The English Patient Blu-ray Review
The English Patient was shot on 35mm film using spherical lenses in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and the framing on the Blu-ray replicates this perfectly. Whilst some people might be surprised to learn that The English Patient wasn’t shot in the wider 2.35:1 ‘Scope aspect ratio, the narrower framing does better suit Anthony Minghella’s intention to create an ‘intimate epic’. Interestingly Minghella’s solo commentary track was recorded during post-production on his film Cold Mountain, which was shot at 2.35:1, and he actually expresses some regret at not using the wider screen format. The 1080p Blu-ray is encoded using the AVC codec and the transfer is quite impressive overall with a natural film-like quality and some fine detail in close-ups. A good example of this is during the opening credit sequence where we see in close up a brush painting on to parchment and we can clearly see the fibres on the surface. One of the downsides of the increased resolution is that that the burn makeup appears a little fake in places and as previously mentioned some of sets are more obvious. Despite is success The English Patient was actually a relatively low budget production so it was never going to look as good as more recent productions. However what we do get is a faithful reproduction of the original film with natural flesh tones, accurate colours and deep blacks. The desert shots in particular look spectacular and no doubt went along way towards winning The English Patient its Oscar for cinematography. The transfer has been made from a clean print that is free of dirt and scratches but as you would expect from a picture shot on film stock there is a degree of grain. This is especially true during scenes shot at night but that’s acceptable, grain is part of the filmmaking process. Once again the image on this transfer reflects the level of grain accurately and without resorting to unwanted digital noise reduction. This is good news after the excessive DNR that Miramax used on the original Blu-ray release of Gangs of New York. Whilst the Blu-ray transfer of The English Patient was never going to be of reference quality it is a pleasing and accurate representation of the picture and should please fans of the film.
The English Patient comes with a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and considering its decidedly ‘art house’ credentials it might come as a surprise to discover that the soundtrack is incredibly immersive with extensive use of the surrounds. A surprise that is until you remember that Walter Murch was both editor and sound designer on the film. Murch started out as a sound recordist before moving into editing and previously worked on THX-1138, American Graffiti, The Conversation, The Godfather and most famously Apocalypse Now. Right from the start the rear speakers are used to great effect with the sound of desert chimes surrounding you during the aforementioned credit sequence. Murch and Minghella often use sounds to trigger Almasy’s memories and in his commentary Minghella talks about using sound design to help create an image for the viewer. What follows is an absolute masterclass in the subtle and creative use of sound to further the storytelling. As mentioned previously there is very little actual warfare in this ‘war film’ but when Murch needs to use the LFE channel he doesn’t hold back, as during the German invasion of Tobruk. There is also a highly effective use of bass in the scene where Kip is trying to defuse a bomb as tanks rumble overhead, that is as terrifying as any T-Rex attack. Over all this is a wonderfully immersive and imaginative soundtrack and Walter Murch certainly deserved his second Oscar that night.
The extras on the Blu-ray of The English Patient are in standard definition and have all been ported over from the previous special edition DVD release but they are reasonably comprehensive. Unfortunately there are no new high definition extras for this release but that is hardly a surprise given Anthony Minghella's untimely death in 2008.
- Commentary with director Anthony Minghella - This commentary track features Minghella on his own and he proves to be an excellent and engaging speaker. He has clearly thought about what he wants to say and the resulting commentary is both informative and honest. He covers the entire production, from adaptation and preproduction through to casting and filming and right on up to postproduction and release. The commentary is highly informative especially when it comes to the editing process and other cinematic sleights of hand and is also peppered with humerous anecdotes. One such example is the opening credit sequence which due to budgetary constraints was pieced together using B roll that Minghella had shot whilst bored one day. Best of all Minghella manages to avoid the two biggest crimes in commentary tracks - long periods of silence and just describing the action on screen. Throughout the commentary Minghella comes across as both charming and intelligent and you are reminded of what a talented writer and director he was, which makes his passing all the more sad.
- Commentary with director Anthony Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz and author Michael Ondaatje - The only problem with Anthony Minghella's solo commentary track is that it is so good that it makes this joint commentary with producer Saul Zaentz and author Michael Ondaatje rather redundant. Minghella acts as moderator and leads most of the discussion which results in him repeating many of the same points he raises in his solo commentary thus resulting in a great deal of overlap. It is interesting to hear Zaentz's opinions as producer and Ondaatje's thoughts on adaptation but a lot of this is also covered in the interview footage.
- About Michael Ondaatje - These short pieces cover the background and career of writer Michael Ondaatje, as well as the inspirations behind the novel 'The English Patient' and its ultimate success. Whilst these brief segments are entertaining enough, they are probably more interesting to fans of the book.
- His writing roots (SD, 5:14)
- The Booker Prize and Canadian following (SD, 3:46)
- The challenge of turning the novel into a film (SD, 2:27)
- About writing the novel (SD, 7:47)
- Reading from the novel SD, (2:49)
- From Novel To Screenplay - Interviews with cast and crew (SD, 7:09) -This appears to be an EPK made at the time of the film and specifically addresses the difficult task of adapting such a complex novel for the screen. This process is actually covered in more detail in other parts of the disc, especially in the commentaries.
- The Formidable Saul Zaentz (SD, 1:59) -This is a brief interview with legendary producer Saul Zaentz where he discusses how he became involved with The English Patient; this is also covered in much more detail in the conversations section.
- A Historical Look At The Real Count Almasy (SD, 8:17) -This short piece takes a look at the real Count Almasy on whom Michael Ondaatje based the character in his book. The real Almasy was also Humgarian and worked with the British Ethnographical Epedition to map the Sahara but unlike his fictional counterpart he willingly aided the Germans during their invasion of Egypt. In contrast to the fictional Almasy he was actually a homosexual who survived the war and died in Salzburg in 1951.
- Filmmaker Conversations - Whilst all these filmed conversations are interesting, the ones involving Anthony Minghella, Saul Zaentz and Michael Ondaatje tend to overlap with the information provided in the commentaries. Of greater interest is the conversation with Walter Murch in which he discusses the challenge of editing a film with 40 transitions as well as the cereation of the soundtrack. Murch comes across as a very talented and thoughtful filmmaker and as always it is interesting to hear him discuss not only The English Patient but some of the other films he has worked on in his illustrious career.
- A conversation with screenwriter and director Anthony Minghella (SD, 31:28)
- A conversation with producer Saul Zaentz (SD, 20:37)
- A conversation with writer Michael Ondaatje (SD, 7:04)
- A conversation with editor Walter Murch (SD, 26:39)
For fans of the film the Blu-ray of The English Patient represents the best chance to see and hear this wonderful film as its creators intended. The picture quality certainly captures a well rendered film-like quality and the soundtrack is a revelation. Whilst there are no new features the existing ones cover the making of the film quite well and Anthony Minghella’s commentary track is excellent. The film itself is a complex mosaic of images and emotions that deal with love, obsession, betrayal, loss, grief and ultimately redemption. Watching The English Patient again reminds you that not only can filmmaking be artistic but it can also be entertaining and we get so little of that these days.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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