Sony Pictures | 2010 | 108 mins. | Rated PG-13

Author Nicholas Sparks has unquestionably cornered the market on angst filled romance cinema. As the lovers in his previous films The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, and Nights In Rodanthe have shown, staying together is never easy. Somehow, debilitating diseases, war and natural disasters always seem to get in the way of perfect happiness. The latest film based on a Sparks novel, Dear John, isn’t any different in that sense, but it does bring a little more to the table than just a tale of lost love. I’m not saying that Sparks has abandoned his bread-and-butter premise; he has simply added a few twists to the outline that makes this film more interesting than one might have expected.

Dear JohnJohn Tyree (Channing Tatum), a member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, stationed in Germany, meets a young South Carolinian girl, Savannah (Amanda Seyfried), while on leave. The two fall in love almost immediately. Their first encounter leads to a first official date and Savannah’s introduction to John’s obsessive coin-collecting father (Richard Jenkins). Their whirlwind romance blossoms into something deeper in the span of two weeks, but John must return to active duty and Savannah’s headed back to college. Not to be denied their relationship by the constraints of space and time, they promise to write to one every day, hoping that their year apart will seem like weeks instead of months. Before the year is out, tragedy strikes; planes fly into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, leading John to choose duty over love as he re-enlists for further military service, leaving a heartbroken Savannah behind. Can their relationship survive, or will Savannah pen a “dear John” letter and move on with her life?

The best part of the film is the inclusion of John’s father (Richard Jenkins), and the role it plays on the relationship between John and Savannah. Savannah´s neighbor Tim (Henry Thomas) and his son autistic son Alan (Luke Benward), and her relationship with them, leads her to suggest to John that his father may be autistic. He lashes out in anger, but she credits her relationship with the elder Tyree with helping her decide what to do with her life: a camp for children with disabilities.

Dear John is one of those movies viewers will absolutely love or hate. Some will dismiss it for its blatant sentimentality, while others will find an honesty that seems to be lacking in so many other films in the genre. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call “Dear John” a great film, director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat) and screenwriter Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall), have constructed a surprisingly effective second half that many viewers will relate to in some way.

The film has a sharp and balanced 1080p 2.40:1 widescreen video transfer that will let you clearly see the muscles on Tatum´s body or the blonde curls in Seyfried´s hair with ease. The scenes where John is overseas or in combat look cleaner than they should, yet authentic enough with darker colors that remain soft working their way in, thereby connoting a somewhat rougher atmosphere. All in all, Sony´s transfer here is strong, and consistent.

A solid English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack helps this film come together. The sound works with the story. Spoken words and vocals come through just fine. Good attention to detail is in place with natural background noise, be it a toast, waves crashing on the beach or a side conversation. English subtitles are in place.

Dear John has just a few special features. A Conversation with Channing, Amanda, and Lasse (1080p, 5:24) features the stars and director of Dear John praising one another’s styles and work on the film. Transforming Charleston (1080p, 14:52) examines the challenges of recreating various worldwide locales in and around Charleston, South Carolina. Military in Movies: Dear John’s Military Advisors (1080p, 11:03) features Military Advisor Lt. Col. Gregory Bishop and cast and crew speaking on the process of lending realism to Dear John’s military segments. Mr. Tyree, The Mule, and Benny Dietz (1080p, 4:53) takes a closer look at the world of coin collecting and its role in the film. The Story of Braeden Reed (1080p, 24:33), a piece that looks closely at the work and life of young Braeden Reed, the actor who portrayed the autistic character Alan in the film. Also included is a collection of 12 deleted and alternate scenes (480p, 10:13); an alternate ending (1080p, 3:41); a series of outtakes (480p, 2:24); BD-Live functionality and MovieIQ connectivity.

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