James Mangold’s “Kate & Leopold” (2001) offers something new, at least in its attempt of not adopting a formulaic romantic approach seen countless times now. The idea of time travel is nothing new in Hollywood, but for romantic flicks it still remains underutilized. The time travel definition for audiences may vary, greatly, as it routinely gets unclear when mixed up with the concept of parallel time zones, occurring within the same time period. Time travel, the way I see it, is a transition occurring in a character’s life as a result of traveling from one era to the other, the timeline of which can be in the past or the future. There are only a handful good movies falling in the subgenre of time zone romantic flicks that I like: “Somewhere in Time” (1980), “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986), “Chances Are” (1989), and “Kate & Leopold” (2001).
In “Kate & Leopold,” our main character, Leopold (Hugh Jackman) lives in New York in 1876, and later inadvertently travels through a time portal. Leopold is not provided with any option for time travel, but is forced, when he follows Stuart (Liev Schreiber), a physician taking photos of Leopold’s diagrams, and falls through the portal, only to find awaken in 21st century New York. Leopold later meets Stuart’s ex-girlfriend, Kate (Meg Ryan), and he is intrigued by Kate’s personality. Soon, both of them get romantically involved. Meanwhile, Stuart, through an accident, ends up in a mental hospital, but somehow manages to escape; he makes it back in time to help Kate and Leopold.
“Kate & Leopold” was Jackman’s second major Hollywood film after the hugely-successful, “X-Men” (2000), while Ryan had a string of successful romantic films before this one. It is hard to believe Jackman playing a romantic character, especially after playing an action comic-book hero. The transformation of Jackman from a masculine-hairy-bare-chest Wolverine character of “X-Men” to a dressy Duke of Albany is astonishing and believable, which works in the movie’s favor. If one hasn’t seen “X-Men,” or never heard of Jackman, then Jackman’s romantic character works even better. But in “Kate & Leopold,” Jackman never lets his angry-masculine-cool-looking dude image overpower the frailties of a soft-looking-sensitive romantic character. He maintains the right balance that further helps in developing pleasant onscreen chemistry with Ryan. Ryan, to her credit, never portrays her character too cutesy, and her charms are natural that one would expect from a career-oriented woman.
For the most part, “Kate & Leopold” doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, other than just being a new entry in the time-travel subgenre. The film works best if one doesn’t focus on the story because much of it fails to make any sense; it’s silly, light-hearted, and weightless. Clearly, Leopold is dislocated between the time zones, but his character, for whatever he is doing in the 21st century, is never anxious to get back to where he came from. Instead, Leopold is amused by modern New York, making way for a few humorous moments in the film. Moreover, his character is never confronted with complex choices of living in two places, and when Leopold falls for Kate, the onus falls on Kate to make their relationship work. Of course, a woman sacrificing her well-set career for a man only affirms the gender stereotypes attached to women.
The bonding of a sophisticated aristocrat and a modern career woman in “Kate & Leopold” has enough oomph to appeal to both the sexes, but the plot is entertaining at times, only if not taken seriously.
“Kate & Leopold” arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, encoded using an AVC codec and framed in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p is inconsistent at times. Even though the colors are lively, they are not as bold one would have hoped for. The detail is improved, although I found the transfer soft on a few occasions; sharpness suffers, too, in these scenes. There is light grain present, making this a filmic transfer. The close-ups are tight and good-looking, revealing nice face details. The skin tones are warm and realistic, too.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master track is lively. That is noticeable right in the opening and closing moments. The rear channels are triggered and the sound remains clear throughout. But the film is mostly dialogue heavy, and the dialogue is consistently crisp and clean. The audio levels are set right and the mix never sounds overly aggressive or low.
First, we get an audio commentary track with Director James Mangold. He discusses the script, the motivation behind the story, and how the 19th century New York was created. Next, “On the Set” featurette is a collection of short interviews with Jackman, Mangold, Ryan, and Schreiber. Up next, we get a number of deleted scenes with optional commentary from Mangold. Finally, we get a costume featurette that is focused on the film’s costume designer, Donna Zakowska.
“Kate & Leopold” is a lightweight film whose characters never develop into complex entities. The plot hardly makes sense, but it is Hugh Jackman who steals the show with his charms and simplicity. The film has a few redeeming qualities, and therefore, it comes recommended. The Blu-ray offers an average-looking 1080p transfer, a good-sounding audio track, and a few extras.