Manhattan (1979)

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Released 26-Jul-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy Main Menu Animation
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1979
Running Time 92:15 (Case: 96)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Woody Allen

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Woody Allen
Diane Keaton
Michael Murphy
Mariel Hemingway
Meryl Streep
Anne Byrne
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music George Gershwin

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (256Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (256Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (256Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    You may well ask - why is he back reviewing another Woody Allen film? After all, isn't he the person that openly admitted that he cannot stand Woody Allen films? In fact, did he not go so far as to say that Woody Allen films are overrated pieces of rubbish? Of course, you are absolutely right - so why am I back reviewing another Woody Allen film? Simple. I stuck my hand up to review this DVD predominantly on the basis that Manhattan is rated in the Internet Movie Database Top 250, therefore it must have some merit. Of course, the same applied to Annie Hall, yet that clearly was a film with which I was not at all impressed, so you can appreciate that I was approaching this review session with an even greater degree of trepidation in view of the grand experiment failing miserably with Annie Hall. Well, just to keep you utterly confused, and myself utterly bemused, this one I almost enjoyed! Perhaps it is because here Woody Allen makes no attempt whatsoever to hide two of his famed trio of themes, even to the extent of naming the film after the city he is so passionately in love with. By the way, his death obsession is actually pretty much missing in action here. Mind you, the autobiographical nature of the film has not been diminished, even to the extent of the infatuation of the lead character with a young woman of school age, foretelling his later real life love with Soon Yi Previn.

    The broad story here is based around Isaac Davis (Woody Allen), who happens to be smack in the midst of a mid-life crisis: he is forty two, hates his job and is dating a seventeen year old schoolgirl in Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). To make matters worse, his ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep) is writing a book about their marriage and its break up, which is just a little annoying to Isaac since Jill happened to run off with another woman, taking his son with them. Isaac is not exactly happy that all sorts of personal details are going to be revealed. Naturally, he would like to do disgusting things to Jill, all of which involve some illegal activity and usually with the intent of terminating Jill's life.

    Isaac's best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) happens to be having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton), supposedly unbeknownst to Yale's wife, Emily (Anne Byrne). When Mary tires of the illicit relationship with Yale, she decides to break off the affair, which is great news for Isaac who has obviously previously met Mary and been smitten by her. So, Tracy gets the flick and Mary moves into his life (sans a job which by now he has quit), apartment and bed. The trouble is that Yale still is in love with Mary, and Mary slowly comes to realize that she is still in love with Yale, and their relationship is eventually rekindled much to the consternation of Isaac and Emily - most especially when Emily invites Isaac and Mary over for a meal one evening. This unholy mess of a menage a quatre gets a tad too much to handle, and we end up with Yale and Mary getting back together, Emily being devastated (and blaming Isaac for introducing Mary to Yale) and Isaac realizing that he really does love Tracy and setting off to rekindle that relationship - only to discover that she is about to head off to Europe to go to school (which Isaac originally encouraged her to do as a way of breaking off their relationship). So all in all, we end up down the usual route of Woody/Isaac ending up being the schmuck without the girl - again - in what is almost a epitaph to the sexual enlightenment of the seventies.

    Confused? Welcome to the world according to Woody Allen. On the whole, critical acclaim for Manhattan seems to be somewhat less than for Annie Hall, so in some sort of perverted way that would probably account for why I find Manhattan a more palatable film. The story is riddled with the usual clichés that seem to be a recurring theme in Woody Allen's films, and the characters are if anything even more trite than usual, and yet it seems to work a little better than usual. Woody Allen is still not a favourite of mine but I find his performance here to be far less unappetizing than usual. Diane Keaton basically gets to play the same role she always plays in Woody's films, namely the somewhat unlikeable, possibly egocentric object of Woody's infatuations. Accordingly, this is very much acting by numbers as far as she is concerned. Of the rest, Mariel Hemingway is the only one to stand out and that is for all the wrong reasons. I simply find it difficult to believe that she copped an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for this role: frankly, the one thing that is not on display here is any real acting ability. It does have to be said, though, that the best parts of this film are actually when she and Woody Allen are in scene together: there is something naive and immature in her performance that in some ways conveys the uncertainty inherent in this sort of relationship (at least I guess there would be some sort of uncertainty in such a relationship, not having any personal experience of such a relationship to draw upon!). The rest is pretty much your typical Woody Allen film by the numbers.

    Billed as a comedy, this actually raised a couple of (minor) laughs out of me, so that immediately makes it a rip-roaring success as far as Woody Allen films and I are concerned. It is of course much more a romance than a comedy and at that level it also works pretty well, and whilst I would not be rushing out to indulge in this effort again too soon, it is actually the first Woody Allen film that I have come across that I would actually contemplate watching again in the future.

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Transfer Quality


    Manhattan is slightly younger than the previously reviewed Annie Hall so perhaps I was expecting a little too much of the transfer, based upon my readings of reviews of the Region 1 release. This is the first film that Woody Allen, at least to my knowledge, filmed in black and white and possibly the only one he has filmed in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, so when you start reading reviews that are highly complimentary about the image quality, you start to get some impression of what to expect. What we got was not what I was expecting.

    The transfer is presented in its correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced - unusual I would suggest for a black and white DVD (although no doubt several dozens will now be brought to my attention). The transfer is Auto Pan & Scan encoded.

    The disappointment in the DVD transfer is apparent almost from the opening scene, and so pervasive that I am almost tempted to suggest that it is the way the film is supposed to look, despite the fact that it was filmed anamorphically which usually means a sharp, detailed image. However, I found this to be at times a very diffuse image that reminded me of such earlier black and white films of the forties and fifties as Angel And The Badman, but without the annoying film artefacts. I was really expecting something a lot sharper in nature with a greater degree of detail than what we have here, that is for sure. The detail at times is not much better than average and again is far more reminiscent of black and white films of the fifties rather than something from the seventies. Shadow detail is at times decidedly average. This is not an especially clear transfer, but thankfully does not seem to suffer from any significant grain problems to speak of. Just to balance the whole inconsistency of the transfer, there were times that this was as sharp and as clear as I was expecting. There did not appear to be any low level noise problems in the transfer.

    The big let down after the inconsistency in the transfer is the general lack of depth to the black and white tones. Again, this is in sharp contrast to the reviews of the Region 1 release which seem to be high on the solid blacks and bright whites. They are sadly lacking here in my view, and this is really a good example of how black and white should not look. Blacks in general were of a distinctly greyish tone and lacked any sort of depth throughout much of the film. At no time could I honestly say that the whites were really clean and bright (and I will now stop sounding like a detergent advert, I promise).

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There are no real problems with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. Naturally, since this is over twenty one years old, there is something of a problem with film artefacts in the transfer, but again nothing that I would consider unduly distracting in a film of this age.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc, but I was unable to note where the layer change occurred. That being the case, it is obviously not disruptive to the flow of the film.


    There are five audio tracks on the DVD, all Dolby Digital 2.0 mono efforts: English, German, French, Italian and Spanish. I listened to the English soundtrack, and again refrained from trying out the other soundtracks.

    Dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand.

    There did not appear to be any problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    The original music score comes from George Gershwin: obviously it was not composed for the film, but rather the film uses some of his great music to complement the film. I am not certain that the choices were totally appropriate to the mood of the film at times, but there is no denying the quality of the music. Some of the very best orchestral music of the twentieth century originates from the United States and George Gershwin is one of the very best of those American composers.

    The final disappointment with the DVD comes from the soundtrack itself, which is an exceedingly unnatural sounding effort. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the scene in Bloomingdales, where Mary and Isaac are talking. As they leave "centre stage" and blend into the passing traffic walking away from the camera, their voices actually become louder and more prominent in the mix. This is not an isolated example, and throughout the film I was always being confronted by what I would consider unnatural and often extremely frontal soundscapes. Whilst appreciating that this is often the case in Woody Allen films, where dialogue clarity seems to rule above all else and mono will do as well for this as anything else, it is nonetheless quite disappointing that this is so marked an example of his quirks as far as audio are concerned. Accordingly, this demonstrates in the extreme that this is not a film that requires much from the soundtrack apart from presenting clear, undistorted dialogue and that is what we actually get here - and nothing else. However, with the setting being New York, you do at times really miss the surround channel and bass channel detail that would really bring in the vibrancy of the city.


    Two out of two poor releases from the MGM stable, again lacking even the usually informative booklet. A worrying trend indeed. Another trend seems to be the move towards using the American style slip covers for the DVDs - right down to the timing of the film: could we at least get that correct before the next batch of MGM releases is due?


    Okay in its own right, but having animation without audio is still pointless in my view. Clearly a consistent style is being used for the Woody Allen films that we will be getting on MGM DVDs.

Theatrical Trailer (3:14)

    There is nothing especially great about this effort, nor anything especially bad about it, either. It has a decidedly fifties/sixties look and feel to it, which I am presuming is part of the aura that Woody Allen was trying to create. Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with the same mono Dolby Digital 2.0 sound as the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There would appear to be no significant difference between the Region 1 and Region 4 releases, and I feel that even the PAL formatting does not swing the favour much here, either.


    Manhattan is as close to an enjoyable film that I have yet come across from Woody Allen, but I still would not be jumping up to put it into the DVD player on a regular basis. Overall, I find the DVD package quite disappointing.

    An average video transfer at best.

    A below average audio transfer.

    A minimal extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, August 04, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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