The English Patient (Blu-ray)
My wife and I often argue about the greatness of different movies – it’s one of the reasons that we got together. Sitting down and talking about movies with her is one of my favorite activities. Sometimes the talks become debates… but that’s part of the fun. Working with Flix66 has given me the opportunity to watch many movies that I love, or she loves, and our impassioned discussions are one of the reasons that I love doing this so much. So, with great anticipation I opened THE ENGLISH PATIENT, a movie that I loved but have not recently viewed.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT is the story of a man shot down while flying over an African desert near the end of the 2nd World War. Brutally burned in the crash, he is eventually recovered by the allied troops but because he has no memory he is dubbed the English Patient (due to his slight accent). He is placed with a military convoy and his nurse, who has suffered much loss and trauma during the war, decides to stay and care for him as he lives his last days. They take shelter in an abandoned home and slowly we learn more about our mysterious patient and his sad history.
Count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) is his name, and though he claims to remember little we slowly learn the reason Almásy wishes to forget. Having little skill in communication, he excelled at a solitary station working with the Royal Geographical Society, mapping the vast expanses of the Sahara desert. When a coworker brings his wife to the desert, she begins a torrid love affair with Almásy that has ramifications that could reach the very outcome of the war. The movie is about discovering the identity of this single man but in the exploration we learn more about the search for identify of everyone around him. Each is played out in dramatic flashback until we are left, in the end, with an interesting and phenomenal movie experience.
In the mid- to late-90’s there were a string of epic films that swept through the Academy Awards and THE ENGLISH PATIENT is one of the finest examples. Fifteen years later the movie is released on Blu-ray, and I wondered just how well it would hold up. I’m happy to say that the movie feels as timeless and classic today as it did upon first viewing. Certainly deserving of the accolades it received, this film is reminiscent of another time in Hollywood when grand vistas and great sweeping stories were the norm. This is a film the likes of which we haven’t seen since filmmaker David Lean (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, for example, is a perfect example of similar filmmaking), not because of the desert setting, but because of the scope of the film.
In addition to being an excellently shot, edited, and directed film, THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a great example of the power of phenomenal acting. RALPH FIENNES is brilliant as Almásy, but equally powerful performances permeate the cast and create a world that is as believable as it is fantastic. These include a thief (or family friend?) named Caravaggio, played by Willem Dafoe; the nurse who cares for Almásy, Juliette Binoche; Kristin Scott Thomas as Almásy’s ill-fated love; and Colin Firth in a splendid turn as the jilted husband. All of the performances lend credibility to the film that helps define this world at the closing years of the war. Though this is a drama of the old school (and not for everyone), I truly think you will enjoy it if you give it a chance.
Video: (1080p, 1.85:1 Widescreen) Beautifully presented and translated to high definition, the picture serves to bring you into this world.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The sound is expertly mixed with beautiful score, the sounds of war, and the engaging sounds of passionate love.
Audio Commentary with Screenwriter/Director Anthony Minghella (02:41:52) An epic film receives the all-star treatment with this incredible commentary. I take issue only with the fact that Minghella’s voice can be a bit monotonous (and thus, lull you to sleep). Highly recommended for future filmmakers, fans of the film, and commentary enthusiasts.
Audio Commentary with Screenwriter/Director Anthony Minghella, Producer Saul Zaentz, and The English Patient author Michael Ondaatje (02:41:52) Actually a bit overwhelming at first with these three, this one is interesting from the standpoint of taking an unusual novel and transitioning it to this incredible film.
About Michael Ondaatje (21:57) This 5 part standard definition introspective looks at the author and the process of bringing the book to screen. It includes some really interesting moments, including the author reading excerpts from the novel.
From Novel to Screenplay – Interviews with Cast and Crew (07:11) Minghella and others talk about transitioning this revered work to the silver screen. It is clear that the actors (and others) involved in the film were passionate about the project.
The Formidable Saul Zaentz (01:59) A quick featurette about the legendary producer who supported the creation of this incredible work. Includes interviews with the actors Minghella.
A Historical Look at the Real Count Almásy (08:18) Featuring a U.C. Berkeley professor who discusses the historical basis for the Hungarian Count. Incredibly, this includes some footage of the actual Count from his many journeys into the Sahara.
Filmmaker Conversations – This four-part feature is deceiving and terribly presented, including a multitude of single chapter subcategories within each filmmaker’s section. This is a ludicrous way to put information on a Blu-ray disc and makes the information (which is INCREDIBLE) not worth the effort. It is also disappointing that more work didn’t go into converting or doing some actual high-definition special features. This piece includes the following: A Conversation with Director and Screenwriter Anthony Minghella (37:30) in eight parts; A Conversation with Producer Saul Zaentz (19:34) in nine parts; A Conversation with Writer Michael Ondaatje (06:44) in four parts; and A Conversation with Film Editor Walter Murch (25:51) in seven parts.
The Work of Stuart Craig – Production Designer (03:57) An interview with the production designer offers a rare glimpse into an absolutely CRUCIAL part of creating a world like what is presented in this movie.
The Eyes of Phil Bray – Still Photographer (02:50) The Still Photographer discusses his job. This is another interesting look at something we don’t often hear about.
Master Class with Anthony Minghella – Deleted Scenes (19:59) Originally included on “the laser-disc,” this feature delves into the cutting room floor and includes lengthy introductions by Minghella.
CBC Documentary: Black and White To Colour: The Making of The English Patient (53:01) Another standard definition addition to the disc provides some great information but, once again, feels like overkill with all of the other information on the disc. A good look at the making of the film.