In 'Kate & Leopold,' "The Director's Cut," the story adheres strongly and vehemently to the very formula it so wittily censures in the opening moments of a market-research film screening. Ironically, this is quite the clever move on the part of the filmmakers, not only taking advantage of the time to point out the problem in many of Hollywood's movies, but also cluing viewers into the personality of the protagonist. Director James Mangold, who also co-wrote the script with Steven Rogers, plays with our expectations, even daring us to not eventually like and possibly cheer for his leading female character.
Like the audience reaction during the screening, Kate McKay (Meg Ryan) is not an easy person to care for. As first impressions go, she comes off quite abrasive and somewhat irritating, practically harassing her ex-boyfriend (Liev Schreiber) — who for some unexplained reason, except narrative convenience, is also her upstairs neighbor — for her PalmPilot. (For you youngsters, these are the smartphones of today.) Ryan brings her usual erratic but weirdly uptight self to the role and adds a highly cynical, somewhat misanthropic side. This works for the most part as it creates some of the humor, but it's also nothing we haven't seen before, making this very much a "Meg Ryan picture."
Her quirky (or if you'd rather, cutesy) temperaments make for a sharp contrast to her soon-to-be love interest, Leopold (Hugh Jackman). The oh-so debonair and almost annoyingly ultra-refined Duke of Albany, who accidentally traveled in time from 1876 to modern-day New York, is quickly surprised but also oddly attracted by Kate. Ripped from the pages of a Harlequin romance novel as read by Kate's assistant (Natasha Lyonne), he radiates every imaginable stereotype of the well-bred, courteous British gentleman who can sweep any woman off her feet, especially after chasing a purse snatcher while gallantly riding on a white steed. It's supposed to be ironic, but it's well played, sir. Well played, indeed.
Coming right off the heels of the box-office smash, Bryan Singer's 'X-Men,' who better to melt Kate's cold, bitter and very skeptical heart than Jackman himself. The Australian-born actor turns on the charms and ultimately becomes the film's greatest asset, taking a typical rom-com fantasy fare to a level of entertainingly amusing. Using his 19th Century cultural mores and social manners, Leopold's presence offers some derisive commentary on contemporary love and courtship, like the conversations with Kate's brother (Breckin Meyer) or the incisive confrontation with her boss (Bradley Whitford). And Jackman also has a very funny moment with future Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis.
More importantly is the effect the sophisticated Leopold has on the otherwise complete opposite Kate. He is a dreamer and idealist, unappreciated in his time, while she's a by-the-numbers, only the hard-cold-facts kind of gal who is actually respected for it. Needless to say, since the movie is pure formula, the titular couple makes their long-distance relationship work, so don't act surprised when it happens. However, Mangold does well in keeping viewers interested and often-enough laughing despite expectations to the inevitable. And to a greater degree, he leaves his audience craving a time of chivalry and romance.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
LionsGate Home Entertainment releases 'Kate & Leopold' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc and housed inside a blue eco-cutout keepcase. At startup, viewers can skip over several trailers before being greeted by the standard main menu option with music and full-motion clips.
Looking like it was slapped together at the last minute from yesteryear's closet of average DVD prints, 'Kate & Leopold' crashes the Blu-ray ball with some rather disappointing results. Granted, it's not all that terrible with several good to excellent spots and bold, vibrant splashes of color on occasion to remind us we are in fact watching high-definition video. But for the most part, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) displays slightly bumped contrast levels which tend to dull the overall presentation while also causing highlights to bloom noticeably. Although quite accurate for the majority of the runtime, blacks are not always consistent, looking flat and muddy in many scenes. Particularly in nighttime sequences, fine shadow details are obscured and grain is made noisily more prominent. Definition and clarity is an improvement to previous releases, but the transfer, as a whole, is uneven and unsatisfying.
It may not offer much in terms of looks, but at least the romantic comedy can crank up the party to 11. Okay, well, maybe not that high, but it's still fun.
All hyperbole aside, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is the clear winner with excellent clarity and fidelity throughout a surprisingly pleasing soundfield. The musical score by Rolfe Kent nicely spreads into the rears, along with several discrete effects of a bustling city for ambience. Dialogue reproduction is clear and distinct in the center while the rest of the soundstage displays a clean and well-balanced mid-range. Channel separation is terrific with great, fluid movement across the screen. Low bass is appropriate and healthy, but also offers a couple punchy, impactful moments during certain scenes that require it. This lossless mix is not going to give the sound system an extensive workout, but it's more than adequate for a film of this genre.
Supplements are ported over from the DVD release and provide some mildly interesting aspects.
Co-written with Steven Rogers, James Mangold directs the formulaic but amusingly entertaining 'Kate & Leopold,' a tale of romance and time-traveling. Starring Meg Ryan and rising-star at the time Hugh Jackman, the rom-com fantasy has its witty, clever moments, but its enjoyment comes mostly from Jackman. The Blu-ray comes with a rather disappointing picture quality that only slightly improves upon the DVD, but the audio offers a much better presentation. Bonus materials are the same as before, making this release a worthy rental.