestable and formulaic film of the ilk “Kate & Leopold” seems to think it isn’t. It’s interesting that the scene exists at all. For one: If Mangold is so aware of the clichés of the comedy form, why is the film that surround this scene so otherwise prone to the predictable and cliché? The scene speaks to a smart sensibility not really present in the rest of the production, except in small spurts. But it’s even sadder that this scene ultimately was cut from the theatrical film, proving that Mangold’s comedic insight into the business was more or less true. The script is overflowing with ideas that work against the formula, from it’s certainly unique handling of time-travel and its asides on acting and entertainment, but at every turn the main storyline between Kate and Leopold stays true and travels the expected path of the rom-com.

In the end then, because the core of the film is so similar to the usual rom-com, when it does depart for its few diversions, those side trips seem misplaced and often bog down the narrative to a slow crawl. Most troubling is a subplot involving Stuart, who gets locked away in a mental ward (overseen by a kooky doctor played by comedian/actor/porn star/ridiculously-interesting-renaissance-man and monologist Spalding Gray) for falling down an open elevator shaft and coming to in a hospital spouting off thought-insane talk about temporal steams, paradoxes and the fragility of the space-time continuum. The subplot seems to only exist to remind the viewers that, oh, yes, there’s time travel at work here, and, more importantly, as a means to keep Stuart away from Leopold for as long as possible. If the scenes weren’t there, “Kate & Leopold” would be a typical domestic and workplace rom-com. Realistically there’d be no film at all, because without the mental hospital, Stuart would’ve returned his granddad to the past almost as soon as he appeared in 2000. The script is rife with historical inaccuracies, too (including dates about the premiere of “La boheme”) and a few paradoxes (in the "Director's Cut", Stuart had a relationship with his great-grandmother; gross). Are the errors and issues detrimental to the enjoyment of the film? Absolutely not. Still doesn’t change that the film is very obviously concerned with dates and facts, about “La boheme” in particular, and fudges them up. Leopold corrects one character on the particulars of the play when he wouldn’t and couldn’t have seen it yet. “Kate & Leopold” is far from perfect, but I admit the film still has a certain charm.

The reason the film works at all is the casting of Hugh Jackman in the role of Leopold. The actor, coming off of his first appearance as Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s first “X-Men” (2000), was just about to shoot into the movie super-star stratosphere—a place, I should add, he’s still occupying more than a decade on and rightfully so—when he accepted the role of the leading man in “Kate & Leopold”. Charming, funny and full of an undeniable charisma when teamed up with literally every member of the cast to a point where he elevates them too, Jackman’s performance is the true saving grace of the film. It’s a shame then that his co-star, Meg Ryan, is so… not necessarily bad, but boring… in the film. In an almost entirely opposite sense, Ryan—who’d been in that superstar stratosphere since the late 1980's—seems to just be hitting the expected “gee golly gosh darn” notes, with a lifeless rhythm refined by playing, basically, the same character in most of her nineties comedies (a criticism that, honestly, could be levied against her since, I guess, “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993)). Is that her fault? Probably not. Ryan was typecast to a T after so many successes in Hollywood and Mangold seems to have written the character for her, clichés and all. It’s what he wanted, but probably wasn’t the right choice. Still, she’s fine. Just very, very safe; the clichés are only compounded by her presence, because she’s so ubiquitous that it seems like we’ve seen so much of the predicable plot revelations before.

Unlike the DVD release from several years ago, which gave viewers the option between the theatrical cut or a longer version not seen in theaters, this new Blu-ray edition from Miramax/Lionsgate only includes Mangold’s preferred “Director’s Cut”. The theatrical version is nowhere in sight, although, in my opinion, rightfully so, even if Mangold’s 123-minute cut does pose more paradoxical problems in the long run.

Video

Most of the films that Miramax are releasing on Blu-ray through Lionsgate arrive on the high definition format without any sort of remastering or additional care. Instead, these films use somewhat dated materials prepped for DVD and “Kate & Leopold” is one of those unfortunate titles that is limited by the lower quality mastering techniques of the early 2000's; it’s a film that could look much better than it currently does with a fresh scan using modern equipment. However, the resulting 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer is, overall, decent and offers an appreciable upgrade over the decade-old SD rendering. Like many catalog titles out of Lionsgate, Warner and Paramount, the image has been slightly opened up from the original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio to 1.78:1. Note: the image has not been cropped, but simply had the mattes lifted on the top and bottom of the frame.

Edge enhancement isn’t a huge issue. Detail is acceptable, and can be quite remarkable in select scenes. But the whole presentation is disappointingly marred by occasionally troublesome anomalies, like noise and DNR-smearing, leaving random shots soft and indistinct, and film grain mushy and ill resolved. Crush is an issue as well. On the bright side, colors are warm—the 1876 scenes bathed in a golden orange—and the high bitrate encode doesn’t have any additional flaws (I see no signs of banding, aliasing or other issues not dating back to either the original photography or decade-old HD scan).

Audio

Romantic comedies aren’t necessarily known to have noteworthy soundtracks. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. And yet, “Kate & Leopold’s” English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (48kHz/24-bit) is easily the best thing about this Blu-ray disc. Of course, dialogue is clean and always intelligible. And the track has excellent fidelity, with both Rolfe Kent’s score and Sting’s Oscar-nominated original song “Until” both benefiting from the lossless upgrade. But what is most impressive about the tack is how lively the mix can be at times and how active the surrounds are in certain scenes. The rainstorm in 1876, and the travel through the time portal that follows really took me by surprise. The disc also includes optional subtitles in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

“Kate & Leopold” contains a fairly standard set of supplements, which first appeared on the original "Director’s Cut" DVD released back in 2001. It’s the sort of package that was popular at the turn of the millennium and was meant to add value to a film’s DVD release over the less-advanced VHS format, without offering much in the way of actual insight. Extas include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, EPK featurette, music video and bonus trailers. All of the material is presented in standard definition (except where noted), likely a direct port of the DVD. The disc is authored with both bookmarks and the resume playback function.

The audio commentary with James Mangold is pretty much the only thing worth checking out. The director discusses how the film came to be—his script, the casting, and the technical details of the production—while also offering a few anecdotes and bits of trivia. Hardly the greatest commentary ever, but the track does add something; especially Mangold’s comments about his then-new "Director’s Cut" of the film and how it differs from the theatrical version.

“On the Set” (1.33:1 480i, 14 minutes 30 seconds) is an old, extremely dated, EPK featurette that likely appeared on pay Cable at one point in time. It opens with an extended trailer for “Kate & Leopold” giving way to interviews with Mangold, Hugh Jackman, Meg Ryan, Liev Schreiber and a few other members of the cast and crew. Lots of plot recap complete with film clips and not much insight aside from the obvious superficialities. Mangold also discusses anything of note worth talking about in the featurette in his much more thorough commentary above. Next!

Like a lot of excised material, the deleted scenes (non-anamorphic 1.85:1 480i, 8 minutes 54 seconds) are presented as a reel, viewable in one chunk. The material amounts to a few leftover jokes and a couple of extraneous scenes; the only thing really worth watching is the extra bit where Charlie realizes that Stuart slept with his own grandmother. The scenes are viewable with or without optional audio commentary by director James Mangold.

No cryptic titles here. “Costume" featurette (1.33:1 480i, 2 minutes 54 seconds) is a short featurette about costume designer Donna Zakowska.

Finally, there’s a music video for “Until” by Sting, the Oscar nominated song from the film.

The disc also includes four pre-menu bonus trailers and one promo:

- “Serendipity” on Blu-ray (1.78:1 1080p, 1 minute 40 seconds).
- “The Switch” on Blu-ray and DVD (2.40:1 1080p, 2 minutes 38 seconds).
- “Shakespeare in Love” on Blu-ray (2.40:1 1080p, 1 minute 55 seconds).
- “From Prada to Nada” on Blu-ray and DVD (1.78:1 1080p, 2 minutes 12 seconds).
- "EPIX HD" promo (1080i, 2 minutes 3 seconds).

Packaging

“Kate & Leopold: The Director’s Cut” arrives on Blu-ray from Miramax and Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The dual-layered BD-50 release is packaged in an eco-elite keepcase and is reportedly locked to Region A. The original theatrical cut has NOT been included on the disc.

Overall

In the end, “Kate & Leopold” isn’t any different than the other romantic comedies out there. I think Mangold thinks it is, but it isn’t. Hugh Jackman is the sole reason this little time-travel rom-com works at all. The Blu-ray release is a bit underwhelming: the video transfer is marred by a handful of unfortunate issues dating back to the ancient DVD-era scan on which it’s based, and most of the extras are pointless padding not worth the time or effort (the exception being the commentary track with the director). The saving grace of this Blu-ray is that Lionsgate has priced it right. It’s cheap enough that, if you’re a fan, I recommend it. Newcomers may want to give this one a rent first. It’s passable entertainment, but little more than that. Certainly not high art.

The Film: C+ Video: C+ Audio: B Extras: C Overall: C+

 


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