I’ve seen plenty of movies just like Dear John. You know the type. Every element of the film has been carefully constructed with one purpose in mind – to make you cry like a helpless little baby. I always go into these movies with a steely resolve to keep a straight face and not be emotionally manipulated. But more likely than not, my resolve eventually weakens and I’m sobbing by the time the credits start rolling. And even though I feel like the filmmakers have exploited my emotions, I know that the movie has hit its mark. That being said, I didn’t shed a single tear during Dear John. I’m not saying that it’s a bad movie but I think it fell short of evoking the response that its creators were going for.
It starts in the spring of 2001. John Tyree (Channing Tatum) has been granted some leave by the Army and decides to go home to Charleston to visit his father. During his leave he meets Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) who is home for spring break and they fall madly in love. But after two weeks Savannah needs to go back to school and John needs to head back to Germany. The lovers promise to write each other until they can finally be re-united – supposedly in a year when he’ll finish his Army commitment and she’ll graduate from college. Only a few months go by before the events of September 11th transpire and John is compelled to extend his service. Now it appears as if their separation will be indefinite. I won’t give away what happens but the couple must go through the classic test of time and distance.
Both Tatum and Seyfried do a good job with their roles and I do believe that they’re really a couple in love. The problem is that the story never clearly explains why they’re so madly in love. There are some hints that John is attracted to Savannah because she’s such a “good person”. But I never really understood why Savannah is so into John. Obviously, he’s pretty nice to look at but the character is also angry, aggressive, and a little bit aloof. Maybe she sees him as another one of her charity projects? I’m sure that the answer is contained in the letters that the couple writes to each other. But for a movie titled Dear John, there is an obvious lack of actual letters. I’m sure the novel heavily employed the epistolary method but that did not transfer to the film at all, leaving a huge void.
The best part of Dear John wasn’t the romance at all. The only scenes that got my eyes even remotely teary involved John and his father (Richard Jenkins). Mr. Tyree is an incredibly shy man who raised John alone. Although never confirmed, it’s strongly suggested that he is autistic. When John was a boy, the only common ground that the two had was coin collecting. But when puberty hit, John lost interest in coins and so also lost his connection to his father. Through the events of the film, father and son are able to re-connect and eventually express their love for each other. The way this all plays out is incredibly touching. The relationship was well-developed and everything made sense to me. I actually wish the entire movie had been about these two!
Dear John arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4/AVC encode framed at 2.40:1. Dear John looks fantastic on Blu-ray. Color reproductions is excellent with vibrant yet natural looking colors. Fine detail is superb. Close up shots reveal facial textures, coins have an amazing level of detail, clothes, surrounding area, etc. all are well reproduced and highly detailed. Black levels are deep and inky. The film has a fine layer of grain to top this fine looking Blu-ray. I did not find any technical problems with this transfer it’s essentially flawless. Kudos to Sony!
Dear John arrives on Blu-ray with a 5,1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track. First you must know by now that Dear John doesn’t include any major action or loud explosions to make your speakers work. The film is mostly dialog driven and this track does the film justice. The dialog is clean, clear and crisp. The sound track has absolutely no problems reproducing the narration of the film. The score sounds magnificent throughout the film. While there is no need for the track to be louder, a few sequences throughout the film especially during shootouts the track lacked that extra push. However, the audio sounds perfect for the type of film that Dear John is categorized as.
There are some really outstanding features included but also a lot of the usual filler. What’s interesting is that the two features I enjoyed the most were both cover topics that I would never expect to be included with a movie like Dear John. That was a pleasant surprise!
Alternate Ending – This is the original ending of the film which was also the ending of the novel. Apparently it didn’t test well with audiences and a new ending was conceived and added. After watching both endings, I don’t have a preference. Either one fittingly wraps up the story.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes – There is quite a bit of material but none of the scenes add anything substantial to the plot. I see why they were edited out or changed for the sake of time.
A Conversation with Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, and Lasse Hallstrom – The two stars and the director compliment each other ad nauseum. The best part is when Hallstrom says he doesn’t like sentimentality. This is the 5th Hallstrom movie I’ve seen and they’re all sentimental. He’s either confused or he was trying to be sarcastic!
Outtakes – Not too funny
Transforming Charleston – Due to constraints (I assume budgetary), the entire film needed to be shot in Charleston, South Carolina. This feature shows how the film crew was able to create all of the places John visits in the army right in the heart of Charleston! This was a very interesting peek into the work of a production design team. They really did an incredibly believable job!
Military in Movies: Dear John’s Military Advisors – This is one of my favorite features. I had no idea that the movie industry hires real soldiers to advise (and sometimes act in) movies that feature the military. The feature gives an inside look at all the training and preparation that went into making the army scenes authentic.
Mr. Tyree, The Mule, and Benny Dietz – Benny Dietz is the owner of the coin collection that was used in the film. In this feature he talks a bit about his collection and tells some anecdotes about coin collecting.
The Story of Braeden Reed – This is my other favorite feature. Braeden Reed is the actor who plays Alan, the autistic son of Savannah’s next door neighbor. It turns out that Braden himself is autistic. This tells the story of him and his family and the struggles and triumphs they’ve had dealing with the disease. The piece is both touching and informative. I would recommend it for everyone to watch, even if you don’t watch Dear John.
If you’re looking for a gut-wrenching, cry-inducing, melodramatic romance, then Dear John is not the movie for you. But if you’re looking for some mild entertainment, are willing to wait it out for the good scenes, and are interested in watching The Story of Braeden Reed and Military In Movies, then this might be a decent addition to your collection. Otherwise, I recommend at least a rental.