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Throughout history, Britain and France have been interlocked in war. Centuries ago it was the brutal, savage, battle kind; nowadays the war is fought out more subtly underneath the guise of international politics. Back in the 1700s a little war known as the War of Independence was fought on the East Coast of what is now referred to as the United States of America.

The war was all about liberation and freedom: the new inhabitants of this country named America breaking away from their oppressive rulers – the British. After months and months of heavy casualties, the French arrived…to fight yet again against the British, this time alongside the Americans. The result? The liberation and freedom of the settlers, free to build up their own country, free of British rule.

Patriot, The - Superbit Collection
Hollywood then immortalised certain events from the war onto celluloid: in the form of Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot, which now, after a previous DVD release, has been re-released as one of Columbia Tristar’s ‘Superbit’ titles, a brand proclaimed to be of superior quality than a usual title.

The Film
As a former war hero of the French and Indian War, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is determined to renounce his notoriously violent past in order to raise his family in peace. The last thing that he wants to do is return to battle against the savage British redcoats in the midst of the American Revolution. But when one of his sons is killed in a revolutionary skirmish and his patriotic eldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) joins the fight, Martin has no choice but to take up arms once again in order to protect the people he treasures most in life. The only way to protect his family is to face the bloody reality of war and fight for a young nation's freedom.

Seeing Mel Gibson as the lead role in a film, especially a period film, sets off certain alarm bells in my head. You see, Mel isn’t exactly the most British-loving Yank when it comes to making films – Braveheart anyone? And he also has a reputation for changing history slightly, even though it may be the project itself and not necessarily based on Gibson’s input. So will The Patriot suffer from historical inaccuracy? And if so, will it affect the film much? Well, yes, Mr Gibson and his band of filmmaking cohorts have indeed rewritten history slightly…but, being a film, I will put this down to trying to adapt the story to the screen as successfully as possible, and perhaps what really happened doesn’t completely gel with a film’s aesthetics.

Adopting a more personal account of the struggle, the character of Benjamin Martin acts as a symbol for all the other patriots – normal folk, who, acting against the British, decide to raise arms and fight back. Their families, and families of others, will no doubt be thrust straight into the middle of the melee, but such is the nature of war.

The Patriot begins with an emotional scene where a rather dastardly British colonel (Jason Isaacs) shoots dead one of Martin’s sons, after giving the order to hang one of his other sons. And here is where Martin’s vendetta begins, something that fuels him to pick up his musket and fight against the British redcoats. Now, instead of just fighting for freedom, he is also fighting for his own, personal cause. Gibson handles his role with sensitivity yet packs enough of a punch and the right amount of balls to make his war veteran character plausible, and he is supported well by his on-screen son, Heath Ledger, who again is sensitive yet dedicated enough to win this war and kick out the invaders.

The rest of the ensemble cast – well done by the way to the casting director who really has done well securing some very talented actors – do well in their respective roles, especially Tom Wilkinson as British General Cornwallis, and the already-mentioned Isaacs as the main villain of the tale.

Patriot, The - Superbit Collection
Roland Emmerich, a director for whom I don’t have much time for (his previous credentials include the rather lame action-fest, Godzilla, as well as Independence Day) when it comes to serious filmmaking, actually does incredibly well here: setting the scene right from the off with period detail and colonial backdrops. Even the producer, Dean Devlin, manages to contain himself and break away from his usual, fairly tacky, roots.

Special mention must go to the various battle scenes within The Patriot, which not only break up the rather hefty running time nicely, but also let you witness wartime carnage unseen since Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Captured realistically and brutally onto film, they are one of the highlights of the film, especially of course for the action junkies out there.

So, onto the flaws of the film…well, the main flaw seems to be the slightly overlong running time, in which some events are more or less repeated as they follow a very similar formula. Perhaps if 20 minutes or so had been shaved off, then the zippier narrative would have appealed to more. As it stands, it is definitely worth a watch, but people may not want to see it again after wading through it once.

Another flaw, as talked about before, is the odd historical inaccuracy: something that will either make your blood boil if you are a fierce British patriot, or just annoy you slightly – I fall into the latter category, and feel that with a little more research (does Hollywood know the meaning of this word?) The Patriot could have been a more accomplished, and indeed realistic, film. Not bad though, by any means.

Video
This is my first ever Superbit title, and after Columbia Tristar promised us that the picture and audio would benefit enormously, I sat down with the hope of my eyes being pleasantly refreshed by some pixel-perfect visuals. Well, fortunately, the 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen print is indeed very nice, with deep and defined visuals accompanied by a wide and varying palette to showcase the colours. From the various New England hues to the more graphic battle sequences, the picture remains vibrant and very watchable, and aside from the very odd hint of dust and grain – very, very odd – this is almost a reference quality transfer.

Patriot, The - Superbit Collection
Audio
Again, another benefit of the Superbit range is that the audio is said to be something special, so I was hoping for something that would challenge my surround-sound setup. The original release of The Patriot had a DD 5.1 mix but lacked DTS, so this time around we get Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) and DTS 5.1 (English). The latter is of course the superior – louder, more aggressive, using the rear channels more successfully – but both are very good indeed. During the set-pieces the subwoofer comes to life, rumbling so much I swear it is trying to move across my floor, and the rear channels are used excellently to simulate gunfire and various explosions. One of the best discs for audio around.

Extras
The Superbit titles utilize a special high bit rate digital transfer process, which optimizes video quality while offering a choice of both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. All Superbit DVDs start with high definition masters, meaning that the Superbit Collection will set a new benchmark in high resolution DVD image and sound, creating the ultimate in home entertainment. By reallocating data normally used for special features (extras), Superbit DVDs can be encoded at double their normal bit rate while maintaining full compatibility with the DVD-Video format.

The menus follow the usual Superbit format –with only the film’s logo to personalise them. They are static and very easy to navigate.

Patriot, The - Superbit Collection
Overall
Although my expectations were low for a war film directed by the helmer who brought the world Godzilla and Independence Day, it did in fact pleasantly surprise me, offering a lot of entertainment throughout its duration. A combination of acting and engaging narrative are the reasons why, and factors that warrant a repeat viewing for most (me included) – although some may be put off by the long running time. Although flawed in parts, the overall impression left is a good one.

This was the first Superbit DVD I have been sent, and I was pleased with the format. The video is sharper and crisper than normal (albeit only slightly), and nearly great enough to deserve a ‘9’…although the odd compression sign pushed the score down one level. The audio, on the other hand, is bombastically active, and indeed does deserve a very high score. Yes, extras may have been sacrificed for improved presentation, but for those with superior home cinema kits (like me) the Superbit range may be a better proposition, especially considering that if you want extras – and still good presentation – you can get the regular release. Thus, although the score for the extras is nonexistent, it has not affected the overall score of the disc.

Summing up, I heartily recommend this as a rental for those dubious about the film’s strength, but, after seeing it, I myself am happy that it resides on my shelf for good.


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