Sleepless in Seattle: Columbia Classics – Volume 4 (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 04, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Sleepless in Seattle: Columbia Classics – Volume 4 (4K UHD Review)


Nora Ephron

Release Date(s)

1993 (February 13, 2024)


TriStar Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B-

Sleepless in Seattle (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


[Editor’s Note: Though we’re reviewing the films in the set one by one, Sleepless in Seattle is currently only available on physical 4K disc in Sony’s Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 box set. It’s available on Amazon by clicking here, or on any of the artwork pictured in this review.]

Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 (4K UHD)

Dig, if you will, this picture:

A recent widower is trying to deal with the tragic loss of his wife, while also learning how to be a single parent. He needs some time alone in order to process what’s happened, but his well-intentioned son inadvertently ends up exposing him to some unwanted public attention. He finds himself being harassed by unwelcome admirers, including a woman who becomes obsessed with him over little more than the sound of his voice. She hires a private detective in order to track him down, and once she finds out where he lives, she travels across the country to stalk him. She discovers that he’s trying to move on with his life and is now dating another woman, but she’s not quite willing to let go of him that easily. When his son ends up heeding the siren call of this seductress, the boy runs away from home and puts himself in peril. In order for this loving father to save his one and only son, he’ll have to come face-to-face with the stalker who was the cause of all their troubles. Will they be able to survive her diabolical machinations?

That may sound like the plot to one of the myriad direct-to-video erotic thrillers that were common during the Nineties, but it’s actually the story for one of the most popular romantic comedies from the same decade, Sleepless in Seattle. Sometimes, there’s a genuinely thin line between love and hate. Mind you, Sleepless in Seattle does offer plenty of standard rom-com tropes: a dashing widower (Tom Hanks); a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Meg Ryan); the Dream Girl’s sweet-natured but mildly flawed fiancé (Bill Pullman); a precocious son (Ross Malinger); the precocious son’s mischievous girlfriend (Gabby Hoffman); a wacky sidekick (Rosie O’Donnell); and a coterie of friends to dish out some unsolicited advice (Rob Reiner, Victor Garber, and Rita Wilson). The pieces are all in place for some standard issue rom-com shenanigans, but the framework that barely holds all of them together is an intentionally thin one that could easily have been spun into a completely different direction.

That’s because Sleepless in Seattle isn’t really a romantic comedy in the first place. Instead, it’s a meta-textual commentary on the nature of our love for romantic comedies. Rather than being a story about when a man loves a woman, it’s an affectionate examination of our own indefatigable love for cinematic romances. These aren’t even real characters at all; they’re just archetypes who exist only to advance the plot. Unsurprisingly, it’s the wacky sidekick who says the quiet part out loud when she tells the Dream Girl that “You don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie.” That’s right on the money, because the Dream Girl hasn’t fallen in love with the widower; she’s fallen in love with the romantic fantasy of the 1957 classic An Affair to Remember, and she’s going to shoehorn him into that fantasy by any means necessary. There’s no way to miss the reference, either, because Sleepless in Seattle makes it as explicit as possible by featuring its characters watching and talking about the film, on more than one occasion. There’s precisely zero chance that anyone in the audience could fail to make the connection, and as a result, the endgame of Sleepless in Seattle is always in clear view.

It wasn’t necessarily easy to get to that point, however. Sleepless in Seattle started out as a relatively straightforward script by first-time screenwriter Jeff Arch, but it went through a protracted development process that involved multiple writers and directors. By the time that the dust had settled, Nora Ephron was at the helm, and the final shooting script is credited to her, David S. Ward, and Arch—although there were other uncredited contributors as well, including Ephron’s sister Delia. That’s a lot of cooks to produce such a deliberately thin broth, but these characters didn’t need to be developed beyond the basic functions that they serve in the story, and the story itself doesn’t really give them any opportunity for further development anyway. That’s because of the core conceit from Arch’s original script that managed to survive development hell: namely, that the lovers wouldn’t actually meet in person until the finale.

The potential problem with that idea is that since they have no significant contact with each other until the very end of the film, that means there might not have been any real romance in an ostensible romantic comedy. The Dream Girl is in love with a fantasy that’s based on hearing a voice, and the widower is in love with nothing more than a pretty face that he’s happened to glimpse once or twice. That’s their entire relationship in a nutshell, which doesn’t bode particularly well for their future together. In theory, at least, Sleepless in Seattle is nothing more than a prequel, with the real story only beginning after the closing credits roll. Yet with such a shallow foundation, there’s little reason to believe that this is going to be an affair to remember. Ephron’s solution to that problem was to embrace that fact that it doesn’t really matter if they have an affair to remember, because what they’re actually having is An Affair to Remember—only this time, no one is going to miss the rendezvous.

The only romance that matters in Sleepless in Seattle Is the one between the audience and the fate of the star-crossed cinematic lovers. All other considerations are secondary. Viewed from that perspective, some of the dubious elements in the film become a bit more palatable. For example, the Dream Girl’s fiancé is carefully established as being a soulmate for her, with the two of them even finishing each other’s sentences, but she falls out of love with him because he has fatal flaws like... allergies and snoring. If this was a story that was being treated at face value, that wouldn’t say much for her level of commitment. Yet it doesn’t really matter in Sleepless in Seattle, because she just needed an excuse to move on, however trivial that it may be. (And naturally, he has enough nobility to fall on his sword in order to let her make a graceful exit, because he’s still more of a plot point than an actual character.) All that really matters to us as viewers is that these (potential) lovers get together at the end, and the painful reality of actually having to make relationships work need not apply. In a medium that’s often defined by its escapism, romantic comedies are arguably one of the most escapist genres of all, and that’s a fact that Sleepless in Seattle happily embraces with open arms.

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist shot Sleepless in Seattle on 35mm film using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. As James Owsley explains in his restoration notes, this new master is based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative that was completed by Prasad Corp. in Burbank, which also handled all of the restoration work. Color correction and grading were performed at Roundabout Entertainment in Santa Monica, including the new High Dynamic Range grades in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. Since Nykvist and Ephron are no longer with us, an older home video master that was produced with their participation was used as a reference. The results are... a little interesting, especially when compared to all of the other films in the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 set. Sleepless in Seattle was never going to be dazzling in 4K, at least in absolute terms, but as the stellar new master for Kramer vs. Kramer proves, just looking natural and filmic can be dazzling enough. Yet even when considered from that perspective, Sleepless in Seattle lacks a similar kind of natural luster.

While the opening title sequence and any other opticals display the expected softness when compared to the surrounding material, the rest of the film is as sharp and detailed as it can be. The grain is also perfectly resolved, and managed impeccably by the encoding. There’s a caveat to all of that, however. The HDR grade in this case is surprisingly dark, much more so than on any other disc in Volume 4. It’s dim enough that the fine detail that’s present isn’t always easily distinguishable. While complaints about 4K transfers being too dark often comes down to the way that a given display is tone mapping the image in order to match its own capabilities, JVC’s outstanding frame-by-frame tone mapping usually doesn’t have that problem, and it didn’t have issues for me with any other film in this set. Sleepless in Seattle certainly shouldn’t look overly bright and vivid, but this is dim enough that it makes the whole film feel thematically dark as well. The visuals don’t always match the tone. (Or do they?)

That said, the colors are pleasantly warm and golden-hued, so the color balance at least expresses the warmth that the story is trying to convey. That’s undoubtedly true to Nykvist’s intent, as it was characteristic of much of the color cinematography that he shot for other films. The skin tones can veer strongly golden, but once again that’s hardly unusual for Nykvist. The black levels are sometimes a bit elevated in the darkest shots, but it does look like he tended toward limited lighting setups in those cases, so that may simply be how they were captured on the negative. As a whole, this 4K presentation is still has the edge over Blu-ray, even the remastered one included in this set, but the overall darkness of the image isn’t going to make everyone happy.

Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Sleepless in Seattle was released theatrically in matrix-encoded Dolby Stereo, which means that it was a four-channel mix with mono surrounds. The 2.0 track here is the same theatrical Dolby Stereo mix. The 5.1 track is likely the same remix that was done for the original Blu-ray release of the film, but there’s no detail about that in the restoration notes. While it’s nice to have the original theatrical mix included here, it would be a huge mistake to dismiss the Atmos track without auditioning it first. It blows both the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes out of the water, although obviously not in terms of dynamics or even bass extension. No, there are actually two other reasons why this mix shines.

There first lies in the way that the existing sound effects have been placed much more precisely into the whole listening space. Crowd noises, fireworks, thunder, and other effects surround the viewer from all angles, but never in an ostentatious fashion. There’s also some subtle positioning in the middle of the room, like during the POV shot where the private detective is taking pictures of Sam—it sounds like he’s standing right next to the viewer. That’s all impressive enough, but an even bigger reason why this mix should delight fans of the film (at least ones who have speakers with accurate imaging characteristics) is the way that it handles the music. While Mark Shaiman contributed the score, the bulk of the multi-platinum best-selling soundtrack consists of songs from a variety of different sources, some of them newly recorded, but many of them vintage. Yet regardless of the age of the original recordings, they’ve all been given a remarkably authentic sense of acoustic space here. That’s obvious immediately during the opening credits, where the 1964 Jimmy Durante version of As Time Goes By has had its ambience subtly pulled forward, making it feel like you’re sitting in the recording studio while he’s performing. The rest of the songs have been treated in a similar fashion, and so the natural room tone on the recordings has been used to draw the viewer deeper into the film. It’s a gorgeous remix for that reason alone.

Additional audio options include French (France), French (Canada), German, Italian, and Spanish (Spain) 2.0 stereo DTS-HD Master Audio; Korean, Thai, and Turkish 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio; and Spanish (Latin America) 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), Swedish, and Turkish.

Sony’s 4K release of Sleepless in Seattle is the fifth film in their Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4. The set also includes His Girl Friday, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Kramer vs. Kramer, Starman, and Punch-Drunk Love. The packaging is similar to the other three volumes, with two wings that open up, each of which houses three films in individual Amaray cases with slipcovers. (The inserts use the original theatrical poster artwork, while the slipcovers offer new artwork.) At the back of the box is a separate compartment that houses a hardbound book featuring essays on each film by different authors (Katey Rich, in this case) as well as individual restoration notes by Grover Crisp, Rita Belda, and the late James Owsley, who passed away in 2022.

All of the films in the collection include a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, most of them based on the same 4K masters as the UHDs (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Kramer vs. Kramer are the exceptions.) There’s also a paper insert tucked inside with Digital codes for each film. There are no extras on the UHD for Sleepless in Seattle (not even the commentary tracks), but the following extras are included on the Blu-ray only:

  • Audio Commentary with Karen Han and David Sims
  • Audio Commentary with Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron
  • A Conversation on Sleepless in Seattle with Gary Foster and Meg Ryan (HD – 3:36)
  • Love in the Movies (Upscaled SD – 13:09)
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Opening Gifts (HD – 2:32)
    • Guests at the Door (HD – 2:25)
    • Fishing (HD – :53)
    • Airport (HD – :27)
  • When I Fall in Love Music Video (Upscaled SD – 4:21)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:31)

There are two new extras in this release. The 30th anniversary commentary features screenwriter, cultural critic, and author Karen Han paired with David Sims from The Atlantic. They acknowledge up front that while romantic comedies need to have one foot planted in reality, they also need an unreal element as well—and Sleepless in Seattle is built around the aberrant behavior of one of the main characters. Yet the film (and its actors) is engaging enough that the aberrance never seems to bother anyone. Han and Sims tend to focus on analyzing the story and its themes, but they also discuss the cast, crew, and some of the history behind the film. The other new extra is A Conversation on Sleepless in Seattle with Gary Foster and Meg Ryan, which is less than four minutes long, so needless to say they don’t have the time to cover anything of interest. While the new commentary is well worth the time, this interview can safely be skipped.

The archival extras kick off with the commentary that was originally recorded for the 2002 DVD release of Sleepless in Seattle, featuring Nora and Delia Ephron. (The two of them were recorded separately and edited together.) They discuss the development process and writing the script, as well as what their intent was for the film. It was always supposed to have a timeless element to it as a way of supporting the fantasy, which is one reason why most of the songs in the film are old standards. There’s a lot more practical information about the making of the film in this commentary track, although there are also plenty of gaps where neither of them has anything to say. It’s still worth a listen. Love in the Movies, on the other hand, is a pretty standard EPK featurette from the film’s original release. It focuses on how Sleepless in Seattle is as much about love in the movies as it is a movie about love. The Deleted Scenes are mostly a bit of extra relationship building between father and son, but they do include Parker Posey’s deleted cameo as another listener to the radio show who wants her shot with the alluring widower. Finally, the When I Fall in Love Music Video is another promotional item from the film’s original release, featuring Clive Griffen and Celine Dion’s version of the song.

Sleepless in Seattle (4K UHD) Sleepless in Seattle (4K UHD)

Aside from the isolated score track that was available on the 2013 Twilight Time Blu-ray release of Sleepless in Seattle, that’s all of the previously available extras plus two new ones. Honestly, this isn’t the kind of film where people are too concerned about the extras anyway. Sleepless in Seattle is also the kind of film that some people are going to question including in the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 in the first place, but people are always going to criticize the title selection in wide-ranging boxed sets like this. Here’s the thing, though: it encourages viewing diverse titles. Sleepless in Seattle is a film that I never would have bought on UHD if it wasn’t already included in Volume 4—I’ve never owned it on Blu-ray, DVD, or LaserDisc, either. Yet just like with all of the seemingly “less worthy” titles in the previous volumes, I’m glad that I ended up watching it again. I’ve enjoyed my run through the entire set, even with titles like this one that were hardly at the top of my list. Your own mileage may vary, but it never hurts to give another shot to films that aren’t necessarily among your favorites. You might end up discovering a new favorite in the process.

- Stephen Bjork

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