Patton Blu-ray Review
PictureFox have released the film with a 1080p MPEG-4 video encode that is a war-winner, folks. With a gloriously deep 2.20:1 aspect, Patton gives the impression of going back and back and back, stretching not just across the screen, but pushing deep into the distance. This is fitting for a movie that showcases immense tank battles across vast landscapes, but whereas many films falter with depth, Fox's hugely impressive transfer of Patton stands tall, stands proud, stand ... well ... deep.
Contrast is fine (a couple of tiny wobbles aside), blacks are strong and stable and detail in the daylight or in the dark is exemplary with close-ups and distance shots both revealing absolutely tons of unexpected visual information. The sequences in the snow later on in the movie are marvellously well presented with pin-sharp borders between the fields of glaring white and burned-out blackened vehicles and bodies strewn around. Blades of grass and tree-branches are striking in their finite individuality, as are grains of sand, striations upon rock and rubble and the detail held in brick walls, cloth and wool uniforms. Badges, buckles, belts and bullets are solidly and clearly delineated. Medals, ribbons and insignia literally pop from the screen. Every bit of military bling that is on show here is gleaming and totally crystal clear. Just check out the neon-bright shoulder flashes that Patton's community wear. Colours are great too. Explosions and fires have that deep, retina-singeing intensity, blood is bright and splashy and there is a bright vibrancy to the greens, reds and blues that anchor the image with a clean, fresh sheen.
Three-dimensionality is in virtually every scene. From interiors - with shrapnel holes on the back walls, top brass seated around huge battle-maps, the elegant décor, corridors and staircases of occupied chateaus and the spot-on depth of field afforded Patton perusing the wounded in a tented hospital - to the detail-rich exteriors - with vehicles and men moving across the jaw-droppingly immense plains of North Africa, the sweeping battles and convoys ploughing up the centre of Europe and the simply terrific grandstand speeches that Patton delivers to his troops - this is the type of movie that doesn't just want audience immersion, it grabs the viewer by the scruff of the neck and hauls them into the image. Two fantastic examples out of a vast ocean of such visual resonance. The first depicts Patton biting the bullet and making an angered apology to his army from the massive veranda of the palace, with the assembled troops - thousands of them - stretching way into the distance of the grounds, standing around fountains, manicured lawns and assorted statuary, filling the screen with detail upon detail that climbs back into the deepest recesses of the picture. Immaculate. The second comes at the end as Patton and his dog stride past the time-worn windmill on the hill - just look at the sails sweeping in from the left hand side of the frame, really appearing to extend out of the screen and into the lounge. Breathtaking imagery, folks, that just has to be admired.
So why does Patton not receive top marks? Surely even a back-catalogue title, with the appropriate allowances made for its age and relative clean-up can be forgiven the slight misdemeanour. Well, yes, it should be ... but there are still one or two instances of edge enhancement - figures set against the skyline for example - that should, and could, have been taken care of. Skin-tones can seem slightly off, as well, which is only really noticeable when compared to the otherwise incredible colour-palette on offer. Whilst the film, at large, looks spick and span enough to have been lensed yesterday, people and faces seem to have wandered in from a fair bit longer ago. Damage is conspicuous by its absence, though if you scrutinise, you will find a very faint flicker or fleck here or there, and there is a rather glaring curly hair (!) intruding from the top left of the frame when Monty is about to enter the Gents for some impromptu battle-planning. This is just me trying my hardest to find a fault, you understand. I did much the same thing with 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well, and Patton is certainly of the same impeccably high standard although, if pushed, I would say that the new transfer of Kubick's film has the edge with an image that is, if anything, more consistently amazing.
SoundBy today's standards, even Patton's new DTS-HD MA 5.1 track firing out of all channels is going to sound disappointing, but considering the age of the film and its upgrade to surround from its originally far lowlier origins, this mix is still something of a revelation. For a start, the soundfield is wider and more vibrant, the activity seen on screen lent a bigger acoustic environment in which to play.
The sub is engaged whenever any shelling takes place and it definitely helps to provide some necessary oomph to the many impacts. Machine-gunning has some degree of bite, as do individual shots, but Patton's new mix much prefers the all-round cacophony of combat with the battle scenes punchy and loud but not so hot on individual detail. The rumbling of tanks and other vehicles won't convince you that an armoured brigade had just entered your lounge, but it doesn't sound too shabby, with some solid deep metallic trundling moving across the frontal array. The distribution of debris is considerably lacking so don't go expecting Black Hawk Down-style immersion when the bullets and shells start to fly, but check out the agreeable little plops and splats of the soldiers fighting in the mud when the convoy becomes jammed at a crossroads.
Dialogue is crisp and well spread across the front speakers, with some degree of movement and steerage evident. Voices don't sound as tinny as I had expected and Patton's controversial opening speech carries forth into the environment quite realistically. There is also far more warmth afforded to Goldsmith's bold score, with that lonely and crazed echoing horn sample warbling nicely into the recesses of the soundscape and the three theme tunes for the General's rapid forging through Europe and his psychological obsession are well layered and delivered with a great stereo spread.
The rears are brought into play when battle is joined and there is some nice activity showcased, though this is not the most authentic sounding surround that you will have heard. But it is great to have some immersion to a film like this and doubly-so that it doesn't come across as overtly bogus or manufactured. A good effort with limited resources.
There is some element of hiss during some scenes, but I did not find this at all distracting. Otherwise, the audio transfer is very clean and crisp.
ExtrasYou can feel the weight of war with this pulverising blitzkrieg of extra features. Spread over two discs, the release is exceptionally well stocked.
Francis Ford Coppola delivers a frank and amenable five-minute Introduction to the film, setting the scene for the story, the fact and fiction combined, and the barnstorming casting of George C. Scott, and his own unique, but troubled part in the production.
Coppola then expands upon this in every way imaginable with a vast and far-ranging Commentary Track that truly delivers information and trivia to an unprecedented degree. Honest about the trials and tribulations that he, himself, faced with his screenplay and the closed-minded studio executives, the filmmaker provides a personal account of the intensive research that he undertook to find the right story to tell about the legendary General. Although his participation in the film was largely redundant after having been dismissed from the production, Coppola is more than able to point out nice filmic touches that Schaffner made and is keen to bring our attention to the scenes and elements that the studio took such umbrage over. His insight into the merging of history with hearsay is priceless and the track, despite some lengthy pauses, is well worth your time. He even manages to talk a little way into the Intermission, extolling his love of such a device for giving audiences a breather during these epic movies.
Disc Two (which is a SD DVD)
History Through the Lens: Patton, A Rebel Revisited lasts for a whopping 90 minutes and is distributed throughout 24 scene selections. This weighty documentary attempts to unravel the man as seen through the movie and in real life, as seen by historians, his grandson, the producers, the cameraman and other notables. With copious archive footage and a plethora of photographs we get to understand some of what went into the remarkable DNA of this “great, but flawed man.” Some of the film's fallacies are discussed and the whole thing comes across as extremely well mounted. One funny thing, though - doesn't the real-life Patton look like a deadringer for the actor Max Von Sydow?
Patton's Ghost Corps (46.38) is painfully thorough confessional from the men of 3rd Army that Patton left behind to fight with the minimum of equipment and no back-up whilst he forged on ahead to meet the Germans for the Battle Of The Bulge. A cluster of the real veterans gather together and deliver their often harrowing accounts of what savage warfare they faced in severe and relentless field-by-field and street-by-street combat with a superior enemy. Fate, mis-management and Patton's own valiant ineptitude saw to it that these misplaced college boys - who were officer candidates and never actually supposed to see such fighting - were flung into the depravity and chaos of one of Germany's worst winters. A great touch is that we see some of Pvt. William Foley's famous sketches that he drew whilst under fire and since became fabulous depictions of the grim reality of war. Awesome illustrations that remind me of the book jackets for the old Sven Hessel novels - who remembers them, then?
Then we get The Making Of Patton (49.49) in which we hear from the likes of Oliver Stone - who offers the staunch belief that Schaffner's film actually influenced Nixon into extending the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia - and the producers and cameraman - who extols the virtues of the magnificent Dimension 150 lenses in order to fully capture the wild and intricate imagery without resorting to the standard anamorphic and from the military advisors who worked on the film - one of which is the real Gen. Omar Bradley, Patton's buddy played by Karl Malden in the movie. But the real bonus, for me, is hearing from the late, great Jerry Goldsmith as he discusses the themes he created for the character and the experimental nature of the simple, yet haunting echoing horn sample. He seems to relieved to have been pulled off the scoring of Apes' immediate sequel, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes to work on this exciting new project. “Beneath” was ultimately scored by Leonard Rosenman - but that is a story for another time. Excellent stuff, folks.
As well as the film's Theatrical Trailer, we also get two fantastic photo galleries.
The first is the Production Stills Gallery which plays out in one continuous montage accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's complete score in 2-channel Dolby Digital. Now, even though the film approaches the three-hour mark, don't be dismayed that this only lasts for 36.24 mins. This is still the complete, officially released score - and it is tremendous.
Then we have another gallery entitled Behind The Scenes, which runs for 53.19 mins. This time around, the fabulous montage of images is accompanied by a rich and detailed audio essay from one of the founder members of the George S. Patton, Jr. Historical Society, one garrulous Charles Provence, who is in possession of a vast and extremely well presented arsenal of fact, trivia, belief and interpretation regarding the General, his family, his upbringing, his tactics and sense of spiritual importance. It is a fascinating track that reveals much hitherto unknown nuggets of intriguing information, such as how his family had a keen interest in the occult as well as the bible, and how Patton actually took part in the 1912 Olympics. Thorough and insightful, this could so easily have been dry and academic, so it is to Provence's credit that he is able to keep the feature interesting and offbeat.
This is definitely a hugely worthwhile collection of special features that go a long way to making an already tremendous treatment of the film an essential overall package for fans and movie-buffs alike.
VerdictTop drawer gold. Unlike Patton, himself, this release is a four-star general amongst a battalion of lower ranks and pure canon-fodder. The film is a dynamite combination of character-study, cinematic extravagance and war-dissection. George C Scott holds sway with the same towering personality of the obsessive leader, embodying both the man and, perhaps in this case, more importantly, the myth. He is a gargantuan presence and it is hard to imagine anybody else in the role. He even manages to provide evidence of the slight crack or two in the otherwise bullet-proof, iron-clad veneer of the staunch war-horse. The film feels big and extends its narrative thrillingly across the most expansive canvas and delights in sheer, boldly drawn entertainment of the highest calibre. And thank God that Fox have provided it with a transfer that is simply incredible in terms of detail, colour and overall quality. This is not just one of the best looking catalogue titles around, it is one of the best looking titles around - period.
And extras? Well, they could sink a battleship with this lot. Awesome AV, awesome added value, awesome film. There are people out there who will be picking this up purely to check out its picture, but if they just stop and watch the film, I'm sure they will be just as wowed by the story within the spectacle. Very highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.77
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