This is the story of a man who, after a routine medical procedure gone wrong, finds himself waking up 200 years into the future into a bizarre dystopia where men are impotent, women are frigid, and all is far from being right with the world.
Like I said, this is some really absurd and silly stuff, so that may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I found a lot of this to be quite hilarious at best, and super witty/chuckle enducing at worst. The set design and production values have a wonderful cheesiness and endearing quality to them, the music is just dynamite (Woody rocks his clarinet on a lot of it), and the performances, oh the performances, those are just tremendously awesome and fun to watch.
I'm not a big fan of slapstick, but visual gags, silly faces, and performances where body language dominates (ie Belushi in Animal House) work for me, so I found a lot to enjoy here. I did like the slapstick though, because it didn't seem too overbearing, and wasn't the only method of generating laughs.
This is pretty much the Woody show, but Keaton puts in a hilarious performances as well. One scene in particular, where some of the future people try to help Allen's character remember his past had me doubled over in stitches and nearly crying. There's also lots of great Easter eggs and references to other great sci works such as 2001.
Give this one a shot. It's ridiculous, a little dated, and incredibly silly, but it's pretty damn hard not to like, or at least get a little something out of.
Sleeper falls into the same grouping. It's a decent, workable effort from Woody Allen which retains some of its charm and much of its humour. It isn't in the same league as Annie Hall, Manhattan or Hannah and her Sisters, and elements of it have become more irritating than funny over time. But it's an interesting venture from a young filmmaker who hadn't quite figured out what shape his career was going to take.
Much like its predecessor, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), Sleeper has its roots in the episodic, observational vignettes of Allen's early writing and stand-up. It has a more narrative structure than 'Sex, and its characters are somewhat more developed, but it remains a hotchpotch of many different ideas and literary sources. Like a stand-up routine, these individual ideas or elements are not there to be explored in any kind of depth; they are only included for as long as they are funny, an observation which will prove useful in helping us to assess the film.
Sleeper draws on a wide range of dystopian science fiction, both from page and screen. The central premise of a man waking up after two hundred years is loosely based on H. G. Wells' The Sleeper Wakes, but instead of our protagonist waking up as the richest man in the world (due to compound interest), he is merely confused and out of place. In that respect the film owes an equal debt to the Mark Twain story A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, only with the direction of time travel reversed. There are also thematic references to Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, the latter especially in the prominent position of drugs and casual sex. And visually the film reflects the sci-fi ventures of Stanley Kubrick, combining the stark white interiors of 2001 with the peculiar fashions of A Clockwork Orange.
In a serious-minded sci-fi film this would be all well and good, but Allen marries it instead to the melodramatic slapstick of Buster Keaton and the tart one-liners of the Marx Brothers. The film is on one level Allen paying homage to his comedy heroes; he gives us the most elaborate and funniest banana skin joke in any film, and performs his own version of the mirror trick from Duck Soup. Both of these scenes are funny in their own small way, but they also hint at the central problem with the film as a whole.
There can be no doubt from watching Sleeper than Allen is an intelligent filmmaker. Most of what made his observational stand-up so enjoyable remains both in the caustic one-liners of Miles Monroe and the fleeting jibes he makes at revered social institutions like the Catholic Church. In one early scene, he is shown a series of photographs and television clips and asked to identify key historical figures. Allen is in his element here, tearing into reputations which took generations to build up with a series of perfectly balanced put-downs, which walk the tightrope between clever and stupid and make it safely to the other side.
Sleeper is a high concept film in nature, since it has one central idea which the rest of the script has to bend over backwards to support. Just as Jaws wouldn't work if you weren't constantly scared, so Sleeper would quickly fall apart if you ever stopped laughing and started to pick this brave new world apart. Generally this doesn't happen, since Allen's verbal comedy nearly always hits the mark, but the film does feel like he has chucked everything and the kitchen sink at the screen to stop you questioning the logic of the world he has created.
The biggest problem with Sleeper is that so many different forms of comedy are being employed, and in such a slapdash, desperate manner, that a lot of the substance and intellect gets buried underneath passing entertainment. In Annie Hall, the long speeches about anti-Semitism or the encounter with Marshal McLuhan are not rushed along in a desperate bid to get to the next joke; Allen, as both a writer and director, takes his time, letting a scene unfold and the comedy to develop at the required pace.
In Sleeper, on the other hand, all of the brilliant gags about religion, revolution and relationships are swept along and quickly forgotten. It's like running around a sweet shop in a desperate bid to sample everything; it's fun, and you have some idea of how it's going to end, but you never get the chance to stop and appreciate each individual moment of craft.
An equally apt comparison, considering the references to Kubrick, would be with Dr. Strangelove, another film which took a deeply serious prospect and succeeded in making it seem ridiculous (Sleeper does actually reference Strangelove -- notice that 'the leader' is in a wheelchair and has a similar haircut). Dr. Strangelove works so well, on one level, because it identifies exactly what kind of comedy it wants to be very early on: the script is rooted in absurdist humour and supported by Kubrick's focus on the Freudian undertones of power. Sleeper doesn't have that level of consistency, and in its weaker moments towards the end it does feel like it is clutching at straws.
On top of the general feeling of fleetingness and inconsistency, parts of Sleeper are just really, really annoying. The slapstick scenes are scored with Allen playing clarinet with his ragtime band. On paper this sound fine, since silent comedy has always been backed by music and the clarinet was used in 'Dance of the Cuckoos', the famous Laurel and Hardy theme. But in the film itself it's really grating, being mixed far too loud and undermining some of the best visual jokes in the process. Plus, if you can get beyond the neuroticism of Allen's character (i.e. you realise that he's not just playing himself), you still have to deal with Diane Keaton; for a lot of the film her character is greatly unlikeable, and no matter how much irony there is on screen we struggle to care about her for some time.
Sleeper is a comedy which is equal parts grating and grin-inducing. So much of what Allen does here is annoying, or repetitive, or too much of a diversion from the central concept. But the film never really stops being funny, and thus it continues to work as a comedy. Whether it's the running joke about the exploding guns or the well-crafted put-downs, you'll find a certain aspect of Sleeper that will tickle your funny bone. It isn't as well-crafted as Dr. Strangelove, nor do its jokes carry the story as well as in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But it still works well both as a slice of clownish escapism and as a reminder of the greatness which has long since diminished.
Dr. Aragon: You must understand that everyone you knew in the past has been dead nearly two hundred years.
Miles Monroe: But they all ate organic rice!
Woody Allen plus Science Fiction equals a very funny premise for a movie. This is a wonderful idea that Allen has come up with, implanting his character into a futuristic world.
[Miles gets to look at some pictures to identify the people on them]
Miles Monroe: This was Josef Stalin. He was a communist, I was not too crazy about him, had a bad mustache, lot of bad habits. This is Bela Lugosi. he was, he was the mayor of New York city for a while, you can see what it did to him there, you know. This is, uhm, this is, uh, Charles DeGaulle, he, he was a very famous French chef, had his own television show, showed you how to make souflets and omelettes and everything.
Allen is Miles Munroe. Miles has just been awoken from a 200 year sleep following one of those standard accidents where a person ends up being preserved and awoken in the future.
Seen as a threat, Miles is immediately sought by the authorities and forced to be on the run. Miles is alerted by a group of scientists that he must attempt to find an underground activist group looking to overthrow the possibly corrupt government.
Miles Monroe: I'm not really the heroic type. I was beat up by Quakers.
Along the way, Miles meets a futuristic poet and hippie, Luna played by Diane Keaton in her first Woody Allen movie, and the two eventually flee together, and attempt to put a stop to possible corruptness, although true to Allen form, there is never a good answer involving leaders.
Besides the plot, this movie is of course about Allen interacting in a futuristic world. The portrayal of the future Allen has created is very funny while containing various elements of plausibility, making the film serve as a satirical take on human progression.
It also helps that Woody Allen's dialog matches how great of a physical comedian he can be. There is a sequence where he has to impersonate a robot, which is hysterical. Keaton and Allen also have great chemistry throughout this film.
Very funny movie.
Luna Schlosser: What's it feel like to be dead for 200 years?
Miles Monroe: Like spending a weekend in Beverly Hills.