A long time ago, Sony owned the MGM video library (before Fox picked it up for impending HD-DVD/Blu-Ray Wars) and re-released some films as Special Editions, and combined others as part of convenient two-packs. This is an example of the latter, perhaps as some sort of romantic two-pack that’s easy on the wallet but heavy on the heart.
At First Sight is directed by Irwin Winkler (Night and the City) and tells the tale of Virgil Adamson (Val Kilmer, Real Genius) who has been blind all of his life. He is able to get an operation that would restore his eyesight, and at the urging of his girlfriend Amy (Mira Sirvino, The Final Cut), has the operation, before finding out that it’s not permanent, so he tries to live his life however he can before he loses his vision.
Based on a story by Oliver Sacks (Awakenings), the story of At First Sight takes on many of the same tricks here, with the territorial parents, the patient who gets a chance at life but loses it again, that kind of thing. While Sorvino is OK, Kilmer just isn’t believable in the film. At just over 2 hours, the film also runs about 15 minutes too long as well, and just isn’t pleasant to watch.
Return to Me, however, was about 15 minutes less, the Capra-esque touches were a little bit easier to believe and (written and directed by) Bonnie Hunt (Jerry Maguire) keeps things moving with a mix of humor and emotion that make you forget about the touches of destiny thrown in. Bob (David Duchovny, The X-Files) is a recent widower, his wife dying in a car crash, and Grace (Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting) works at a restaurant and is in need of a heart transplant. Grace gets the heart and through some “random” circumstances, meets Bob and falls in love with him.
Now, is the overall concept bordering on a little creepy (a widower falls in love with his dead wife’s heart)? A little. Is the casting of older actors Caroll O’Connor (All in the Family) and Robert Loggia (Jagged Edge) a little bit manipulative? Probably. Is Duchovny’s haircut a little bit weird? Without a doubt. But the story navigates around these things with a “oh well” type of sensibility, and Hunt’s story gives itself enough pace to deal with Duchovny’s wife’s death (in a fairly affecting way, by the way) and his emergence back into the world of dating that it’s not a huge concern.
Sometimes these two packs have some good choices, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s a mixed bag. This is one of those times, as Return to Me is a film that admittedly I’ll watch when it’s on, because it brings the funny at just the right time that you don’t mind the cutesy little “date stuff”. At First Sight was one that I skimmed right on through, but these two are pretty cheap to buy, so why not make your significant other happy?
Dolby Digital 5.1 reigns supreme on both films. Some of the wind noises on Return to Me sound good, and some of the environmental stuff comes out really well, but there’s no need for these audio tracks for these kinds of films.
Return to Me has a 1.85:1 widescreen look that maintains a constant layer of film grain at all times. At First Sight is a flipper treatment, with 1.85:1 on one side and full frame on the other. Both versions also reproduce film grain here, but there’s not a huge color palette bursting in either movie that gives you a chance to show this off to your friends. The closest thing may be the garden that Bob visits Grace in, but otherwise, if you want reference quality, go elsewhere.
While At First Sight doesn’t have any extras to speak of, Return to Me has a commentary with Hunt and her writing partner Don Lake. While parts of it are pretty jocular and active, there are a lot of other scenes that just have silence, and perhaps it’s because Hunt the director was still looking at things critically now, which is OK I guess, since she prefaces a lot of things by saying “as a director”, but the overall quality of the track is a disappointment. There’s also a music video (yawn) and a deleted scene.
Both of these films can be found in the bargain bin in your local movie store by now. I would hold off on At First Sight and pick up Return to Me if I had to make a desert island choice. MGM/Fox/Sony/whomever owns the MGM film library in the future really needs to start picking these things a little bit more prudently down the road .