Manhattan Blu-ray Review

Manhattan Blu-ray ReviewThere was a time, the 1970s and 80s to be precise, where Woody Allen was easily one of the top two or three American filmmakers around. Despite the occasional misstep (Another Woman, September), Allen’s writing and directing output during these two decades was among the sharpest, funniest and most observant released by anyone. The winning streak even managed to spill over into the first part of the 1990s, where Allen offered up Husbands and Wives, Bullets Over Broadway and Manhattan Murder Mystery.

By the mid ’90s, it appeared that the golden age of Allen was coming to a close. Roughly three years after the infamous Soon-Yi situation arose and torpedoed Allen’s public image, his annual creative output started to become redundant and stale. A film would occasionally possess moments that hearkened back to earlier triumphs, but none could shake off the feeling of deja vu.

To find a perfect example of this, one needs to look back no further than to last year’s wildly overrated Midnight in Paris. As the 76-year old filmmaker continues to grind out mediocrity upon mediocrity, those who wish to remember Allen at his peak can take solace with the Blu-ray debuts of Annie Hall and Manhattan.

Magnificently photographed in black-and-white widescreen by Gordon Willis, Manhattan tells the tale of 42-year old New Yorker Isaac Davis (Allen at his neurotic best). Isaac’s life is a bit of a mess. He writes a television sitcom that he detests, dates a 17-year old girl named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) that he doesn’t love and has a lesbian ex-wife named Jill (Meryl Streep) whom he would like to strangle because she is writing a tell-all book about their relationship.

Just when things can’t get more difficult, along comes Mary (Diane Keaton), an abrasive woman that also happens to be the mistress of Yale (Michael Murphy), Isaac’s married best friend. When Isaac and Mary first meet, he can’t stand her. Her snobbishness rubs Isaac the wrong way right from the start (Mary’s pronunciation of Van Gough almost gives Isaac an aneurysm). But as the old saying goes, opposites do attract. After hanging out a few times, the two eventually begin to warm up to one another. This of course, only complicates Isaac’s life even further.

Annie Hall was Allen’s first foray into more serious-minded comedy following years of satirical slapstick classics such as Take the Money and Run and Love and Death. While the 1977 Oscar-winner captured the highs and lows of adult relationships in the mid-to-late 70s, it occasionally stepped back to the type of Allen’s earlier comedies to soften the blow. Think the Easter dinner sequence, the Marshall McLuhan scene or the Snow White bit.

Manhattan, while visually and sonically (the use of Gershwin tunes on the soundtrack is remarkable) bathed in a romanticized light reminiscent of a 1940s film, is more realistic. It doesn’t shy away from the more honest and harsher truths that complicated relationships can bring, nor does it wrap everything up neat and tidy in the end. Like Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan perfectly balances comedy and drama, the light and the dark. One minute you’re laughing out loud and the next, you’re feeling some genuine pain and heartbreak (credit a remarkable ensemble cast for helping to achieve this).

Switching between two genres and successfully making it work is a trick few filmmakers are capable of accomplishing. For a while, Woody Allen did it without breaking a sweat. Sadly, those days are long gone for Allen. His wit has dulled far too much and to be honest, he just seems like he isn’t trying at all these days. Perhaps he may surprise us all with one last comedy/drama that knocks us on our movie going asses before he calls it a day, perhaps not. But at the very least, we will always have Manhattan. A tale of love lost than found, it’s a remarkable work of cinema worth visiting time and again.

High-Def Presentation

MGM and Fox Home Video present Manhattan in a solid 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray transfer. The transfer perfectly conveys Willis’ 2.35:1 compositions and keeps the grain structure intact. Black levels are picture details are both quite strong.

On occasion, the uses of natural light during the dark scenes tend to be a bit much (at one point I thought my set went on the fritz again) and there is an inherent softness to the overall picture (more a result of lenses than anything else). Those small criticisms aside, this is another gem of a catalog picture transfer from MGM and Fox Home Video.

Audio-wise, there isn’t too much to say (aside from the fact that this disc doesn’t suffer from the same lip synch issue that the Blu-ray of Annie Hall does). Woody Allen is a big supporter of monaural sound, and the 2.0 DTS-HD MA mono track on this disc is no exception. Dialogue is clear and concise if a bit low at times, and the music selection is also nicely handled.

Beyond the Feature

Theatrical trailer aside, there are no supplements to be had. In short, your typical video release of a Woody Allen film.

Woody Allen infamously once said that the heart wants what the heart wants. That certainly doesn’t mean that what you want is what you get. While Allen made that statement in 1992, that quote could certainly sum up the theme of Manhattan.

33 years and endless material rehashing by the filmmaker himself, this 1979 classic holds up remarkably well and should continue to do so as people continue to navigate the minefield known as romantic relationships. The Blu-ray may be light on supplements but it is big on delivering the best possible picture and audio presentation. Here’s hoping that we see more from ‘The Woody Allen Collection’ on Blu-ray in the very near future.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

Shop for Manhattan on Blu-ray for a discounted price at (January 24, 2012 release date).

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