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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/15/02

Kate & Leopold
2001 (2002) - Miramax

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Kate & Leopold Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B-

Specs and Features
118 minutes (Director's Cut runs 122 minutes), PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (one layer is used for the theatrical cut, the other for the director's cut), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director James Mangold (on the Director's Cut), On the Set featurette, costume featurette, deleted scenes (with optional director commentary), Sting Until music video, photo gallery, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 5.1 - Director's Cut Only), subtitles: English for the hearing impaired and Spanish, Close Captioned

"You are a rare woman who lights up a room simply by leaving it."

Romantic comedies are an odd lot. They can act like a warm blanket, comforting a viewer with a familiar story and an unabashedly happy ending. On the other hand, they can be like a slap in the face to another viewer, basically reminding them of all that is wrong with Hollywood. My attitude towards romantic comedies is basically that I like them if they try to throw in some kind of unique element, or if they work as a really good showcase for an actor. If it doesn't fit those criteria, it's a slap in the face. Kate & Leopold is a gentle slap, a film that covers familiar territory that doesn't need addition coverage but still has some nice performances.

Kate McKay (romantic comedy queen Meg Ryan) is a big wig at company that tests audiences with everything from toilet paper to movies. She's a woman who is completely devoted to her career, and has no time for love. Her ex-boyfriend, Stuart (Liev Schreiber), is an inventor who's just found a "hole" in time, and has pulled Leopold (Hugh Jackman), a 19th century duke, through it with him. Leopold obviously finds the future a bit odd - it's less clear-cut and defined than his century. Back then, he was only expected to marry a woman for her money; in fact he was about to unwillingly take a bride when he was pulled into the future.

Leopold soon meets Kate and is quickly drawn to her responsibility, wanting to help her be more of a woman. Kate sees Leopold as a potential spokesperson for a butter product her company has to test, as she believes he's only a method actor. But she's scared to admit her feelings for Leopold, because she believes that if she gives into his old-fashioned notions of love, she'll be less competitive in a world that still favors men. And she's even more scared that he could actually be who he says he is.

For me, Kate & Leopold works on two levels. Hugh Jackman offers a great performance - he's so charming, who couldn't fall in love with him? I've been a big fan of Hugh since his turn in X-Men, and his good performances here and in another average romantic comedy: Someone Like You. Leopold, like the rest of the film's characters, isn't a completely three-dimensional character, but Hugh offers a nice screen presence and certainly deserved his Golden Globe nomination. Also good are Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer and (in a wasted character) Natasha Lyonne. They've each done better work, but they're fine here.

Kate & Leopold also works as a light, entertaining study of gender roles. Kate has basically shrugged off her femininity to get ahead in her career, only to find that she doesn't need to completely lose her gender identity to be successful. The film doesn't get away with the idea that old-fashioned roles are the best roles, because it subjects the women in the 19th century to some pretty mean injustices. Still, it supposes that society should be somewhere between progressive and polite. Leopold's romantic ideals may seem a bit out of place in today's society, but his offers and advances are not patronizing or done with a hidden motive. There is something timeless about offering to open a door for a stranger or holding an elevator - little things that, like Kate's femininity, we've shrugged off for convenience.

The video transfer on this DVD isn't something to get excited about. While the black level is nice and deep, the colors seem a little faded - odd for a film that's day-and-date. Leopold's blue coat could have been a little bolder, and the flesh tones seem a little pale. Also, some bad edge enhancement is seen throughout. On the other hand, the audio track is quite nice. It's nothing aggressive, but the surrounds are put to good use, with crowd noise and score being heard through the rears. Try Chapter 2 for the most aggressive scene, sound-wise.

The first thing to note when talking about the extras here, is that there are two versions of the film included on the disc. The first is the theatrical version, while the second is a director's edit which runs four minutes longer. I preferred the director's version for a few scenes, including a better introduction to Kate, that really adds to the film. Note that the disc provides the French language track and the director's commentary only on the director's cut.

The audio commentary is pretty insightful. James Mangold, previously responsible for Girl, Interrupted, acknowledges the absurdities in his own script and how the film is uncharacteristic from the rest of his work, which makes his reasoning for doing the film even more interesting. He has a great affection for his actors, especially Liev Schreiber, and talks about his unhappiness with Miramax. There are seven deleted scenes (in anamophic widescreen) that run about nine minutes. While they are nice extensions of scenes, they don't add much the film. Mangold's included commentary for these scenes only really to say that the scenes weren't necessary.

The On the Set featurette is pretty bad, serving mostly as an extended trailer. Nothing in-depth here. The costume featurette is a little more interesting, showing costume designer Donna Zakowska's sketches, but doesn't really say too much in its three minutes. The music video for Sting's Until is surprisingly bad. It brings the "singer singing intercut with film clips" genre to a new low. Sting's performance looks like bad DV footage from the recording session, and is spliced to the clips horribly. Good (Oscar-nominated) song, bad video.

Also included on this disc are a gallery of production stills and trailers. Miramax has included trailers for Serendipity, The Others, Strictly Ballroom, Chocolat, The Importance of Being Earnest, Pinocchio, and even the Kate & Leopold SOUNDTRACK. Oddly, there's no trailer for the film itself.

Kate & Leopold is not a perfect film, but despite using tried-and-true formulas, it manages to bring up some pretty interesting ideas. Avoid it if you hate Meg Ryan films, but you may otherwise be happily surprised if you enjoy the genre.

Graham Greenlee

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