A nerdish store owner is revived out of cryostasis into a future world to fight an oppressive government.A nerdish store owner is revived out of cryostasis into a future world to fight an oppressive government.A nerdish store owner is revived out of cryostasis into a future world to fight an oppressive government.
Unlike some of Woody's later films, this is a pure comedy. It does not try to explore philosophical issues or to analyse the human condition in the same way as, say, "Hannah and her Sisters" or "Crimes and Misdemeanours". Although I normally think of Woody as a master of verbal wit, much of the humour in "Sleeper" is physical slapstick, based upon (and no doubt deliberate homage to) the comedians of the silent era such as Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. (I particularly liked the scenes where Woody is disguised as a robot and those where the villains are attempting to clone the dictator, killed in a bomb explosion, from his nose). The links with that era are reinforced by the musical score, composed by Woody himself, in a jazz/ragtime style reminiscent of the 1910s and 1920s. The sets, by contrast, are very futuristic, with the clinical glass-and-chromium look of many science-fiction films. The combination of a futuristic theme with a traditional style of comedy is doubtless why the film was advertised under the slogan "Woody Allen takes a nostalgic look at the future".
This is not, however, simply a pastiche of silent humour like the one Mel Brooks was to attempt a few years later in "Silent Movie". This being a Woody Allen film, there is also a good deal of verbal humour, particularly one-liners along the lines of "I haven't seen my analyst in 200 years. He was a strict Freudian. If I'd been going all this time, I'd probably almost be cured by now". (As that line suggests, Miles is the typical, neurotically insecure Woody Allen character). As is often the case with humorous science-fiction (such as Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker" books), the humour is frequently used to make satirical points about twentieth-century society as seen from the viewpoint of an imagined future. Contemporary worries about our diet are neatly satirised by a joke about how the science of two hundred years hence has proved that fatty foods and smoking are actually beneficial to health whereas what we now think of as healthfoods are regarded as unhealthy. This joke has remained topical because anxiety about what we eat is, if anything,even greater today than it was in 1973. There is perhaps also a dig at seventies "radical chic" as the vacuous conformist Luna becomes an equally vacuous revolutionary. (The plot of "Sleeper" seems to owe something to another tongue-in-cheek science-fiction film from a few years earlier, "Barbarella", which also dealt with rebellion against a dictator and even featured similar "orgasmatron" machines; the star of that film, Jane Fonda, had by 1973 become Hollywood's most famous radical chic actress).
The humour of "Sleeper" is often directed against figures from the sixties and seventies- perhaps too much so, as this type of humour tends to date very quickly. Some of it is still funny (such as Diane Keaton's Marlon Brando impersonation), but some can now be difficult to understand, particularly for non-Americans. (I had no idea, for example, who Howard Cosell was- apparently he was a sports commentator). That is, however, a minor quibble. Overall, this is an entertaining film and, in places, very funny, combining successfully two very different styles of humour. 7/10
- Mar 28, 2005