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Dear John DVD Review

Dear John (2010) movie poster Dear John

Theatrical Release: February 5, 2010 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Lasse Hallström / Writers: Nicholas Sparks (novel), Jamie Linden (screenplay)

Cast: Channing Tatum (John Tyree), Amanda Seyfried (Savannah Curtis), Richard Jenkins (Mr. Tyree), Henry Thomas (Tim), D.J. Cotrona (Noodles), Cullen Moss (Dan "Rooster" Rooney), Gavin McCulley (Starks), Jose Lucena (Berry), Keith Robinson (Captain Stone), Scott Porter (Randy), Leslea Fisher (Susan), William Howard (Daniels), David Andrews (Mr. Curtis), Mary Rachey Dudley (Mrs. Curtis), Bryce Hayes (Yellow Shirt), R. Braeden Reed (6 Years Old Alan)

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Nicholas Sparks has written about romance at all ages, from life's twilight (The Notebook) to middle-aged second chances (Nights in Rodanthe) to teenaged summer love (The Last Song). Dear John, Sparks' twelfth novel and the fifth to be adapted to film, centers on a couple in their twenties.

On Spring Break 2001, Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) drops her purse in the ocean and 21-year-old John Tyree (Channing Tatum) voluntarily retrieves it for her. The gesture impresses her,
and the two get to know each other over the next two weeks they share in Charleston, South Carolina. John, a Special Forces soldier on leave from the army, lives there with his shy shut-in father (Richard Jenkins). Savannah, a college student, is just vacationing at her family's beach house with plenty of friends. He has a suspicious past. She has an immaculate present. But theirs is a special love they're determined to keep alive after they part.

As the title suggests, they do so by writing letters. John is stationed around the globe in a variety of undisclosed locations, while Savannah attends college and then returns to Charleston for the summer. Though they may take time to reach their destinations, the letters are filled with passion and received with joy. Then, September 11th occurs, and somehow John gets a two-day leave the following weekend to ponder the tour extension the men in his unit are eager to request.

Former bad boy John Tyree (Channing Tatum) and always good girl Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) grow close over their shared South Carolinian 2001 spring break. While stationed at an undisclosed location, John (Channing Tatum) receives a crushing letter from Savannah, no doubt beginning with the titular phrase.

Curiously, he is able to fly to Charleston without much hassle and is greeted by Savannah. They cram a lot into the few hours they've got, including a nervous breakdown, a Curtis family party, and some stable sex. But when John returns to his fellow Green Berets, he decides, as hard as it will be on both his girlfriend and him, he must stay on in solidarity. The letters continue until a two-month lull and then one missive arrives which puts an end to all correspondence.

The one certainty about slasher movies and Nicholas Sparks stories is that somebody's going to die. Dear John doesn't upset that tradition, but much like that other genre, it keeps you guessing as to who, when, and how. The answers, which I of course will not provide, are not as obvious as you might suspect nor are they as indicative of the final act as those aware of romance film predictability would think.

The film benefits from not relying too heavily on death, grief, and getting an emotional response from viewers. Sure, many might need a tissue box on hand, but this aspires to and achieves something slightly better than routine tearjerker.

Although his coin collection and his Sunday night lasagna dinner seem to be all that's on his mind, John's quiet, possibly autistic father (Richard Jenkins) does take notice of some other things. Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) gives a wink and thumb up while covering the moon with an old perspective trick.

I'm far from the only one who's lamented Channing Tatum's limited acting range in the past. While he doesn't surprise here, he's more tolerable than expected as a romantic lead cast for his looks and physique. It may just be that his character, clean-cut and inarticulate, is a lot easier to take than the ghetto troublemaker bringing hip-hop street cred to an upscale arts school (yeah, Step Up is one of the only things I've seen and disliked him in).
Of course, you still may be stumped trying to figure out what sweet, viceless, thoughtful Savannah sees in him. Looking to blow up this year on the wave of her Mamma Mia! fame, Seyfried brings to her part everything it asks for, helping the film and increasing her star power.

In a bit of unlikely casting, Richard Jenkins endears (and perhaps unintentionally, amuses) as John's possibly autistic father whose time is spent on a coin collection and a regular weekly dinner schedule. Henry Thomas, who would probably prefer not being identified solely as Elliott from E.T., also fares well in an additional supporting single dad role. Another person you wouldn't expect to tackle Nicholas Sparks is Academy Award-nominated director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules), but the former ABBA music video helmer has been branching out lately. He brings a bit of class to this, easily his widest and highest-grossing release domestically.

Critics were no kinder to Dear John than earlier Sparks adaptations, of which, only the crowd-pleasing, best-selling Notebook could honestly be said to have received "mixed reviews." And yet, benefiting from a release preceding Valentine's Day (and Valentine's Day) weekend, the film put up strong numbers at the box office, coming just shy of The Notebook's far leggier performance. Dear John's American-heavy gross ($80 M of $107 M worldwide) exceeded its budget many times over and qualified it as one of the year's few pre-summer success stories.

Less than four months after its #1 opening, Screen Gems' Dear John comes to DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday from parent company Sony.

Buy Dear John on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.95
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


Like most Sony DVDs, Dear John looks terrific. Its 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is sharp, pristine, and vibrant. Like other Sparks films, it is big on sunny Southern scenery having been filmed on real Carolinian coast. The most prominent feature of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is music. The film is filled with tender ditties performed by the likes of Ryan Adams, Once duo The Swell Season, Joshua Radin and Schuyler Fisk, and Seyfried herself on camera and over the end credits. The mix gives songs and instrumentation room to breathe and the dialogue is always crisp and intelligible, no matter how softly muttered. A descriptive track for the visually impaired is also provided in 5.1.

John and Savannah's sunshower fun gets extended with a conversation in the generally unrevealing deleted scenes section. Amanda Seyfried gives the universal sign for cut in the DVD's brief but amusing outtakes reel. Lasse Hallström overlooks the fact that he's gone from directing ABBA to directing the star of the ABBA musical movie in his brief "Conversation."


Extras begin with twelve short Deleted & Alternate Scenes (10:10). Most of these are barely different from what's in the film,
although we do get a moment illustrating how Savannah defies post-9/11 airport security. An alternate ending (3:35) also hardly varies from the theatrical conclusion, but at least it's presented in 16:9, unlike the other cuts.

The dramatic nature of the film doesn't preclude this from containing an outtakes reel (2:20), which perhaps because of that is more entertaining than expected.

"A Conversation with Channing, Amanda, and Lasse" (5:20) does not assemble director Hallström with his leads, instead just gathering flattering comments from each individual about one another.

Production designer Kara Lindstrom points to the part of South Carolina that's about to hold a Hungarian cafe in "Transforming Charleston." Army film liaison Lt. Col. Gregory Bishop explains some of the aspects on which he advised the makers of "Dear John." We get a look at one of the rare coins in the collection of picture car coordinator C. Benny Dietz.

"Transforming Charleston" (14:30) explains how the same South Carolina town playing itself in the film also was made up to house a Hungarian cafe, an Afghan cement factory, and an African fort representing John's exotic military assignment locations. It's a cool piece on production design, a topic most viewers might take for granted or not consider here.

"Military in Movies: Dear John's Military Advisors" (11:00) lets us hear from the film's military consultants, Lt. Col. Gregory Bishop and Capt. Gavin McCulley. They discuss the film, describe their contributions, and share their army experiences.

"Mr. Tyree, The Mule, & Benny Dietz" (4:50) is a short piece on Richard Jenkins' character and Dietz, the film's picture car coordinator, who are both obsessive coin collectors. The real person is fortunately less socially awkward.

Autistic young first-time actor R. Braeden Reed gets his own half-hour documentary about his life. As if being featured on the poster, the cover, and our forum logo weren't enough, the cornerstone "Dear John" scene plays on one of the DVD main menu's letters.

The extras conclude with "The Story of Braeden Reed" (24:30), Erik Anders Lang's oddly-narrated documentary on the autistic boy playing Alan, the autistic son of Henry Thomas' character. Co-stars and crew members speak highly of the boy and his somewhat
unscripted performance. The piece also sheds light on Reed's journey with the disorder, with glimpses of home movies, descriptions of challenges, and comments from family members. It's unusual to find a bonus feature of this length and specificity on such a peripheral subject, but I guess it fits, since autism is one of the film's more pronounced themes.

The disc opens with promos for Blu-ray/BD-Live (because that's how Dear John is most likely to be enjoyed), The Bounty Hunter, The Runaways, and Julia Roberts' intended comeback film Eat Pray Love. The Previews menu adds trailers for The Back Up Plan, Salt, and "Drop Dead Diva": The Complete First Season.

The DVD's animated main menu uses hand-written letters to hold romantic montages while tender score plays and lens flares float.

At their airport parting, John (Channing Tatum) and Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) are joined by Mr. Tyree (Richard Jenkins), making a rare appearance outside his home.


Dear John isn't as bad as its detractors claim. It lives up to one's expectations of a Nicholas Sparks movie, with mushy romance and a touch of death. But its story is less offensively ingratiating than other films of this sort (which may often be restricted to cable TV budgets and talent). Along with Lasse Hallström's respectable directing style, the military and autism angles slightly distinguish this production. But you'll still need to be a fan of the actors or tissue-grabbing young love stories to really appreciate this. If you are, then Sony's DVD is a winner, boasting a fine film presentation and over an hour of bonus features. The latter are unexpectedly comprehensive, although the topics they cover might not be of the greatest interest to the film's fans.

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Reviewed May 22, 2010.

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