English Patient, The (US - BD RA)
Jonathan takes a look at the Academy Award winning film on Blu-ray...
During World War II, a mysterious stranger (Ralph Fiennes) is cared for by British allies unaware of his dangerous past. Yet, as the mystery of his identity is revealed, an incredible tale of passion, intrigue and adventure unfolds. Also starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth and Willem Dafoe. (From the Lionsgate synopsis)
It's been a long time since I've seen The English Patient in its entirety. With its award reputation, you'd think it was one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. It swept nearly every non-performance category in 1997, taking home nine Oscars in total. And it isn't too difficult to see why. While I personally would've chosen Fargo as the best film that year, The English Patient is exactly the type of branching story that attracts award attention with its themes of war and love. With any film that aims for such a broad story there is the challenge of pacing, and against all odds director Anthony Minghella has adapted the Ondaatje novel into a 161-minute film that rarely drags or overstays its welcome. Even if it is overrated in some circles and a bit overlong, it's a grand example of storytelling on an epic scale.
Much of the film's success lies in the performances. Ralph Fiennes does some of his finest work here, convincingly playing the titular English patient (Count Laszlo de Almásy) with a subtlety and charm that makes the heartbreaking aspects of the story hit home all the more effectively. Kristin Scott Thomas, who never fails to impress me, does a terrific job as Katharine; the married woman with whom the Count has an affair. She emits a confidence and class that most actresses could never pull off. I find it nearly impossible to dislike Juliette Binoche. Her performance in The English Patient is a strong one, but I've never cared too much for her subplot in the film. If there's one area of the story that feels bloated to me, it's her wartime blues and the blossoming romance with Kip (Naveen Andrews) that never gels with the rest of the movie plot-wise or on a meaningful thematic level.
Last time I watched this movie it was a 1.33:1 presentation on an old television, so I'm definitely no expert on how The English Patient should look, but I can tell you what faults I see in the transfer and how it compares to the UK Blu-ray release. As you can see from the comparisons, this Lionsgate release shows more picture at the top and bottom of the frame. There's a discernible difference in brightness, colour saturation, and overall clarity of the image. The image has a warmer push to it, which makes the desert scorched skin tones look even more overcooked. Thankfully the Lionsgate transfer doesn't appear to be projected onto a pile of sand like its UK counterpart. Some minor issues that I've noticed with other Miramax titles are present here, including a few instances of distracting telecine wobble and scratches. Blocking occurs infrequently, and while it is not very obtrusive it does catch my eye and remind me that I'm watching a digitized version of the film. Film grain is present but not particularly fine, giving the overall image a somewhat softer look than most 35 mm features, but it appears that age and film stock are the culprits here and not a DNR job. The grain is much more visible against the clear blue skies of the desert. Given the age of the film, this is a solid effort that falls right in line with the rest of these Miramax titles that Lionsgate is bringing out. It's a clear upgrade and it's reasonably priced, but I get the impression the movie could look better given some more time and effort.
If there's one thing you'll remember about this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, it's that it is loud. Really loud. I had to turn the volume down during scenes with roaring airplane engines or a roaring whirlwind. By comparison, dialogue levels are a tad low for my preference. It could just be because the characters are so softly spoken at times, but I found myself turning the volume up and down for the first half of the film before settling for subtitles. The sound mix is reasonably impressive for a film of this age, with sounds of planes, vehicles, and other noises filling the rear channels when a scene calls for it. There's great separation and dynamic range to the sound mix, especially when you consider the age. Dialogue levels are consistent and is kept to the center speaker, even if they're far too quiet in comparison to the noisy action pieces as described earlier. The English Patient took home the Academy Award for Best Sound, and when you experience this audio track you'll certainly understand why it was recognized.
Special features are ported over from the Miramax Collector's Edition DVD. Things kick off with two audio commentaries. The first is only screenwriter/director Anthony Minghella, who gives a very detailed accounting of the casting and filming process. It's very much a directors commentary that goes into the technical aspects of making The English Patient. The second track features Minghella again, but this time along with producer Saul Zaentz and the book's author, Michael Ondaatje. This second commentary track focuses a lot more on the films narrative and how it was conceived from Ondaatje's book. It's filled with a wealth of information about the plotting and the characters.
The extras proceed with About Michael Ondaatje (SD, 21:57), which is a featurette dedicated to the author of The English Patient. It features interview footage with Ondaatje himself as well as some editors and publishers who have worked with him. Multiple topics are covered, from his career up until the process of adapting the book for the film. Toward the end of the featurette, Ondaatje even reads directly from The English Patient.
Next up is From Novel to Screenplay (SD, 07:11), which takes a quick but informative look at just how different The English Patient novel is from the screenplay. The original novel didn't have a traditional narrative, and Minghella talks about how he approached turning it into a film. Cast members weigh in on their opinions, and Ondaatje himself chimes in for a moment. The Formidable Saul Zaentz (SD, 01:59) comes next. It's a very brief look at the film's producer and some of the other great films he has helped bring to fruition in his career. Following this is A Historical Look at the real Count Almásy (SD, 8:18), where Professor Robert Collins gives some insight about the real life character that Ralph Fiennes plays in the film.
Filmmaker Conversations is next up on the list. It's a series of interviews and conversations with Anthony Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz, writer Michael Ondaatje and film editor Walter Murch. Each individual has there own series of segments, and each one must be selected individually from the main menu. There is no "Play All" option, sadly. There's roughly an hour of interview footage here if you decide to take the time and file through each segment from the menu. From what I listened to, much of the information seems redundant; already having been covered in other features or the commentary tracks.
Next on the list is The Work of Stuart Craig - Production Designer (SD, 03:57). It's a brief bit of interview footage with Stuart Craig who talks about what his job was on the film, and some of the challenges of shooting on location. It's edited to some footage of the scenes he is talking about. This feature is followed by another crew segment; The Eyes of Phil Bray - Still Photographer (SD, 02:50). Much like the Craig segment, this is a small bit of interview footage with Bray who describes what his job is on the set. He takes pictures on set for promotional purposes. It's a job you don't think about too much, and it's nice to hear from someone who does it for a living.
Master Class with Anthony Minghella - Deleted Scenes (SD, 19:59) is an unusually structured but very informative look at some scenes that didn't make it into the final cut of the film. Most of the segment is Minghella talking about scenes and why they didn't work, and then these interview portions are followed by the scene being described. Usually deleted scenes are just thrown onto a release with no context or input from the filmmakers, so this format was a welcome change of pace. Last but not least is CBC Documentary: Making of 'The English Patient' (SD, 53:01). It's not a particularly well-produced or neatly structured documentary, but it features a lot of interview footage with various cast and crew members and covers many aspects of the production. If the tons of other features left you with a gap in knowledge, chances are this will fill it in.
The English Patient is a captivating experience and a bold adaptation that works much better than it has any right to. It is a lavish production with memorable performances, and personally my favorite work of Minghella's all-too-short career as a director. Lionsgate releases the Miramax classic on Blu-ray with a reasonably strong video transfer and an effectively boisterous audio track. Extras are ported over from the Miramax DVD, but there are a ton of them and they provide more information than any fan could ask for.
* Note: The above 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 Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 31st January 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentaries with Screenwriter/Director Anthony Minghella Producer Saul Zaentz and Author Michael Ondaatje, About Michael Ondaatje, From Novel to Screenplay - Interviews with Cast and Crew, The Formidable Saul Zaentz, A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy, Filmmaker Conversations, The Work of Stuart Craig, The Eyes of Phil Bray, Master Class with Anthony Minghella, CBS Documentary: The Making of 'The English Patient'
Easter Egg: No
Director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe
Genre: Drama, Romance and War
Length: 162 minutes
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