Not especially known for his forays into science fiction, Allen has taken just one stab at the genre—though aliens appear onscreen in Stardust Memories and many of his other films feature high concept premises that border on sci-fi—loosely adapting The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells. Allen plays Miles Monroe, owner of a health food store, who wakes up 200 years in the future after being subjected to a cryogenic experiment against his will. In the surreal police state of the future, unhealthy food is considered healthy, fruit and vegetables are gigantic, bumbling law enforcement officers are everywhere, partygoers get high by rubbing a metal ball, and a device known as the Orgasmatron makes sex possible in an era of mass impotence and frigidity. On the run from authorities, Miles disguises himself as a robot butler, eventually kidnapping and forming a romantic bond with his employer, Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton).
Like most good futuristic films, Sleeper uses the future to make points about the present. Allen has always put more faith in the past and it shows in his critique of technology, which is shown to complicate and diminish the lives of these characters. (Sci-fi fans will be pleased to note that Douglas Rain offers his voice to an evil computer, clearly inspired by HAL 9000, his famous role in 2001: A Space Odyssey.) He also makes allusions to the free love and drug experimentation of the late ’60s and early ’70s, presenting a peculiar evolution of that comparatively naturalistic lifestyle. However, Allen’s filmmaking is anything but heavy-handed, using his impressive comic imagination to seize on all the opportunities offered by the film’s premise, embracing absurdity over the kind of tedious, straight-faced plotting that mars so many modern comedies. Years later, Sleeper would be a crucial influence on the similarly irreverent Austin Powers films.
As is always the case with Woody Allen DVDs and Blu-rays, this disc is light on extras, featuring the film’s theatrical trailer and nothing else. Fortunately, the HD transfer is quite strong, redeeming some of Allen’s clumsy visual choices, heightening both the futuristic dimension of the sets and their (deliberate) ridiculousness.