I debated covering the recent home video re-releases of both these films separately, detailing the merits of each respective release in its own, dedicated article. But face the facts here folks, no one should own Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) when they haven’t got his 1973 film, Sleeper, on the shelf as well. And wouldn’t you know it? Both Hannah and Her Sisters and Sleeper made their Blu-ray debut through MGM Home Entertainment on the very same day, facilitating your purchase of both titles!
Let’s begin here where Allen did, with Sleeper. Sleeper tells the story of Miles Monroe (Allen), a man who goes in for a routine ulcer operation and wakes up 200 years in the future, a fugitive of the totalitarian government. And hijinks ensue. This is hands-down my favorite of Allen’s straightforward comedies, followed closely by Love and Death (1975), if indeed either can be considered a straightforward comedy. Here, Allen combines solid slapstick with his trademark wordplay and cutting witticisms firmly directed at social structures and societal norms. He cleverly uses the future setting, as so many science fiction writers do, to offer a broad commentary about the role of government in modern society and the power of the individual to affect change in said government. But rather than allowing them to inform, guide, or deaden the humor, Allen lets these themes develop little-by-little through the madcap adventures of Miles and his gal-pal Luna (played by Diane Keaton in her second role alongside Allen), thereby providing the film with surprising poignancy and natural depth. Of course, there’s more to the film than just poignant social commentary. There are also giant chickens and banana peel gags, if that’s more your speed.
However, I mention the depth of Sleeper by way of positioning it as a required purchase alongside Hannah and Her Sisters, one of Allen’s four great masterpieces, in my estimation (I’ll let you guess what the other three are). Hannah and Her Sisters is one of the most complex and rewarding pictures of Allen’s oeuvre, and in fact won three Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay. It addresses a multitude of issues related to family, infidelity, guilt, godlessness, the pleasure of feeling needed, the overwhelming sense of aimlessness that grips people at various points in our lives, and even suicide. Oh, how it deals with suicide! In Hanna, Allen makes one of the greatest arguments against suicide, and quite simply, in fact, primarily through the use of clips from another film. And despite the turmoil that plagues its characters’ lives (and the often uncomfortable correlation between narrative events and the real-life story of Allen and ex-wife Mia Farrow’s relationship), Hannah is a warm, life-affirming, all around feel-good movie. And it boasts a phenomenal cast at that, with Allen starring alongside Farrow, Michael Caine (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role), Diane Wiest (who took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar), Maureen O’Sullivan, Barabara Hershey, and even Max von Sydow.
Of course, some of you reading this article will, at this point, be screaming, “What about the g.d. Blu-rays?!” After all, you already know the films and have long been singing their praises, so what about the Blu-rays indeed. Well, these Blu-rays both boast terrific transfers with nary a bit of debris in sight and the grain structure gorgeously represented. They improve upon previous releases of the film in every way. As such, these Blu-rays are, for those of you clinging to the now-defunct DVD and VHS releases of yesteryear, a mandatory upgrade, just as the Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) Blu-rays were before them. One thing I feel I should mention, though, in case you’ve read my previous reviews of MGM Blu-rays or purchased one yourself and are worried about it, these releases both include main menus from which to access the film and the lone special feature on each (the theatrical trailer). In contrast, previous MGM Blu-rays I’ve covered have not offered main menus, only pop-up menus, which of course appear over the film itself and are therefore endlessly irksome to the dedicated cinephile. Admittedly, the main menus here are less than aesthetically pleasing, but I’ll take what I can get.