Winner of 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress, this unforgetable story is the picture event of the year! During World War II, when a mysterious stranger is rescued from a fiery plane crash, he is cared for by American allies unaware of the dangerous secrets of his past. Yet, as the mystery of his identity is slowly revealed, an incredible tale of passion, intrigue and adventure unfolds!
Try as I may, I will never forget the Seinfeld episode appropriately titled "The English Patient." Even now as I type this, the image of Elaine sitting in the crowded theater next to J. Peterman, incapable of hiding her contempt for the film, is permanently etched in my mind. It's a hilarious moment in the show's nine-season run — one of several personal favorites. And its real genius lies in the fact that we're talking about Elaine Benes, arguably the least romantic person of the entire group. I mean, seriously, she much prefers the fictitious comedy "Sacked Lunch." It says more about her character than a direct criticism about 'The English Patient.'
There's definitely a great deal more to the episode (like the ridiculous ways people react when an individual openly goes against the grain), but we'll have to save that discussion for another time. For now, we'll focus on Elaine's taste in movies. Seeing as how she has a bias for something called "Sacked Lunch," I understand her angered frustration for something the likes of 'The English Patient,' which is not to say she's wrong. It simply means she favors movies which are less extravagant and undemanding. And much like the novel by Michael Ondaatje on which the screenplay is based, this period piece is quite dense and multilayered, engulfed by picturesque landscapes. Several aspects of the book, however, had to be removed for the sake of time.
The small details about Kip (Naveen Andrews) and his intimate thoughts, for example, are a sad loss to the plot's overall effect, in my opinion, though the general idea remains intact. It's just a shame we don't spend enough time with him. He serves as a deeper understanding to that age-old cliché of "love has no boundaries" while reinforcing our faith of arguably the most abstract and complex of human emotions: love. As simplistic as that may sound, it really is at the heart of the film, the idea connecting the past with the narrative's present. What makes 'The English Patient' so special then is the way in which writer/director Anthony Minghella brings this concept to the bring screen as a lavish, sweeping epic romance in the tradition of classic Hollywood.
Ideally, love should transcend all social, cultural, and racial divides, like the relationship Kip develops with Hana (Juliette Binoche). Being an Indian Sikh, he assumes the role as a kind of exotic "Otherness," viewed as the only true outsider in the middle of a war between Westerners. In his conversation with the English patient (Ralph Fiennes), Kip hints at the film's recurring motif of ownership, imperialism, the conquest of others and mapping territories, pointing out that such pursuits almost always end in misfortune. This is where the narrative takes a very interesting turn, because the exchange comes after a series of flashbacks showing a fiery, passionate affair and before Kip rebuilds Hana's confidence to love again.
Essentially, those memories of the illicit romance between Count Almásy (also by Fiennes) and Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) can be compared to the connection made by Hana and Kip. The first couple must contend with the boundaries imposed by societal norms since she's a married woman and at a time when nations were divided by imminent war. Their intimate discussions are filled with talks about possession and conquest, signaling a love that's doomed from the beginning and playing out like a Greek tragedy. On the flipside, Hana and Kip's relationship is free of any such talks, focused on trying to forget the heartbreak of war at a time when nations were uniting. Their love is filled with hope and confidence, one which leaves them with a positive outlook of the future.
Aided by the sumptuous photography of John Seale and the stirring, haunting score by Gabriel Yared, Anthony Minghella brings Ondaatje's novel to life with splendid, fluid camera movement, capturing the poignant personal moments of his characters with the same skill and elegance as the brushstrokes we see at the film's opening. The burn victim's final request of Hana is portrayed with such gravity and weight that it's one of the most heart-wrenching things to see — and all of it done in complete silence. This emotional sequence alone, with editing by Walter Murch, demonstrates Minghella's command of the camera, allowing his images to deliver the intended effect.
'The English Patient' is an epic fantasy romance in the spirit of classic Hollywood, one which simply doesn't suit the tastes of Elaine Benes, a fictional character who's admitted to not caring for such inflated, arty-farty nonsense. There are those who love stylish, elaborate dinners where you savor each bite, and then there are those who are content with and much prefer a sacked lunch.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The English Patient' arrives courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-case. At startup, viewers are greeted with a series of skippable trailers for other movies in the studio's catalog. Afterwards, we have the standard main menu with music and full-motion clips.
Being a big fan of the film, I'm saddened and somewhat disappointed by this new 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. It looks as if producers simply used the same print from the 2004 Collector's Edition, which isn't in horrible shape but it's starting to show its age. Although the transfer still offers an improvement over previous versions, the Oscar-winning film deserves no less than a full restoration from the original camera negatives (which can be said of all Blu-ray releases, except perhaps 'Sacked Lunch.').
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, contrast is generally spot-on, giving the picture a nice, elegant feel, and whites are cleanly rendered. Overall quality is good with average resolution, compared to other high-def releases from the same period. Clarity fluctuates noticeably with some scenes exposing a thicker grain structure and shadows overwhelming some background info. Best segments are outdoors in the bright sunlight of the desert, revealing lots of wonderful details of the landscape and in the rock formations. Yet, the video remains rather unsatisfying in this regard.
Black levels, too, leave much to be desired but appear relatively accurate and deep for the most part. Like the rest of the transfer, it has its moments, yet fails to deliver the sort of cinematic spark and crispness expected of such a gorgeous film. The award-winning photography of John Seale doesn't seem fully appreciated here either. The beautiful orange-amber tones of flashback sequences lack zest and energy while the palette of the present narrative shows more spark with bold primaries. Skin tones appear healthy, however, making this a passable but overall average transfer of a beloved epic drama.
When it comes to the audio, there might be more reason to celebrate. But considering the source used for this Blu-ray release, we can only imagine how much better this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack could sound with a proper remaster.
For what it's worth, the lossless mix is still quite impressive, especially when it comes to Gabriel Yared's amazing score. Music fills the entire front soundstage with great clarity and fidelity, and spreads into the rear speakers effortlessly, pulling viewers into the story's drama and romance. Subtle atmospherics are also employed, immersing listeners with the windy openness of the desert, the echoes of rocky caverns and the wildlife surrounding the Italian monastery. It's not always consistent or very convincing, but notable and generally satisfying.
Channel separation is well-balanced and fluid panning between speakers, producing a welcoming and spacious image. The midrange is sharply rendered, differentiating the upper frequencies precisely and allowing for the music to take complete command of the soundstage without any distortion. The low-end comes with reasonable force to those scenes requiring it and providing plenty of weight. Dialogue reproduction is also spotless and well-prioritized in a high-rez track that could be better but is acceptable.
Lionsgate ports over the same set of supplements found on the 2004 DVD edition, which featured a couple items from the Criterion Laserdisc.
'The English Patient' is a passionate and elaborate epic romance with gorgeous photography, haunting music, and splendid direction. The multilayered narrative, based on the equally dense novel by Michael Ondaatje, demands careful attention from its viewers while also delivering an accessible sweeping tale of love and tragedy. Of course, as Elaine Benes of Seinfeld makes abundantly clear, not everyone agrees with that sentiment and may even find it a frustrating watch. Although it offers a visible improvement to previous home video releases, this Blu-ray edition of the historical drama is culled from the same transfer used for the 2004 DVD, so picture quality and audio isn't completely satisfying. The rest of the package ports over an identical set of special features, making this release worth a recommendation with some small hesitation due the A/V department.