English Patient, The (UK - BD RB)
Marcus carries on his Miramax marathon with The English Patient...
After being shot down over the desert and sustaining critical burns, an unknown man (Ralph Fiennes) who has seemingly lost his memory is being cared for by nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche). Reluctant to keep moving her patient with the rest of the troops, Hana makes the decision to care for her patient in an abandoned Italian monastery. Here she discovers more about the mysterious man and through flashbacks and passages from his book we discover the path that led him here and how his lover Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) changed his life.
The English Patient really is quite the masterpiece. Feeling utterly timeless and sharing a whole lot in common with other romantic epics such as Doctor Zhivago, Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's novel is about as pitch perfect as they come. There’s a calmness about this unravelling tale that makes going on the journey feel all the more pleasant. We’re allowed to learn about characters through small moments and with dialogue this poetic and well spoken there’s a sense we’re getting an understanding of the characters thoughts and feelings. Small nuggets of golden dialogue slip out of these characters' mouths that carry an incredible amount of weight in respect to the dramatic ups and downs here and despite the relatively straight forward nature of the love affair there’s a grandness to it due to the epic backdrop of the Sahara Desert.
The cast here are incredible. Fiennes leads the way as our somewhat unlikable lead providing a pretty subtle performance that I found myself liking a whole lot without really realising when I switched on to him. Juliette Binoche provides a fantastically heartfelt supporting role and her interactions with her patient are full of under the surface emotion. Kristin Scott Thomas’s Katherine is another role that sort of caught up with me. I wasn’t too fussed at first but she’s very good here indeed with a real honesty in her performance that makes the love story a hell of a lot more real somehow. Also in an effective supporting role is Willem Dafoe. Even though it's never built for high tension he’s the threat here and his controlled confrontations with the mysterious patient he believes is the cause of his lack of thumbs are full of those wonderful unnerving Dafoe moments that we don’t see enough of lately.
The English Patient is a long old film, clocking in at two hours forty but Anthony Minghella’s abilities to tell a story at a perfect pace, using the subplots wisely and giving us characters whose stories are compelling and full of that classic epic romance, makes this movie a breeze to watch. The final hour is an utterly rewarding payoff to the set up that’s come before it and this journey through a devastating romance really is a Miramax title that deserves the ‘classic’ status. But hey this is a near twenty year old movie, you all know this already. The big question is, how has the all new Blu-ray release treated it?
Well I’m pretty sure the heavy grain that greets us in the opening scenes of The English Patient isn’t meant to be a sandstorm. The desert setting doesn’t look at all good. The image is grubby (much like most of the other Studio Canal/Miramax titles so far), the sky is awash with grain, there’s a lack of definition for the sand dunes and the people travelling through them and at first there’s only really a slight hint at the HD power of this release in some of the close ups and the textures on clothes.
The biggest disappointment here is that you know a film that’s set largely under natural sunlight could and should look a whole lot better than this. At first it would appear that nothing can prevent the drabness here. Colours are natural throughout and there is a certain warm glow to everything but it's never stunning to look at and as soon as you take the sunlight out of the equation and see characters under a shade, the image turns into a bit of a disaster. The scenes under the stars just before the sandstorm hits is the best example of just how bad it gets. Grubby blacks kill any and all detail on screen and the image looks really bad for the 30 to 40 seconds before the sand storm makes us get somewhere better lit.
I don’t know if the image genuinely gets a little better or if the near three hour runtime just made me get used to it but about two thirds of the way though, things start to pop. Never on the scale of a modern movie or a film that’s actually been given some love but there is a noticeable HD upgrade here. Small details in close ups reveal things like the scars on the patient's face and all their intricacies, skin textures start to look good, small glimmers of sunlit grains of sand become more apparent and that golden sunshine actually begins to make things shine. Rock textures, shadows, little twinkles from characters' eyes - it’s all there, even if it is only just about.
The English Patient isn’t a great HD transfer. It’s simply okay. It’s much more consistent than The Talented Mr Ripley was, it makes Emma and The Quiet American look worse, and its nowhere near as good as The Aviator looked. The English Patient still feels like a well treated DVD but there’s no denying that it’s got some HD tricks on show from time to time even if you have to go looking for them most of the time.
Once again a Miramax title fares better in the audio department than it does the visuals. The beautifully strong score here feels full and powerful throughout. Dialogue is crisp and central and there’s usually something else going on in a scene, such as crowd noise, background conversations or battles happening in the distance that totally fill the track out. Small things like birds singing really hold their own in the track and if you concentrate on them for a few seconds they sound like they could very well be in the room. The opening attack on the plan is full of punchy artillery, the sandstorm is an aggressive gust of sound and on the opposite side of the coin the small delicate moments feel just right with their quiet conversation and softness. This DTS-HD Master Audio track really was a delight.
The first commentary by Anthony Minghella is another strong track from the filmmaker - incredibly positive and filled with overwhelming respect for his colleagues and indeed the story itself. His background stories on certain scenes or filmmaking limitation and how problems were overcome give a great insight to how the film was made and this track offers a through background to the making of the Oscar winner.
The second commentary with Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz and author Michael Ondaatie is Minghella heavy but with little in the way of repetition of his solo track. Getting Ondaatie explaining the differences between the book and the film and how the changes affect this adaptation was quite a good overview of the process of getting a book up on the screen and even though Zaentz’s input is smaller, his input usually sparks quite a bit more conversation from Minghella.
‘About Michael Ondaatje’ is spilt into five standard definition segments that cover the author. His writing roots, the Booker Prize, the challenge of turning the novel into film, a segment about writing the film and Ondaatje reading from the novel. All are relativity short affairs and really should have been presented as one play all featurette really but it’s nice to see an author having his own area for celebration.
‘From Novel to Screenplay’ (07:09 SD) is interviews with the cast and crew. Again this is pretty short but we get a some nice words on the story from all involved.
‘The Formidable Saul Zaentz’ (01:59 SD) is a super brief pat on the back for the film’s producer. ‘A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy’ (08:17 SD) focuses on the work of map makers of the early 1900s and indeed the real person the character in the film is loosely based on.
Lastly we have ‘Filmmaker Conversations'. Split down into Anthony Minghella (31:28 SD) , Saul Zaentz (20:37 SD), Michael Ondaatje (07:04 SD) and Walter Murch (26:39 SD) which have elements that tell the same story from the four participants' angles but each are pretty fascinating and full of little gems regarding their approach to the story.
I don’t think I’d seen The English Patient in its entirety y’know. Which is weird becuase I have friends and family who adore it, so I'm not sure how I've never sat down to watch it. There were certainly large chunks I was familiar with but as a whole this was like a first time experience for me. I have to say its a film that has a real presence. A few days later and I’m still thinking about elements and the feeling of the film is something quite remarkable. Unfortunately I can’t say the Blu-ray is all that great. Sure we get the ported over extras from previous releases and they are all very good (even with some short runtimes here and there), the audio presentation is a stunner - not always powerful but crisp and full of subtly. Sadly though it’s the visuals again that let this Miramax title down. There’s no sense the film has been given much love in the HD presentation and it’s a real shame because this really is a pretty movie and it deserved much better.
* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 19th September 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, French
Extras: Commentary with Director, Commentary with Director, Producer, Author, About Michael Ondaatje, From Novel to Screenplay, The Formidable Saul Zaentz, Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy, A Conversation with Anthony Minghella, A Conversation with Saul Zaentz, A Conversation with Michael Ondaatje, A Conversation with Walter Murch
Easter Egg: No
Director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Kristin Scott Thomas, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth
Length: 161 minutes
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