You know, the funny thing about Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' is that it is regularly listed near the top of some fans lists of their favorite films from the prolific writer/director and is currently in the IMDb Top 250 list, yet, according to the very same site, Allen hated the film so much that he offered to direct another film for United Artists for free if they'd shelve 'Manhattan.' Sure, it went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards, and was his highest grossing film up until 1986, and apparently broke some barriers when it came to its widescreen presentation (in terms of home video and television broadcast). Yeah, it's one big love-letter to Allen's hometown, the setting of the majority of his films, and has some very biting one-liners hidden throughout the film, but I still don't think it's all that great.
'Manhattan' is, like many other Allen films, an eclectic mix when it comes to themes, as it is predominantly a relationship drama, portraying the wills and desires of the heart, the tumultuous, unpredictable nature of love and human sexuality, with somewhat long winded diatribes and odes to the city itself, oft set to landmarks and points of beauty. Perhaps a major component of Allen's inspiration for the characters was the ever changing, cruel yet honest nature of the city, with buildings being torn down and new ones being erected, with some constants, like a horse and carriage tour of Central Park, remaining the constant to set one's watch by. It's also ninety plus minutes of child-like relationship hopping, with the pining between characters in somewhat one dimensional roles rubbing in a less than endearing way, making it difficult to truly root for one character or relationship to succeed or be happy. Perhaps the entire focus on the ugliness, truthful as it may be, may be part of this issue, as it's hard to pull for what we know is doomed from the start.
Allen himself stars as Isaac, a television writer who decides he'd rather write that novel he's always wanted to tackle. His love-life is littered with failures, with two ex-wives, one of which (Meryl Streep as Jill) left him for another woman and is now planning a tell-all novel about their relationship...one that doesn't seem like it will be all too flattering. Isaac's current love interest is a little out of his league, as the 17 year old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) fulfills only his physical needs, his intellectual side remains untouched, until he meets his best friend (Michael Murphy as Yale)'s mistress, the lovely Mary (Diane Keaton), who seems his perfect match, save for her current state of unavailability. With marriages on the verge of disaster, and hearts wanting what the heart wants, these characters have their break-ups and make-ups, teaching them what truly matters to them, what it is they really want.
I suppose I've already pissed off some readers with my less than flattering remarks and views on this film, and considering it has had years to grow on the most ardent Allen fan, I'm prepared for a little bit of hatred for my opinion. Growing up, my only exposure to Allen was as a teenager with 'Antz.' As I've aged, so have my interests, and the oft-neurotic, sometimes redundant features from Woody Allen have become among my most anticipated Blu-ray releases, to replace those long-ago sold DVD copies that I'm only finally starting to not regret departing with. And with all of the great films Allen has made, with the brutally sharp witted and tongue-in-cheekly hilarious dialogue that makes even a ridiculous premise watchable, one of his most basic films, with some of his best visuals, remains on my lower tier of his works.
I appreciate 'Manhattan' for its often lengthy uncut shots, which are so basic that they're a bit surprising and very understated. I love the Gordon Willis cinematography, as the picture truly is gorgeously shot and framed. I also very much appreciate the realism of some of the predicaments in the film. The way Isaac treats Tracy, with a condescension that's hard to miss for everyone but her due to her age and different interests, it really made every single one of their scenes my favorite in the film. This is not 'Anything Else,' where there's about as much redeeming quality as pocket lint laced with cyanide. Heck, I was tempted to give the film a higher score just for the one-liner concerning Isaac's views on himself, that something must be wrong with him since he's never had a relationship longer than Hitler and Eva Braun.
Sadly, though, one line, one hell of an analysis of one's failings isn't enough to ride 96 minutes on. While 'Manhattan' features Wallace Shawn's film debut (in a one scene role that doesn't give the man much to work with), it's a tad cliche. The way no two relationships in the film are ever on the same page, not between other relationships or even the participants in a single partnership, aside from the lesbian couple that are hardly vital to the plot (axing each and every one of their scenes wouldn't even hurt the film, especially since it would sell the joke about being left for another woman better), it's hardly memorable or note-worthy. And while there are some very neat shots in the film (the silhouette profiles in the planetarium are a dream!), there are too damn many scenes where dialogue is exchanged (in rather smarmy fashion, may I add) in a back-and-forth fashion with each shot cutting back and forth with little to any scene aside from five seconds and one line reading, it feels rather amateurish at times. When Murphy has any extended line, the word amateurish can again be used. He oversells, he undersells, hell, he does everything but sell-sell. It's terribly distracting seeing the man never being able to look like whatever emotion he's supposed to portray.
Allen does a fine job in the lead, and makes for a solid every-man who can't figure out what to do with his life (or in this case, his love-life). His confusion and apprehension concerning Mary make for some enjoyable scenes, and the constant yet simple lingering moments on nothing in particular make the film a nice experience. In my eyes, 'Manhattan' is overrated, and nostalgia only makes it more so. A passable film, sure, with some fun moments and insights, but hardly something worth putting in Allen's top five or even ten.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Manhattan' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A marked BD50 disc from MGM. Unlike other MGM recent releases, 'Manhattan' does not autoplay, as it prompts a menu screen. Makes the disc seem a little classier.
'Manhattan' makes for an average visual experience on Blu-ray, presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 encode.
The picture is incredibly stable, with not a single second's worth of wobble, and is pretty gosh darned clean. There's some minor blips here and there, but the film does clean up very nicely as it goes, until it looks pristine. Facial details aren't amazing, but they do show up most of the time, with freckles, moles and pores sharing some of the spotlight, while stray hairs usually pop incredibly well. There's no crushing issues, as even dark hair against pitch black skies in night shots come through nice and clear. The grain levels are not touched, but they are pretty darned heavy, as whites are rarely ever clean, clear, or powerful.
It's obvious this one didn't get a mega-restore job done, as MGM has been cash-strapped for some time, but what we get with this disc is a nice step up in quality from previous releases, enough so to justify a repurchase.
The audio for 'Manhattan' comes by way of a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 track.
Honestly, it isn't that great. The thing is, when two characters talk, and dialogue slightly overlaps, neither is exactly discernible, and a few lines of quiet dialogue gets lost in the shuffle in scenes with no other elements drowning it out. There are a few scenes with a background hum to them, and while this issue is isolated and pretty minute compared to the film's total runtime, it's annoying as can be. The first solo conversation between Allen and Keaton has whir issues, and the shot of the car on the freeway taking the downtown exit has serious issues. Ambience can be a little loud, as well, with footsteps and car swooshes coming through with a little bit too much to them, compared to the rest of the film. Heck, even the score doesn't score, as it has troubles hitting the high spots.
This is just an underwhelming track.
The lone extra on this release is the Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3 min) for the film. It's a little classical, introducing characters in turn, exposing viewers to the incoming complicated, tangled relationships and confusion.
Woody Allen fans love 'Manhattan,' for the most part. It's one of the few films from the director currently in the IMDb Top 250, and was chosen as one of the first two MGM distributed films from the director to hit Blu-ray, day and date with what's often considered his greatest film. I'm just not that much of a fan of it. Allen can write, as his fifteen Academy Award nominations for original screenplays prove, but there are other issues preventing this one from being amongst my favorites. This Blu-ray release is passable, at best, and may be the weakest title in the entire Woody Allen/Alfred Hitchcock wave. Extras? That's a great joke. Fans shouldn't hesitate to pick this one up, and newcomers should check it out to see what all the fuss is about.