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English Patient on Blu-Ray
on 13 February 2012
This movie was widely misunderstood on its' release - some found it's fractured story telling confusing, some found it difficult to sympathize with the central couple. Some thought it middle-class and smug - or worse, worthy. Perhaps its' success at the Oscars worked against it by creating false expectations in audiences. Many imagined it was going to be 'Gone With The Wind' crossed with 'Laurence of Arabia', and left the cinema perplexed by it. If that describes your reaction back in 1996, now might be a good time to reacquaint yourself with it - now that the weight of 9 Oscars has dissipated in the intervening years.
But if you loved it from the beginning - as I did - you will greet this release with great enthusiasm. I have no doubt that fans of the movie will relish owning Anthony Minghella's (and cinematographer John Seale's) vision of this wonderful, rich and emotionally resonant story on Blu-Ray. That said, I think buyers should initially temper their expectations as regards the picture quality on this particular Blu-Ray release.
That is not to say it is bad - it is not. It faithfully reproduces the images as originally shot. But many equate film grain as being something that Blu-Ray magically removes - and that all movies should be rendered crystal clear by the new format. Don't make that mistake here - the gritty 'look' of the film in the desert sequences was very deliberately crafted by the director. Conversely, when the story cuts to a different time and location - such as the scenes at the monastery - the gorgeous photography takes on a different texture, capturing the lush greens and golden sunlight of northern Italy, near the end of the second world war.
The Blu-Ray format also offers superior quality audio compared with the DVD. It seems obvious to say it, but this is vital in a dialogue-rich film where words and imagery have equal weight. If you are watching it on a surround system, be warned that the soundtrack is punctuated with anti-aircraft guns, sandstorms, plane crashes, the chink-chink of glass viles, not to mention the heart-breakingly evocative music. I often use the first ten minutes of this disc as a demonstrator, such is the strength of it's imagery and audio mix.
The English Patient has probably found it's most natural home on Blu-Ray, because it is a film that truly rewards repeated viewings - yielding subtle plot points, character traits and grace notes every time it's viewed. Its' main protagonists may not be immediately likeable - but the tragic decisions they make (and the consequences of those decisions on others' lives) create a haunting wartime love story undercut by mistaken national identity. A story that David Lean might have wanted to make, had he been around.
As it was, we were lucky to have the hugely gifted - and greatly missed - Anthony Minghella to adapt the novel and commit it to celluloid. He went on to make three more feature films before he died (Talented Mr Riply, Cold Mountain and Breaking & Entering), but - as good as they were - 'Patient' is his greatest and most enduring film.