As is expected of a film of this stature, The English Patient was incredibly successful at the 1997 Academy Awards bagging nine Oscars including Best Picture. Some would obviously have wanted to have seen Fargo win best picture but it’s easy to see why The English Patient was the major success story and resonated so highly with the voters; it is in many ways a film in the traditional Hollywood sense in terms of its epic scale of story and the story at its heart.
Revisiting it for this review was a joy and I’d forgotten just how much I like the film. I don’t think it’s perfect by any means and feel that the pacing is an issue that lets the film down at times which is a complaint that can be directed at many films that approach the three hour mark and it can be a little melodramatic at times but I’d be lying if I said that the room didn’t get a little misty at times.
However, these are minor complaints for what is a rather incredible film. The film boasts a great cast that are without exception on fine form and deliver magnificent performances. Anthony Mighella and editor Walter Murch have shaped a compelling and engaging film from an initial script that would to many have seemed rather unwieldy given its closeness to a seemingly un-filmable source novel.
The emotional heart at the film is never overplayed and for the most part the film is incredibly understated when portraying the relationships that drive the key characters’ behaviours and actions. It’s this understatement that makes it so effective when the moments of passion and conflict emerge.
John Seale’s cinematography is the films greatest strength and is the area of the film that most benefits from this HD transfer. The film is beautifully shot and Seale makes the most of the wonderful locations taken in.
The years have been very kind to The English Patient and it’s a films ability to stand the test of time that is a true sign of quality. Not a perfect film by any means but one that is incredibly well made and is a thoroughly rewarding viewing experience.
Unlike the Canadian BluRay release, that has been available for some time now, this release is 1080p visual transfer rather than the 1080i the previous version had as well as a host of extra features whereas the Canadian version had none whatsoever. Other 1080p transfers have been previously available however; the Hong Kong version boasted a full HD transfer but didn’t offer the cleanest print and like the Canadian version was region A locked. A region B offering has been available in Germany for a while now and it appears that this is the version that this UK release bears most similarities to.
Previous versions of the film have suffered from numerous faults with the transfer such as dirt on the print and compression. I can spot such overt faults relatively easily but would never to have the keenest of eyes when it comes to these kinds of things. That being said though this transfer seems to be of a considerably higher quality than previous releases, I’d go as far to say that there were times when watching the film that I was amazed at just how good the transfer was. Faults exist here and there but for the most part it’s a very solid offering from a visual standpoint that more than justifies an upgrade over DVD.
The sound is also very impressive; this was an area where other releases of the film earned a decent amount of praise. Presented in full 5.1 DTS-HD MA; it’s well mixed and features plenty of moments to give home cinema systems a decent workout. For the most part the sound is quite subtle as would be expected from a film so heavily reliant on dialogue such as this but it makes the moments when things kick into action all the more effective.
All of the extras here have been available previously on the special edition DVD release of the film although there were some on that edition that haven’t made their way over here. That being said though there’s still an extensive offering of features here.
There are two commentary tracks; the first is a solo offering from Anthony Minghella where he guides the listener through a detailed look at the film covering nearly all aspects of the production during the films extensive runtime. The second commentary also features Minghella but this time he’s also joined by the film’s producer Saul Zaentz and the author of the source novel Michael Ondaatje. A lot is covered in this commentary but a lot of what was discussed here was dealt with in the previous commentary offering very little incentive to take in both. If faced with the choice go for the former rather than the latter.
There are individual features on both Zaentz and Ondaatje the former is a slight piece that mainly involves a lot of backslapping and the latter is a bit more informative and explores the evolution of the story and its adaptation to the screen. There’s also another feature that explores the adaptation of the novel to the screenplay which is imaginatively titled “From Novel to Screenplay” which is a short feature where cast and crew discuss their experiences reading the novel and making the film.
Filmmaker Conversations features Minghella, Zaentz, Ondaatje and the films editor Walter Murch discuss the making of the film. It’s by no means an interesting feature and should be avoided unless you insist on taking in all of the features.
The most interesting of all of the features is “A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy” which is as the title suggests and explores the films main characters before and during World War II.
Sure, there are some features missing here that were present on the DVD Special Edition and there are minor faults here and there with the picture but this is still an incredibly impressive catalogue release that should please fans of the film.
The Disc [Rating:4/5]