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review added: 1/17/01



When Harry Met Sally
Special Edition - 1989 (2001) - MGM

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

When Harry Met Sally Film Rating: B+

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

Specs and Features

96 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 50:23, at the start of chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, commentary track with director Rob Reiner, How Harry Met Sally making-of featurette, 7 deleted scenes, music video for It Had to Be You by Harry Connick, Jr., 3 theatrical trailers (for When Harry Met Sally, This is Spinal Tap, Princess Bride), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned


"It's about old friends."

I'm just going to come right out and say it: While it might not be completely fair to compare When Harry Met Sally to Sleepless in Seattle, the latter movie is definitely the better of the two. Since the queen of romantic comedy, Nora Ephron, wrote both films, and since Meg Ryan played basically the same character in both films, a comparison does seem natural. While When Harry Met Sally is no Sleepless in Seattle, it's still a wonderful film that was the catalyst for a wave of '90s romantic comedies that have been sweeping lovers off their feet for the last decade. And the film is an amusing study of men and women, candidly exploring territory very few (if any) films had previously dared. Things like post coitus bed manners, orgasms and, most important, sexual tension in close friendships to name a few.

When Harry Met Sally is the story of the growing relationship between Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan), spanning more than 10 years. Upon their first meeting on a road trip from Chicago to New York, Harry's up-front theory on the differences between men and women's attitude on sex and friendship leaves a bad taste in Sally's mouth. Harry maintains that a man and a woman can never be friends because sex, or the idea of sex, will always ruin the friendship. Writing each other off as difficult people they'll thankfully never see again, Harry and Sally get on with their lives. But the pair bumps into each other again from time to time over the next decade, and eventually become good friends. Failed marriages have left both Harry and Sally insecure and neurotic about love, and the characters begin to use each other as emotional crutches. Things are going fine for Harry and Sally until their friendship takes a sudden leap forward, and puts Harry's old theory to the test. Will everything work out in the end, or will Harry's theory become validated by their situation?

I did enjoy this film, and applaud Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner for their frank look into the differences of attitudes in men and women. The script is light and amusing, and Billy Crystal is very funny. But the Achilles of this film is its reliance on neuroticism and insecurity as a means of comedy and to build sympathy for the characters. While Woody Allen achieved multitudes of success with this formula in the 70s, he was able to make it work because his films relied more heavily on the comedy than the romance.

And this is why Sleepless in Seattle worked better than When Harry Met Sally. In Sleepless, the lead characters (played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) weren't begging for pity. Sure, each character was rather pitiful in their own respects, but in When Harry Met Sally, Crystal and Ryan's grim attachment to neuroticism becomes increasingly more irritating as the movie wears on. The magic of Sleepless in Seattle rests in its more charming script, and easier-to-like characters. However, the strength of When Harry Met Sally is that it really has something to say in its wonderful social commentary, and this cannot be overlooked.

MGM has taken a fair amount of criticism as of late for their lackluster transfers. The thinking has been that if the disc doesn't have "007" embossed on it, the video quality will be disappointing. Imagine my surprise when I popped in this new DVD of When Harry Met Sally and found myself staring at a beautiful transfer, with nary a source print blemish, artifact or any other major problem. The anamorphic widescreen video (framed at 1.85:1) boasts vivid colors, solid detail and a smooth appearance. Way to go, MGM!

The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track is nicely done, and more than acceptable for a low-key comedy. Dialog is always easily intelligible and the soundtrack is brimming with old standard jazz songs that are nicely presented with this mix. The soundstage is spacious, and rear channels are used occasionally for music and ambiance. Every once in a while, the audio can sound a bit veiled, but this is nothing too serious.

Billed as a special edition, MGM included a few extras that open the book on the history of the film. A commentary track with director Rob Reiner is this disc's weak spot as a special edition. Speaking very, very sporadically throughout the film's length (read: many long pauses), the few tidbits of info Reiner offers on the track are also found in the 33-minute featurette, How Harry Met Sally (along with much more). This featurette is the most informative extra on this disc, with new interviews with Reiner, Ephron, Crystal, co-star Carrie Fisher and 1988 interview footage with Meg Ryan. The audience gets the whole story as to how the film was developed and written, and just how personal a film it is for both Reiner and Ephron. Seven deleted scenes (amounting to about seven minutes) are included that, for the most part, were rightfully cut from the film. One note - watch for Billy Crystal's hilarious impression of Marlon Brando in the first deleted scene. A music video for Harry Connick, Jr.'s version of It Had to Be You, and three trailers for other Rob Reiner films (When Harry Met Sally, This is Spinal Tap and Princess Bride) round out the supplemental section.

While When Harry Met Sally is not the best romantic comedy ever made, it's still very funny and contains some humorous messages about men and women. Plus, you have to give credit to Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner for jump-starting this genre, and laying the foundation for many more similarly-themed films in the 1990s. MGM blessed this disc with a surprisingly good transfer and some informative extras. If you have a soft spot in your heart for romantic comedies, blow this one a kiss.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com




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