Plot: What’s it about?
After the critical success of Annie Hall, where would Woody Allen’s career as a director and actor go (and yes, it was the right choice for Best Picture, even with Star Wars in the running)? Allen has often been criticized for portraying the same character in every movie and while this is a valid argument, I think in a few he is a bit different. Actually, I feel like his character in the beginning of Manhattan in which he is trying to phrase the first chapter of his book and trying to get it exactly right. He finally decided on a way to introduce the story, whereas I feel that I’m not doing so great. Many feel that this movie is second only to Annie Hall and though many of the same elements exist in the two, I liked a few of the elements here better. First of all, any time you set a movie to the music of George Gershwin, you’re going to have and advantage. An American in Paris had several songs set to the Gershwin tune and walked away with a Best Picture Oscar (though many feel A Streetcar Named Desire or A Place in the Sun should have taken that honor). Manhattan is not only an ode to the city that never sleeps, but an intelligent and engaging romantic comedy.
Isaac (Woody Allen) is 42 years old. He’s enjoying his life as a writer for television and working on a book in his spare time. He’s also dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), a 17 year-old High School Student who is in love with him. Isaac realizes the dilemma he’s in (besides committing statutory rape) and constantly tells Tracy that she has her whole life ahead of her, she’ll meet other men, etc. Tracy, wise beyond her years, doesn’t want to accept his words but rather enjoys his company. Yale (Michael Murphy) is a close friend of Isaac and is somewhat happily married to Emily (Anne Byrne), but is having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton). Lest we not forget Isaac’s ex-wife (Meryl Streep) who has just left him for another woman and is in the process of writing a tell-all book about her marriage to Isaac (anyone detect a familiar theme here)? As Isaac breaks off his relationship with Tracy, Yale breaks off his affair with Mary. Mary and Isaac then start seeing each other; though in a very different way than in Annie Hall, and everyone appears to be happy. This is, until, Yale decides that he is still in love with Mary and she with him. Confused yet?
What makes Manhattan stand out from other Woody Allen works is that it’s original, but yet still oozing with that Woody Allen persona. He’s still the typical neurotic and cynical character that he is in most all of his films, but it seems right here. He’s also a lot more human and not the lonely and desperate person we see in other films. Though the music of George Gershwin makes the film a bit more memorable, it’s not as present as one might think. The opening scenes feature a skyline bursting with fireworks set to ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and really set the stage for what is a great movie. Diane Keaton isn’t the same ditzy character of Annie Hall, she’s a more intelligent individual who philosophizes too much and finds somewhat of a connection with Isaac. Those looking for Meryl Streep may want to look a bit further, she’s only on screen about ten minutes of the movie and hers is a subplot that the film may do better without. Fans of Woody Allen have probably already seen this time and time again, but for those (like me) who are starting to look at his older movies, this one is a good place to start. Additionally, Hemingway earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work here and Allen for Best Original Screenplay. Both, however, lost.
Video: How does it look?
I know that I’ve said this before, but there’s something about the way a black and white movie looks on television that can take your breath away. While Manhattan isn’t the most pristine example of a HD image, it’s pretty close. The 2.35:1 AVC HD image looks different than its standard DVD counterpart, released around a decade ago. Cinematographer Gordon Willis is really the one to get the credit here as some of the shots are so memorable, you forget they came from this movie. Black levels are on the mark and since a number of scenes seem to take place in shadows, it could lend itself to plenty of errors. Thankfully it doesn’t. Contrast is improved over the previous DVD as well. We get a very nice, film-like look here and the truth is that Manhattan is one of the better-looking films not because of the image quality, but because of the way the images look.
Audio: How does it sound?
Most, if not all, Woody Allen movies have a mono track. Even his most recent (as of this writing) Midnight in Paris only sports three channels. However Manhattan is a bit different in regards to the typical Woody Allen movie. The film is dialogue-driven, like all of his others, but what sets this apart from the others is that this contains several songs by the legendary George Gerswhin. If the name rings a bell, but you can’t place a song then I’m sure you’ll recognize “Rhapsody in Blue” set to fireworks exploding on screen. Yes, this is all still in 2.0 mono, but it’s about as good can be expected from both the disc and from a Woody Allen movie.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Allen isn’t much on supplements for his films, so sadly all we have here is the original theatrical trailer that appeared on the standard DVD as well.