Patton Blu-ray Review
Just about every genre of film has its own flagship vehicle that propelled it from a fringe category to a mainstay of American cinema. And very rarely would this golden age birth coincide with the premier films or even the opening decade of a genre’s roots. It wasn’t until 1977’s STAR WARS that science fiction was promoted from cheesy child’s play and cult classics to a billion dollar enterprise, and one year earlier the definitive blueprint for the modern day sports drama was drawn with ROCKY. As for military films, they have been a staple of the film industry ever since the inception of the FMPU (First Motion Picture Unit) during WWII, which was responsible for the infamous propaganda and training films that have become synonymous with the era. However, it would take another 30 years for a candidate to warrant four stars and finally give the genre a general it deserved … 1970’s PATTON.
More of a biopic than a war film, PATTON illustrates the cardinal moments in the military career of one of the most storied and canonized figures in American history, General George S. Patton Jr. Wisely, instead of trying to crowbar in an entire childhood and background motivation for why and how Patton entered the military, this film steps right onto the battlefield as the then 2-Star General is about to be promoted and write his own page in history.
The brilliant screenplay written mostly by Francis Ford Coppola (THE GODFATHER), which includes the now iconic opening scene of Patton giving a speech while standing in front of a giant American flag, was at first panned by the studio and Coppola was relieved of his duties on the film, as Coppola himself explains in the special introduction. Coppola was able to include all of the subtle layers and personality traits most people never knew existed in the man nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts.” And even more impressive, actor George C. Scott (THE HUSTLER) was able to convincingly portray them. Scott gave the performance of a lifetime, even though he was disappointed with it himself. He apologized to director Franklin J. Schaffner (PLANET OF THE APES, 1968) for not fully capturing the essence of Patton, though in critics’ eyes nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead of melodramatically softening the hard-core war hawk image most people had engrained in their heads about Patton, Scott’s genius was to instead make that bulletproof exterior transparent, allowing audiences to experience the man’s most fascinating qualities, like his belief in reincarnation, being able to speak multiple languages and his acute attention and admiration for ancient history. Coppola’s screenplay and Scott’s performance also harnessed what made Patton truly unique from other soldiers of his day, poignantly conveyed in the film by Karl Malden (ON THE WATERFRONT) as General Omar N. Bradley, “There’s one big difference between you and me, George. I do this job because I’ve been trained to do it. You do it because you love it.”
PATTON may not be able to compete with military films spawned after it in the realism or graphic departments and some may even say its heralded score by Jerry Goldsmith (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE) sounds extremely dated and out of tune with the subject matter of the film, although no doubt that notion has been heavily influenced by composers of spoofs or comedies like POLICE ACADEMY and STRIPES that unmistakably pay some form of homage to Goldsmith’s piece. But for a film over 40 years old and working in the confines of a “PG” rating, the film’s production value and timeless performances retain its relevance in a society where war never goes out of style and war heroes are forever celebrated.
Video: 2:20:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: This is a special remastering of the film after many complained about the initial Blu-ray released in 2008. This latest release is nothing short of spectacular eye candy. It might be the best restoration ever achieved of a film older than 30 years. The picture is incredibly smooth but not so over processed that it looks like a current film. The age and time period of when it was shot is still very evident, especially from the signature color rendering of the 70’s era of filmmaking. Another point of uniqueness is that this film was originally shot on 65mm film, something that would equate to the superb clarity of an IMAX film today, so when scanned at an HD resolution the fine details inherently surpass any 35mm film of the modern era. In fact, the film looks so good it could even be used as an HD demo disc for any home entertainment system. This is truly a bar setter for any and all future remasterings of classic films.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: The audio is not as jaw dropping as the incredible aesthetics, but it is very well done. The iconic score of the film is crystal clear and never overpowers the dialogue. The sound effects are booming and really sell the feel of war, even though that is not the film’s primary focus. But in those sequences, it’s pretty impressive that a film more than 40 years old can still render a realistic tone.
Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola: The screenwriter of the film shares the very interesting story about how the now iconic opening scene was the reason he was fired from the film and how the success of PATTON led to his ability to finish THE GODFATHER.
Feature Length Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola: Coppola is very detailed oriented so those who enjoy knowing all the ins and outs of the creative process will find this fascinating.
History Through The Lens “Patton: A Rebel Revisited (90 min): This is pretty much a full-length documentary on Patton which compares the real man to the one portrayed by George C. Scott in the film. It’s a very nice companion piece to the film, but after a 3 hour feature film you might save this for another day.
Patton’s Ghost Corps (46 min): Interviews with the surviving members of the soldiers referred to as the “Ghost Corps,” the men left behind when Patton surged ahead to fight the Battle of the Bulge. Definitely worth the time to get real commentary from people who served under the man himself.
The Making of Patton (50 min): A large collection of interviews featuring George C. Scott, director Frank Schaffner, the cinematographer Fred Koenekamp and many others including Oliver Stone. Since there’s so much else to watch on this disc and this is really just more reiteration from previous features, it’s safe to skip over this one.
Production Stills Gallery Accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith’s Complete Musical Score (36 min): Productions stills can be very revealing as to the mood and tone on a set during production, so if that kind of thing interests you, it’s definitely worth flipping through them.
Behind the Scenes Gallery Accompanied by Audio Essay on the Historical Patton (53 min): This is another gallery of production photos overlaid with commentary by Charles M Provence, the president of the George S. Patton Jr. Historical Society. By the time you get to this, if you still haven’t gotten enough of a Patton fix, you should probably run out to your nearest recruitment center.