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Dear John (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 15, 2010 by  



An emotional, romantic and heartfelt film from the writer of “The Notebook”.   “Dear John” is a film about finding love, losing love and as a viewer, you find yourself wanting to see if love can ever be rekindled.  Definitely a Blu-ray for those looking for an entertaining, romantic film.

Images courtesy of © 2010 Dear John, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Dear John

DURATION: 108 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English, 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English -Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH

COMPANY: Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (For Some Sensuality and Violence)

RELEASE DATE: May 18, 2010

Based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

Screenplay by Jamie Linden

Executive Producer: Jeremiah Samuels, Tucker Tooley

Produced by Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Ryan Kavanaugh

Co-Produced by Ken Halsband

Music by Deborah Lurie

Cinematography by Terry Stacey

Edited by Kristina Boden

Casting by Joanna Colbert, Mark Fincannon, Richard Mento

Production Design by Kara Lindstrom

Art Direction by Mark Garner

Set Decoration by Summer Eubanks

Costume Design by Dana Campbell, Kathryn Langston

Starring:

Channing Tatum as John Tyree

Amanda Seyfried as Savannah Curtis

Richard Jenkins as Mr. Tyree

Henry Thomas as Tim Wheddon

D.J. Cotrona as Noodles

Cullen Moss as Rooster

Gavin McCulley as Starks

Jose Lucena Jr. as Bery

Keith Robinson as Captain Stone

Scott Porter as Randy

Leslea Fisher as Susan

William Howard Bowman as Daniels

David Andrews as Mr. Curtis

Mary Rachel Dudley as Mrs. Curtis

It was two weeks that would change their lives forever. Soon after John (Channing Tatum – PUBLIC ENEMIES, G.I. JOE) and Savannah (Amanda Seyfried – MAMMA MIA, TV’s “Big Love”) fall madly in love, their relationship is put on hold. With one leaving to complete his service, and the other to complete her college education, they pass the time by exchanging a continuous stream of love letters, until they can be reunited permanently a year later. But when war breaks out, their separation is extended indefinitely. Will their relationship survive the greatest test of all: the test of time? Based on the bestselling novel from the author of “The Notebook,” DEAR JOHN is a timeless romance that will warm your heart.

When it comes to films that are adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels, you know you can expect romance, conflict and for the most part, for those who enjoy romantic films, films that can usually be seen as uplifting and remembered.

From Sparks novels such as “Message in a Bottle”, “A Walk to Remember”, “The Notebook” and “Nights in Rodanthe”, “Dear John” is the latest novel to receive an adaptation.  With a screenplay by Jamie Linden (“We Are Marshall”), the film would be directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“Hachiko: A Dog’s Story”, “Chocolat”, “The Cider House Rules”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”).  The film would feature cinematography by Terry Stacey (“P.S. I Love You”, “Adventureland”) and music composed by Debora Lurie (“Dreamgirls”, “Spider-Man 3”, “Wanted”, “X-men 2”).

Although the film was not well-received by critics, films based on Nicholas Sparks novels have proven to become quite successful and was the film responsible of knocking “Avatar” out of the #1 box office position (note: Avatar was #1 for seven weeks) and “Dear John” which was budgeted at $25 million would earn over $94 million in the box office.

The film would revolve around two individuals during their summer vacation in 2001.   The film begins with images of John Tyree (played by Channing Tatum, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”, “Public Enemies”), a soldier of the US Army Special Forces who has been shot in battle.  While he lays down, all that goes through his mind is his childhood trip to the U.S. Coin Mint and in his words, the last things he thought about before blacking out was “you”.

We are then taken back to the Summer of 2001 as John Tyree is enjoying his two weeks vacation at the beach and surfing during the Summer.  But while on top of the boardwalk, he sees Savannah Lynn Curtis (played by Amanda Seyfried, “Mamma Mia!”, “Jennifer’s Body”, “Veronica Mars”) along with her friends.  Savannah’s purse falls towards the water below and John jumps from the boardwalk to retrieve it for her.  After getting her purse, the two immediately the two start getting to know each other and enjoying each other’s company.  The two talk about how he will be leaving to go back to his base in Germany in two weeks, while she will be going to college in two weeks.

We are introduced to Savannah’s friends including her neighbor Tim Wheddon (played by Henry Thomas, “Red Velvet”, “Gangs of New York”) who is a single father raising his autistic son Allan.  We are also introduced to her good friend Randy (played by Scott Porter, “Friday Night Lights, “Caprica”) who likes Savannah and quickly becomes jealous of Savannah spending her time with John.

As both John and Savannah enjoy each other’s company and go on a date the following day.  Savannah starts to learn how John was had some trouble when he was younger and when she starts questioning him about his relationship with his father, John closes up.  But Savannah persists and wants to meet John’s father.

So, John takes her to his home.  A bit uncomfortable about the situation, because his father is very quiet and is very meticulous about things.  He is surprised that Savannah is actually taking an interest in the activities of Mr. Tyree (played by Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”, “The Kingdom”, “Six Feet Under”) who enjoys coin collecting.   Savannah notices his symptoms and realizes he is autistic, something that John is not aware of.  But the two end up having a good first date and the two begin seeing more of each other.

We learn that Savannah is involved in charity and her dream is to open a horse ranch for autistic kids.  John feels that Savannah may be too good for him but Savannah reaffirms her interest in him and both fall in love with each other and from that point on, the two are inseparable and she spends time with John and his father which is significant because John and his father have not been very close.

As the days near the end of their summer vacation, the two have an argument as Savannah, talks about wanting to help autistic children and then brings up his father.  John is upset that Savannah thinks his father is autistic (in his mind autistic=mentally retarded) and thinks that she has only spent time with him and her father only because she was observing him.

But the two eventually make up and as the two weeks are now up, the two must split up.  They promise that after a year’s time, they will reunite.  But for now, to make the time pass, they must write each other letters.

And for a short time, as the two communicate by letters, all seems to go well for both John and Savannah as they count down the days when they will be together again…that is until 9/11.

VIDEO:

“Dear John” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1) and because the film is shot outdoors for many of the scenes, the colors are absolutely vibrant.   Amazing detail when it comes to the film’s textures, backgrounds, ocean water to skin pores are quite detailed in HD.  Flesh tones are natural, blacks are nice and deep, a fine layer of grain but “Dear John” is a very vibrant film full of colors and for the most part, looks great on Blu-ray.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Dear John” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and in English – Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Although the film is a romantic film (and one shouldn’t expect anything major in terms of surround channel or LFE usage). There is probably one or two major action scenes in which John and his fellow soldiers looking for insurgents, but for the most part, dialogue is clear and understandable and the music presented in the film sounds great via lossless.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Dear John” comes with the following special features:

  • BD Exclusive: movieIQ+sync™ and BD-Live connect you to real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie!
  • Deleted and Alternate Scenes – (10:13) 12 deleted and alternate scenes.
  • Alternate Ending – (3:41) The alternate ending which I’m glad that it wasn’t used for the final cut.  It’s a bit stalker-ish for my taste.
  • Outtakes – (2:24) Featuring outtakes from the film.
  • A Conversation with Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried and Lasse Hallstrom – (5:22) Director Lass Hallstrom talks about working with Seyfriend and Hallstrom while the two talents talk about working with the director.
  • Transforming Charleston – (14:52) Producer Marty Bowen talks about creating locations of around the world in Charleston, South Carolina and working with a talented production team.
  • Military in Movies: Dear John’s Military Advisors – (11:02) Lt. Col. Gregory Bishop, Dept. of Defense Army liason for “Dear John” talks about the characters and making the film seem real in a military perspective.
  • Mr. Tyree, The Mule, and Benny Dietz – (4:53) Benny Dietz talks about using his knowledge of coin collecting and integrating his knowledge and history of the coins for the film.
  • The Story of Braeden Reed – (24:33) A featurette about Braeden Reed who plays the autistic child Allan.  Braeden is autistic and his parents talk about discovering his autism, how they have dealt with it and also how the filmmakers incorporated him into the film.

“Dear John” is a touching, heartwarming and enjoyable romantic film.  The chemistry of Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum really worked onscreen and the 9/11 storyline as well the inclusion of the autism storyline worked as well.

Amanda Seyfried continues to amaze me.  As an actress, we are starting to see her talent emerge onscreen.   She has shown us her diversity as an actress in films such as “Mamma Mia!” to  showing us something different with “Jennifer’s Body” but “Dear John” is a film that really shows us how much depth she has an actress and how she can literally transform herself into that character.

And as for Channing Tatum, I felt he was a bit wooden in terms of acting when it came to his role on “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” but for “Dear John”, I felt his acting has improved and I actually have a few military friends who have similar behavior of his character, so in some ways, that stoic, quiet and quick-to-anger character was believable.  And it helps that “Dear John” producers utilized several military advisors for the film.

But the film, although enjoyable is not perfect. When the film begins to focus on the character of John and less on Savannah, the film tends to lose its magic because we are so used to seeing the two onscreen together.  As if these two individuals can take on the world.  But “Dear John” starts to veer off in a different direction after 9/11 and John, the soldier is conflicted as his fellow soldiers are willing to fight for their country and all plan to re-enlist.  John wants to do the same but that promise he kept to Savannah of reuniting with her, he doesn’t know what to do.

And as one part of the film explores the relationship of John and Savannah, the other begins to focus on the father and son relationship.  The fact that John and his father never had a relationship when he became a teenager and what kept them together was their interest in coins.  A hobby that John grew out of and never understood why his father became addicted to it.

But as much as one would hope the film would focus on the actual relationship, it was a bold move by the writer to really switch things up in the plot.  Risky and possibly one of the major striking plot lines that will either be appreciated or disliked by the viewer.

Film critic Matt Mueller of TotalFilm.com writes, “Think twice before parting with your own hard-earned, though. This is a slothful weepie, plagued by a sickly mishmash of plot strands and a gaping chemistry hole at its core.”

In some way, Mueller comment is a bit specious.  Yes, the focus on the relationship is important and straying away from it because of 9/11 seems a bit off and does leave a “hole at its core”.  But at the same time, the character of John and what took place after 9/11 are emotions many soldiers had.  There are many soldiers who knew they were going to leave their love ones, many knew that they may never come back but their honor and their duty as a soldier is something we read about heavily in the news after 9/11.  And I’m sure many soldiers after that tragic day, felt it was their duty to re-enlist.

ViewLondon film critic Matthew Turner writes, “The main problem with the film is that the plot is so thinly written as to be practically non-existent. Yes, there’s chemistry between the two leads, but there’s no emotional depth to their romance and, given that the title of the film pretty much gives away the supposedly crucial emotional moment, it’s hard to care whether they get back together or not.”

I have to agree with Turner, especially compared to other films based on Nicholas Sparks novels, chemistry and emotional/romantic depth have always played a major part in the film adaptations.  But I did care if the two would get back together or not.  There is no doubt that these two characters love each other but one lives in the US tormented that the man she loves may never come back and then the man on the battlefield feels he could keep a balance with his duty to the military and is kept going by his love for Savannah and that he can return after he has served his duty.  But there are twists and turns along the way and things manage to come full circle.

And various references by critics in regards to Savannah being to nice, helping out a charity and wanting to open a horse riding school for autistic children seem to be a bit farfetched for them.  But I actually knew a military wife after 9/11 who started a pet rescue and also adopted several children while her husband was on leave, so it’s not as farfetched as it would seem.  But I suppose it all depends on one’s experience, but there are people like Savannah out there as farfetched as some others may believe.

As for the letter writing, it may seem a bit cliche to some and particularly maddening to those who  wonder why e-mail is not being featured as this is a modern film as opposed to a Vietnam War or World War II film.  But there were lines that added to the story that the locations that John was at at the time had no access to e-mail.  But really, when you think about it, writing e-mails to each other doesn’t have that same feel as two people writing about letters.  Call me old school but I felt it worked for the film and I find it much more romantic about reading one’s emotion on paper and hand written versus typed on an e-mail.

But I suppose that this film is one of those films that will either be enjoyed or disliked and for me, I felt that there was a good amount of romance and emotional conflict to make “Dear John” entertaining.  And this is a Blu-ray release that looks simply gorgeous in HD and although not an action film that will provide you an immersive soundscape, the lossless audio works quite well for the film.

Overall, “Dear John” will definitely entertain those who enjoyed previous film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels.  By no means is this film as emotional and romantic as “The Notebook” but if you stay with the journey and not get so intertwined with its plot deviation from its romantic core, keep an open mind and you may eventually enjoy the payoff at the end of the film.






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