Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Sleeper (1973)
Studio Line: MGM - Woody Allen takes a nostalgic look at the future.

Drawing on the great tradition of silent comedy, Sleeper is Woody Allen's first film to tame his verbal wit and showcase his emerging skill with visual and physical comedy. Starring Diane Keaton (directed by Allen for the first time), Sleeper is "a bizarre mixture of New York neuroses, splendidly lunatic sight gags, Alice-in-Wonderland illogic, and too-funny-to-be-painful satire" (Los Angeles Herald-Examiner)!

When cryogenically preserved Miles Monroe (Allen) is awakened 200 years after a hospital mishap, he discovers the future's not so bright: all women are frigid, all men are impotent, and the world is ruled by an evil dictator…a disembodies nose! Pursued by the secret police and recruited by anti-government rebels with a plan to kidnap the dictator's snout before it can be cloned, Miles falls for the beautiful -- but untalented -- poet Luna (Diane Keaton). But when Miles is captured and reprogrammed by the government -- to believe he's Miss America! -- it's up to Luna to save Miles, lead the rebels, and cut off the nose…just to spite its face.

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Mary Gregory, Don Keefer, John McLiam, Bartlett Robinson
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; English Digital Mono, Spanish Digital Mono; subtitles Spanish, French; closed-captioned; double side - single layer; 24 chapters; rated PG; 87 min.; $19.98; street date 7/5/00.
Supplements: Collectible Booklet; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | The Woody Allen Collection

Picture/Sound/Extras: C/C-/D-

When Woody Allen made Sleeper in 1973, it marked the end of an era. This would be the last of Allen's truly nutty and wacky comedies; although some future efforts could be pretty madcap, none would equal the broad and slapstick humor on display during films like Sleeper and Bananas.

And good riddance, in my opinion. Although my sentiments may approach heresy among Allen fans, I thought Sleeper was one of his worst efforts. The movie started decently strong and the satire of science fiction in its plot certainly had potential, but I found the result to be blah and unfunny for the most part.

Miles Monroe (Allen) was accidentally cryogenically frozen in 1973 and is finally brought out of that state 200 years later. Not long after his awakening, Monroe becomes involved in a rebel plot to overthrow the "Big Brother"-esque dictator who governs the land, and hilarity ensues.

Or maybe not. Sleeper contains a few funny "fish out of water" gags but I thought the pacing slowed to a crawl after the first act; even though it runs less than 90 minutes, the movie seems to go on for days as the banal plot plods along to its tiresome completion.

It appears that Allen used to fancy himself as a modern Charlie Chaplin, and I just don't think that style works for him. I've always thought of Allen as being a semi-cerebral comic who uses words, not actions, and while that style shows up in Sleeper, it seems subjugated to his physical comedy.

It just doesn't work for me. The wackiness seems forced and unfunny, and the various slapstick gags fall flat. And what's with Allen's dictator obsession, anyway? He made at least three movies almost in a row that included scenes aimed at overthrowing government: Bananas, Sleeper, and 1975's Love and Death. C'mon, Woodman - couldn't you think of a different plot?

At least Bananas mined a few gags, and L&D generally seemed successful, as it offered a much more coherent and literate piece. Sleeper just seems like a drag.

(One minor footnote: Sleeper ended Allen's strongly slapstick era but it began a new tradition, his use of extremely basic credits to open his movies. Compare the titles for Sleeper to those of every film he's made since then, and I think you'll find they're awfully similar. I haven't checked all of them personally, but I'd be surprised if he's altered the formula in that time.)

The DVD:

Sleeper appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. Overall, the picture seems very bland and mediocre, even taking into account the age of the material.

Sharpness varies throughout the film. Some outdoor scenes appearing nicely crisp and accurate, but the remainder of the movie tends to look soft and slightly hazy. Since the vast majority of Sleeper features interior shots, that means a lot of it displays this kind of pasty appearance. Moiré effects were an occasional issue, and I also saw mild artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws were not a big concern. Some light grain shows up, and I also saw some speckles, a little black grit, and a few scratches. Right at the start of chapter 5 (17:35), the frame wobbles oddly for about two seconds; this happens on both the letterboxed and fullframe editions. However, the overall appearance of the print seems clean.

Sleeper presents very few colors, as it tends toward varying white tones for the most part, which is in keeping with the antiseptic vision of the future. When we do see colors - usually reds worn by the security, but also a few blues and some greenery in the outdoor shots - they appear acceptably saturated but a little drab. Black levels seem decently dark and deep, but shadow detail looks fairly murky. The latter isn't much of an issue; it really only becomes a factor in one night-time scene, but on that occasion, it looked gauzy and overly heavy. Sleeper remains consistently watchable, mostly thanks to the cleanliness of the source material, but it seems really very bland and flat.

Similarly drab is the film's monaural audio. Dialogue consistently seemed intelligible but dull and lifeless, and it also displayed slight edginess at times. Effects seemed thin and wan, with a somewhat rough trebly sound to them, while the Dixieland score comes across as excessively bright and often somewhat distorted. Only its advanced age saved this soundtrack from a grade that entered "D" territory; as it stands, I gave it a just-made-it-there "C-".

As with all of the Woody Allen DVDs, this one's weakest facet is its supplements. As I've noted in other reviews, Allen apparently doesn't like extras on DVDs, so all we find is a mildly-interesting trailer plus some brief but very good production notes in the booklet.

Although I'm not a huge Woody Allen fan, I enjoyed parts of the prior two DVDs in this series (Bananas and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask). However, Sleeper left me cold. It made me chuckle a couple of times, but I generally found it dull. The DVD seems weaker than the others as well, with very mediocre picture and sound plus few extras. Sleeper should be left for the Allen diehards.

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