Films that have, for lack of a better term, achieved a near-legendary status, fall under a different classification when it comes time to submit them for review once more. This is most certainly the case with 'Patton,' which has been around long enough, succeeded enough, and been praised over and over again that one more person calling it as it so clearly is won't make the film any better, and certainly won't have an effect on the way future sees the film.
What's unique about Frank Schaffner's war film, isn't that it's based on a real man, nor is it the fact that it won so many Academy Awards; it's the way each level of the film – even long before it was even a glimmer in the eyes of its producers – has achieved a sort of legendary status that is the kind of thing Hollywood dreams are made of. The film has, in many ways, become as significant for the stories surrounding its creation, and the subsequent accolades it received, as it is for the actual story it told so well.
For starters, the real-life General George S. Patton was already a man whose entire persona was larger-than-life. He was very much the man George C. Scott would eventually become, in his own grand and bizarre trip to a reputation the proceeded him. Patton was a man whose life and wartime exploits had already made him an incredibly polarizing and paradoxical figure. "Old Blood and Guts," as he was called, had such a reputation that adapting his story into a fictionalized account was nothing short of inevitable. By the time 'Patton' was going into production, decades had passed since WWII and Patton's death, and there had been so many contradictory reports, stories and books, which either included, or were entirely based on the man, it was difficult for anyone to tell fact from fiction. To put it mildly, the story of General George S. Patton was already one heck of an extraordinary tale.
Next, of course, is the fact that the film was made during a time when no studio in their right mind should have been making a war film. It was, to say the least, a risky endeavor; one in which the studio had to balance perfectly its presentation of the man so many regarded as a hero, and an equal (and growing contingent) of the population who saw Patton as the epitome of militarization – during a time when the military had a significant amount of detractors. Amazingly, one of the detractors wasn't the film's original screenwriter. And as he so candidly recounts in his introduction to the film, Francis Ford Coppola was not only fired from his screenwriting duties on 'Patton,' but he was also very nearly removed from his work on another piece of classic American cinema, 'The Godfather.' As Coppola points out, Patton had been made some time after he'd been fired, and after the film's release, it was soon awash in the hubbub of Hollywood's back-patting ceremony known as the Academy Awards. After Coppola won for his screenwriting, the win cemented his place as the director of Mario Puzo's 'The Godfather', and, well, we all know how well that film was received.
As far as history goes, in terms of making Patton, Coppola's story is simply the tip of the iceberg. It's not one of triumph over strife, necessarily – Schaffner was, if nothing else a well-liked and competent filmmaker – but the film garnered further notice following its numerous wins at the Academy Awards. It's common knowledge now, but George C. Scott's refusal of the award still stands as something of an audacious moment for the actor, and an awkward one for Hollywood and the Academy. There's something genuine in the actor's rebellion that doesn't feel as forced or disturbingly indignant as Brando's refusal to accept the Oscar for his performance in (coincidentally enough) 'The Godfather.' But, as much as Scott would likely not want to hear it, his actions were oddly in line with something Patton – or at least the public's perception of Patton – might pull as a means of making a point.
But really, in its making, its release, and the forty-two years that have followed, 'Patton' has become legendary (enough to achieve a second (albeit remastered) release on Blu-ray, at any rate). And in a way, the film is a lot like the General Patton himself – in as much as he reportedly believed in reincarnation, because nearly half a century on, this fantastic picture keeps popping up in new, but familiar forms.
So, nearly five years removed from the last, underachieving Blu-ray release, 'Patton' triumphantly marches toward fans both new and old to, hopefully, illustrate just how amazing a film could be, and how daunting an undertaking a motion picture of this magnitude was back in 1970. Despite its WWII aesthetic, its enormous set pieces and bombastic personality at the center, 'Patton' is a character study of a complex and perplexing individual that was meticulously crafted in a manner not often seen with contemporary filmmakers. Frank Schaffner's handling of a rather unique and compelling screenplay, filled with as painstakingly researched and authentic details as it is spectacular additions of dramatic license, is a calm, measured affair that's remarkable in all the right ways. Sometimes filled with the utter calamity of war, as only the Hollywood machine can make, and sometimes filled with measured silence, long iconic shots, and amazingly accurate witticisms, 'Patton' is without a doubt a true epic. It's the kind of earnest look at a divisive figure that likely would not be made today without layers of irony and cynicism.
And so again, it becomes clear just how 'Patton' as a film has, over time, developed into something like the Gen. Patton so man accounts have described. He was very much an anachronism, a man out of synch with the changing world around him. "God, how I hate the twentieth century," he laments in the film early on, and things only get worse from there; try as he might, the world continues to evolve, but Patton stays the same: A fixture of history, a remnant of a bygone era, a reminder of how things once were. The film, too, is all of these things and more; it is, most importantly, a big, defiant drama that, in all its authenticity still stimulates the viewer's imagination through the sheer spectacle of filmmaking.
As this version of 'Patton' is the highly anticipated remastering of what many Blu-ray aficionados would describe as a "dismal" release back in 2008, it's safe to say this section will be where so many of those let down will look first. It is also safe to say that this gorgeous remastering not only corrects the issues from before, but also makes 'Patton' look better than it ever has, and will be a relief to those left unimpressed by the film's initial foray into high definition.
When the 2008 version initially came out, there were few complaints – even High-Def Digest's review praised the image, while noticing the shortcomings – but over time, the overly ambitious removal of noise left the transfer looking too smooth and glossy, devoid of fine detail and, most importantly the kind of grain that informs the viewer of a film's origins and the time period in which it was shot. Additionally, some of the color lacked the kind of pinpoint accuracy that high-def enthusiasts expect with films of this caliber. Reds had a tendency to look sickly or greenish, and skin tones exhibited similar deficiencies.
It can be said with great pleasure that this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer brings a much more lifelike image to the screen; one that is both richly detailed and representative of the era in which the film was made. Much of that has to do with the fact that the original 65mm image was spectacular to begin with, and now, colors are rich and vibrant, reds are red, blues are blue, and skin tones realistic and believable. Fine detail is also considerably upgraded here; facial features look superb and the detail in the soldier's uniforms – the weave of fabric, the grime, and wear and tear of the helmets – is all beautifully rendered. But this isn't simply a correction of past mistakes. 20th Century Fox has taken the time to fully restore this important catalogue title, so that it stands as a vast improvement on previous releases and a testament to a proper high definition transfer.
In addition to sharper detail, contrast levels are noticeably higher; the picture has an increased depth and range of color, and, in the end, looks practically flawless. Blacks are deep, inky and, like the image itself, pristine. This transfer is presented how it should have been the first time around – even the quirks that are bound to happen with a film this old, and shot on a print that large are present, but never a distraction. Ultimately, though, viewers should have nothing but praise for this new transfer, and for those who purchased the film in 2008, this version is well worth the cost of replacement.
Those familiar with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track of the 2008 release will not notice a difference here, as it appears to be exactly the same one used before. To that end, this is a very impressive mix that manages to present both the intense war sequences and the fantastic score by Jerry Goldsmith with clarity and punch.
Since 'Patton' isn't a war movie, per se, it's important that the film's audio mix deal primarily with the rather stellar dialogue given to the actors, and in this department, the sound does not miss. The mix is equally impressive in the bigger moments, too. Patton's first encounter with Rommel's troops offers an extraordinary listening experience that is on par with the sound design of films today. Planes rumble as they fly overhead, only to vanish in the background of the rear channels. Explosions rock with significant LFE, as the din and clamor of war completely engulfs the listener. Imaging is remarkably tight, as are directional effects, which seem to contradict the film's age.
As mentioned above, Jerry Goldsmith's score is rendered with the kind of care it deserves. The militaristic nature of his drums and trumpets erupts from the front and center speaker with appropriate vitality that invigorates an already lively and dynamic film. When extended across entire range of speakers, the score becomes even more of an intrinsic part of the film's appeal and here it is rendered beautifully.
There are some examples where sound is balanced awkwardly and the dynamic range – especially in Patton's voice – is a little off, but nothing that would make the sound here feel anything less than a fantastic and enjoyable listening experience.
Sadly, no upgrade was given to the supplements, as they are identical to the previous release of the film. Additionally, the extras are offered on a second DVD disc, rather than a Blu-ray. Still, for those who haven't seen them, or haven't seen them in a while, the documentaries are fairly compelling and entertaining to watch.
'Patton' is just one of those films that retains its power and vitality, no matter how many times it's been viewed. George C. Scott's performance defined his career through more than a mere display of his acting prowess, but, like those stories, the performance lives on and should be considered one of the most significant of the twentieth century. 'Patton' is an example of what can happen when Hollywood's best are firing on all cylinders, and have united to tell an extraordinary story, extraordinarily well. But this is a film nearly fifty years old that is already well regarded. The story here is how well (despite first efforts and a lengthy gap between releases) this Blu-ray represents the film. It is, finally, the best looking version of 'Patton' available to those who adore the movie. The extras could have used a similar spit polish, but as far as presentation goes, this remastered edition is most certainly a must own.