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When Harry Met Sally...: Collector's Edition DVD Review

When Harry Met Sally movie poster When Harry Met Sally...

Theatrical Release: July 14, 1989 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Rob Reiner / Writer: Nora Ephron

Cast: Billy Crystal (Harry Burns), Meg Ryan (Sally Albright), Carrie Fisher (Marie), Bruno Kirby (Jess), Steven Ford (Joe), Lisa Jane Persky (Alice), Michelle Nicastro (Amanda Reese), Gretchen Palmer (Stewardess), Robert Alan Beuth (Man on Aisle), David Burdick (9 Year Old Boy), Joe Viviani (Judge), Harley Kozak (Helen Helson), Joseph Hunt (Waiter at Wedding), Kevin Rooney (Ira)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Romantic comedies often are derogatorily referred to as "chick flicks." There are many reasons why the genre has been associated more with women than men. Perhaps the most plausible is that a majority of romantic comedies purposely cater to women and,
in the process, isolate men not sold on the format. The female characters in such films are usually fleshed out, well-rounded individuals, while the males are either portrayed boorishly at worst or bland at best. When Harry Met Sally..., on the other hand, quickly and gleefully shatters this stereotype and makes itself palatable to both sexes.

The story begins as the title suggests: Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) meets Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) when the two carpool together from their college, University of Chicago, to New York. The trip isn't exactly breezy. The crass, blunt Harry is more than the sheltered, uptight Sally can take. After arriving at their destination, the two part ways, hoping never to see each other again. Their wishes fail to come true, for they bump into each other five years later. The bickering continues right where it left off, only with noticeably less venom.

When Sally (Meg Ryan) met Harry (Billy Crystal), they were University of Chicago students starting anew in New York City. Upon reconnecting with Sally five years later, Harry revises his theories over opposite-sex friendships.

When the two accidentally meet a third time another five years later, they're each at a low point in their lives. Sally's boyfriend has left her while Harry's wife has divorced him. The two start a friendship despite their preconceived notions of how women and men can never be friends without there being sexual tension. Their respective best friends, Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby), watch from the sidelines wondering how long this platonic relationship can last.

When Harry Met Sally's conclusion is unsurprising to anyone vaguely familiar with cinema, and yet it knows this. The fun is not in the destination but in the journey. The film moves at an astonishingly fast pace despite the absence of a true plot. This is due to two major factors: Nora Ephron's screenplay and the performances of the two leads. Ephron's script possesses a snappy wit and sophistication that has become increasingly sparse in this genre. Not only that, but she is able to accomplish the rare feat of making the male lead as interesting as, if not more than, the female lead. By doing this, she places the two characters as equals, not favoring one side over the other. This allows the audience to make up its own minds instead of being told with whom to sympathize.

As for the two title characters, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan seem like a bizarre pair (particularly during the opening carpool), but the chemistry slowly and naturally reveals itself over the course of the film. While the screenplay gives each character nice dimensionality, there's still the risk that either performer could approach the character too extremely. Harry could've easily become an obnoxious motormouth while Sally could've been an annoying cipher. Thankfully, Crystal manages to add some heart to Harry, and Ryan likewise adds some spunk to Sally.

Harry and Sally's respective best friends, Jess (Bruno Kirby) and Marie (Carrie Fisher), become an item but still serve as separate sounding boards. Harry and Sally admire a rug while squatting before it.

It's difficult to pinpoint any major flaws with this production, though there are a few nitpicks to be found. The running device of older couples recounting how they met is sweet and amusing, but inconsistent. The first half of the film features quite a few of these, but they soon disappear in the second half, resulting in an uneven structure. While this was probably a conscious decision so as not to distract from the rising level of drama in the second act, there are still plenty of opportunities in-between the numerous fadeouts for more of these couch sessions.
Another minor issue is in regards to the character of Alice (Lisa Jane Persky). She appears as one of Sally's best friends in the beginning, but suddenly is gone without another word, leaving the spotlight on Marie. While she is included briefly in one of the disc's deleted scenes, one wonders what was the need for including her at all in the story, especially since Harry himself only has Jess and no one else.

When such minor quibbles are the worst things one can find in a film, that proves how well-crafted it really is. When Harry Met Sally features clever dialogue with just the right comedic timing by its actors. It may not have much of a storyline, but that in turn actually gives it a sense of realism that more complex romantic comedies often lack. Besides, how can one fault a film that features its lead actress faking an orgasm in a public diner?

When Harry Met Sally... took enough time to reach DVD for its debut to gain notice from customers and care from the studio. It debuted in January of 2001 under MGM's "Contemporary Classics" banner with a Special Edition title. Seven years later, in between minor anniversary milestones, it has been upgraded to just a Collector's Edition.

Buy When Harry Met Sally: Collector's Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 15, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $19.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

When Harry Met Sally is once again treated to a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While it's unclear how it differs from the previous Special Edition's picture, one thing is certain: it's immaculate here. The warm color palette comes across beautifully, and the picture is consistently sharp and clean. Neither print nor mastering flaws are present on this release, making it about the best it can possibly look on standard definition DVD.

As this is a dialogue-heavy feature, the default Dolby Surround track and obligatory Dolby Digital 5.1 remix don't quite utilize the sound spectrum. This is fine, as speech itself is clear and understandable. Marc Shaiman's jazzy score broadens things a bit, as do the ambient sounds such as the two New Year's Eve parties. It all comes across as well as one can expect from a film of this nature.

Harry tries to spice up the car ride with Sally by doing impressions in this deleted scene. Screenwriter Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner share the couch for a candid chat in "It All Started Like This." In "When Rob Met Billy", funnyman Billy Crystal recalls first encountering director Rob Reiner as an "All in the Family" guest star.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

The first of the disc's new extras is an audio commentary track by director Rob Reiner, screenwriter Nora Ephron, and actor Billy Crystal. This track replaces the solo effort by Reiner from the 2001 edition. That commentary goes unmissed here, as Reiner went long periods without saying a word, a habit that's thankfully lost with the addition of Ephron and Crystal. The three speakers bounce off each other's comments and obviously enjoy the company. Behind-the-scenes anecdotes are shared along with the intentions and motivations for certain scenes.
This ends up being the type of commentary that's both entertaining and informative.

Next is a collection of seven deleted scenes (6:23), ported over from the previous release. Presented in a rather rough-looking letterbox format, these are mostly self-contained little vignettes. While these bits wouldn't have added anything to story, they're brief enough not to harm anything, either. A commentary by Reiner and Ephron would've been welcome here as to explain these deletions.

We next encounter a page holding seven featurettes, all new. First of these is "It All Started Like This" (19:46), a candid conversation between Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron. The format is refreshing as it allows each memoir and thought to flow into the next one without the prodding of a moderator. While there's some overlap with the commentary, there are interesting stories told only here, many of which center around the real life events that inspired some key scenes.

Next comes "Stories of Love" (5:09), which examines the use of the couples on couch memoirs throughout the film and their origins. Like the memoirs themselves, it's a cute little piece. "When Rob Met Billy" (3:55) focuses on the lasting friendship between Reiner and Crystal. While some interesting tidbits appear here, it's mostly fluffy happy talk. "Creating Harry" (5:47) is much more useful. Here, Harry Burns is characteristically dissected by the cast and crew. Crystal explains his approach to the character, while Ephron discusses challenges she faced in writing for him.

Footage from the location shoot of autumn in New York City is seen in "I Love New York." Never fear, Richard Roeper is here. The younger, but more frequently-seen half of Ebert & Roeper tells us "What Harry Meeting Sally Really Meant." Filled with memorable quotes, the animated main menu is squarely aimed at those who have seen the movie and appreciate its sense of humor.

"I Love New York" (8:28) may sound like another fluffy praisefest, but it actually provides a detailed look at the location shooting. Reasons are given for choosing New York as the story's backdrop as well as the autumn color palette in the cinematography. This ends up being a brisk and informative piece. "What Harry Meeting Sally Really Meant" (12:28) has the cast and crew offering their opinions on the story and what it means to them. Because of this, it ends up not being very deep, though a few good tidbits manage to sneak by. The last featurette, "So, Can Men and Women Really Be Friends?" (7:53), deceives the viewer with its title.
One would expect a cutesy poll of those involved in the production. There's a bit of that, but instead it focuses on relationships with comments from experts, offering a fairly interesting little examination on the subject.

The theatrical trailer (2:11) is happily included, along with promos for MGM romance films and West Side Story.

The disc as a whole is quite solid, though there's still room for improvement. Meg Ryan is noticeably absent from all of the supplements, and one sees a missed opportunity to pay tribute to the recently-deceased Bruno Kirby. A 30-minute featurette and Rob Reiner's commentary from the previous Special Edition are both left off here. While the new material replicate and surely improve upon these, they still should've been included for completeness' sake. The same goes for Harry Connick Jr.'s "It Had to Be You" music video, also found on the older release. More behind-the scenes footage would've been welcome, as well, as most of the video features (which could've all been edited to form a single documentary) consist of sit down interviews and movie clips.

The main menu offers colorful animation showcasing the film's most memorable scenes and lines in chronological order. Because of this, watching the menu run all the way through can spoil too much of the film's funnier bits for those about to engage in their first viewing. The other menus are static, but otherwise similar in design. Like all the new featurettes, all menus are 16x9-enhanced.

Surprisingly, no slipcovers or inserts are included. The simple cover art conveys the film's autumnal feel while resembling the original poster artwork and being replicated in the disc art.

The most discussed and excerpted scene of the movie has Sally loudly faking an orgasm in a well-populated diner. In the early days of karaoke, Sally and Harry do a bit of aided singing at Sharper Image.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

When Harry Met Sally... proves that not every romantic comedy has to isolate men from the proceedings or be excessively emotional. It's a smart and funny film that deserves its esteemed status among contemporary cinema. MGM's new Collector's Edition disc presents excellent video, very good audio, and a decent selection of extras highlighted by an exuberant commentary track. It's hard to recommend this title to those who already own the fine 2001 Special Edition, but it certainly earns a recommendation to those who’ve yet to own any incarnation of this memorable comedy.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Rob Reiner: The Princess Bride: 20th Anniversary Edition • Misery: Collector's Edition | Written by Nora Ephron: Julie & Julia

DVD Re-Releases of Late-1980s Films:
Say Anything... (20th Anniversary Edition) • Good Morning, Vietnam (Special Edition) • Big (Extended Edition)
Dead Poets Society (Special Edition) • The Little Mermaid (Platinum Edition)

Billy Crystal Voice Acting: Monsters, Inc. • Howl's Moving Castle • Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 | Meg Ryan: The Women (2008)

New to DVD: An Affair to Remember (50th Anniversary Edition) • Eagle vs Shark

Romantic Comedies:
Shopgirl • The Proposal • The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
10 Things I Hate About You (10th Anniversary Edition) • Confessions of a Shopaholic • He's Just Not That Into You

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Reviewed January 15, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1989 Castle Rock Entertainment and Nelson Entertainment, 2008 MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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