Nicholas Sparks novels have littered the romantic genre for years now and with each new novel he puts out, a film adaptation of a previous one trickles into theaters. While the films rarely boast big name stars, they’re made for a relatively small budget and often rake in three to four times what was invested into them. Such is the case with Dear John, the latest Sparks film that mixes some truly intelligible nonsense in with a supposed romantic storyline. Although critics slammed it, audiences ate it up and while I’m not going to call all of Sparks works uninteresting, this is a very poor indication of the mans works.
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.
Let it be known that I don’t dislike either of the leads of the film; Seyfried has taken on a variety of roles over the past couple years that really show her wide range of talent. Tatum is almost always playing the same soldier role, but here he…well, ok. He doesn’t really do much in the film except fill the necessary hot-guy quota, as his acting is as stoic and formulaic as marching orders barked out by Army commanders and while that works for most of his films, it really doesn’t help out much here. He seems more at home with the other members in his unit than he does with Seyfried, making you wonder if he’d ever be truly happy settling down rather than being overseas and fighting against terrorism.
I’ve only seen a few of Sparks novel-to-film adaptations (never seen The Notebook, but I did see Nights in Rodanthe which I actually hated less than this film) but the ones I have seen have almost always annoyed me in some manner. They’re syrupy sweet at times with little payoff and in the case of Dear John it’s like a nearly two-hour-long film that builds up to the ending that you knew was coming all along. In fact, I’m not sure what the point of the story was—all of the pain and suffering mixed with happiness that our characters went through during the film was seemingly pointless in the end. It’s kind of like eating ice cream when you’re lactose intolerant—you know what the ending is going to be, so why do you put yourself through the misery of waiting for the predictable outcome?
I think what hurts the film most is just the real lack of chemistry between Tatum and Seyfried, as in this case two pretty people do not make for a pretty couple. On top of that they pile in so much Iraq/Afghanistan war scenery that you quickly grow tired of it; after all this is a romantic comedy—why am I watching a poorly done collection of war time sequences that are littered with Army-speak? I guess it was trying to appeal to both male and female audiences (or at least give the guys something to occupy their time while they waited for it to end), but for me I just couldn’t get into any of the films haphazard plots or themes. New elements were shoehorned in and then never touched upon again and while all the characters are likeable in the sense that no one’s really out to hurt one another the film is just horribly generic in structure.
Kudos to the film for earning as much at the box office as it did, but I just hope that future Sparks adaptations aren’t quite so disconnected. For a romantic drama there seemed to be a real lack of any real romance; there’s that initial “spark” of course between our two characters at the pier, but after that it’s just a lot of long-distance correspondence that goes nowhere. Sure, little tidbits like how they have to number their letters in sequence since the Army tends to deliver them out of order is cute and adds to the puppy love that’s displayed at first, but it ultimately comes to an end anyway. Then there’s the actual “Dear John” letter that arrives which kind of kills any momentum the film actually has at that point.
Overall something you can readily and easily Skip, even if you are a fan of past Sparks adaptations.
Sony releases Dear John to both Blu-ray and DVD, although for this review I’ll be going over the DVD release only. It arrives in a standard amaray style DVD case without any fancy inserts or anything; it has a fair share of extras although it’s certainly nothing that blows you away in terms of complexity or completeness. Video for this film looks clean and clear— Lasse Hallstrom’s rather unique directing style made for an odd pairing for a romantic drama, but it looks pretty nice overall. The audio, a DD5.1 mix, is mostly front channel focused although there is some surround and LFE activity for the war-time sequences that crop up.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes (10:13)
Alternate Ending (3:41)
A Conversation with Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried and Lasse Hallstrom (5:24)
Transforming Charleston (14:52)
Military in Movies: Dear John’s Military Advisors (11:03)
Mr. Tyree, The Mule, and Benny Dietz (4:53)
The Story of Braeden Reed (24:33)
As you can see the extras are pretty lengthy in number, but the content they provide is minimal. Deleted scenes are forgettable as are the outtakes, but the “Transforming Charleston” and “Military in Movies” are probably the two most interesting ones since you get to actually hear from real military advisors about how they consult for films. “Story of Braeden Reed” is interesting as well, but considering the most entertaining special features are the ones that focus on elements of the story that don’t necessarily impact the story in any direct way it’s kind of odd they get so much focus. Still, the extras are a lot more entertaining to watch (for me, at least) than the film itself so for that reason alone this release is worth a Rental for the curious.
Dear John arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on May 25th.