Lionsgate // 2001 // 123 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // April 9th, 2012
If they lived in the same century, they'd be perfect for each other.
With films like Cop Land, Identity, and Walk the Line under his belt, writer/director James Mangold is hard to pigeonhole. The same can be said for his 2001 time travel romance Kate & Leopold. Though it trades in many of the cliches that plague the genre, it also tries to be something new.
Kate McKay (Meg Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle) is a successful market researcher, who's as skeptical of love as she is a slave to focus testing. Her ordered life is thrown into disarray when her inventor ex-boyfriend Stuart (Liev Schreiber, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) goes back in time to 1867, returning home with Leopold (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige), the Duke of Albany, in tow. As Leopold adjusts to life in new New York, he is presented with an even bigger challenge in Kate, who doesn't know what to think about this purported time traveler living in her building.
Kate & Leopold is a high-concept romantic comedy for people who think modern men and women have a little too much in common. Unlike the cookie cutter rom-coms of recent years, at least this film has the guts to try something different. Of course, guts can only take you so far. The film overreaches, clomping willy-nilly through the minefields of time travel and relationships, requiring a healthy suspension of disbelief to enjoy both.
Don't try to make sense of the story, especially as it pertains to time travel. Transplanting a major historical figure from the past to present should have more of an impact than it does here. There is a subplot about all of the elevators in New York having disappeared because Leopold wasn't around to invent them, but never explains why the elevator shafts exist at all. Characters accept Leopold's claims of time travel as inexplicably easily as he adapts to 20th Century -- going from being afraid of the television to being cast in a commercial in the span of two days. Mostly, his olde tyme ways are there for comedy, or to point out differences between the 19th and 20th centuries. He is frustrated by the toaster and is furious that "the General of Electric" would let such a shoddy product go to market. He uses his gentlemanly horse riding skills to chase down a mugger. He dresses down Kate's skeevy boss (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing). He even provides a chivalrous example for her brother (Breckin Meyer, Clueless) so he can get the girl of his dreams. All examples of ways a movie character might act if transported through time via the magic of a screenplay that needs to wrap things up neatly in two hours.
It helps that the film has two likeable leads. It helps even more that one of them is Hugh Jackman. As fish out of water Leopold, he has the right combination of high class and "what's all this then?" bewilderment. Jackman carries the film on his beefy shoulders. At one time, Meg Ryan was the queen of the romantic comedy. Her 2001 self may be a plastic surgery-altered shadow of her glory days, but she still knows her way around a meet cute. Their chemistry is questionable -- it's never clear why Leopold falls for Kate except that it's what the genre requires -- but compared to the lifeless dress-up dolls who populate most recent rom-coms, Jackman and Ryan are fun to watch.
Romantic comedies usually throw up some kind of roadblock for the happy couple, to manufacture dramatic tension and set up a thrilling climax. Most of the time, those obstacles are related to some minor misunderstanding or argument. In Kate & Leopold, the trouble stems from the fact that the romantic leads come from different centuries. (That, and something about Leopold's scruples when it comes to shilling subpar margarine.) Frankly, I'm surprised this time shift doesn't cause more problems. Of course, this is a fantasy. Take it too seriously at your own risk. Enjoying this kind of movie requires forgiving a shaky premise for the pleasure of watching two characters fall inevitably, and impossibly, in love -- temporal paradox be damned.
Kate & Leopold arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 AVC-encoded 1080p transfer that delivers a decent upgrade. Detail is strong in most scenes, with strong blacks and rich color. At least one darker scene suffers from overly noisy grain, but this is a fine catalog release. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is crisp and well-balanced, with enough punch when the action ramps up to remind you that this is a lossless mix.
The hi-def release of Kate & Leopold is the "director's cut" of the movie, running about 4 minutes longer than the theatrical version, which has been removed in the transition from DVD to Blu-ray. The bonus features are the same that appeared on the DVD, minus a photo gallery:
* Audio Commentary: James Mangold provides an informative and impassioned commentary that details his inspirations for the film, a dismissal of complaints that the film is not historically accurate, and differences between the director's and (missing) theatrical cut.
* Deleted Scenes (8:54): Seven additional and extended scenes, available with and without director's commentary.
* "'On the Set' Featurette" (14:30): This episode from the behind-the-scenes series provides a lengthy, if fluffy, look at the making of the film.
* Costume Featurette (2:54): A brief look at the research and design process for the period costumes.
* "Until" Music Video (3:11): Video for the Golden Globe-winning song Sting wrote and performed for the film.
Kate & Leopold tries to be something more than a standard rom-com, but it doesn't try that hard. The time travel conceit is twisted to fit the necessities of the plot, not the other way around. This isn't sci-fi. It's silly. But it has Hugh Jackman Duke-ing it up as the man of every woman's, and plenty of mens', dreams. He is as charming as Meg Ryan is acceptable, and I can only hope that Mangold coaxes more of this character out of Jackman when he directs him in the upcoming Wolverine flick. Now that would be one for the ages.
Not great, but not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video