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Blu-ray Review: THE ENGLISH PATIENT - Epic, Lyrical Oscar Winner Holds Up

It won nine Oscars back in 1997, in a move that angered many cinemagoers that year and continues to be a point of contention with audiences today but the newly released Blu-ray proves the film holds up!

It won nine Oscars back in 1997, in a move that angered many cinemagoers that year and continues to be a point of contention with audiences today. However, whatever personal opinions may be on the film, The English Patient is a strong candidate for Blu-ray release. Available for the first time today in high definition, read on for our review€ Set in North Africa and Italy during the late 1930s and early 40s, The English Patient is an epic drama of two haunting love stories that unfolds against a background of international upheaval. Through the prism of war, and of love and friendship, various themes of fidelity, adultery, nationality and betrayals are dramatised and explored. The story, based on Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel, is told elliptically, through the histories of four characters that find themselves in a ruined monastery in Italy at the end of World War II. Slowly they reveal themselves and, in the process, the true identity of the English patient €“ the unknown survivor of a plane shot down over the Sahara, who lies dying in the monastery €“ is made clear. Passion fires these stories, whether it is the raw passion between lovers, the compulsive fervour that drives men to explore remote and inhospitable regions, or the desire to pursue across time and countries those they think have wronged them€ The English Patient is a film that has received a lot of flack since it took home the Best Picture gong as the 1997 Academy Awards €“ so much so that many people have forgotten that at times it is a very poignant and affecting drama. The grand scale of the narrative (and the 162minute runtime) would certainly put off a whole host of audiences, but the films lyrical and poetic pace means that it trundles along at a pleasant pace, building to a crescendo of a conclusion that makes the time and effort spent watching it worthwhile. The film is heavily laden with intense sequences of dialogue and whilst this requires more attention from viewers than a lot of standard Hollywood fare, it is nothing short of engaging throughout the entire plot. When dialogue is not present, director Anthony Minghella€™s beautiful direction captures an artistic sense of his locations that many filmmakers would love to possess. It€™s easy to dismiss the film as an Academy fail €“ I still don€™t believe it was actually deserving of the coveted Best Pic statue €“ but this would be doing it an enormous injustice. When considered away from all of the hoopla of the Oscar €˜scandal€™, The English Patient is a glorious tale of life and love on the same epic scale as such classics as Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago. If it€™s been a long time since you bothered to watch it, now would be a perfect time to revisit it! The spectacular performances offered by the ensemble cast are another reason the film should not be disregarded. Juliette Binoche is simply stunning and extremely worthy of her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She evokes a rare form of innocence that is endearing without being unbelievable and her scenes with co-star Naveen Andrews are some of the film€™s best. Andrews is equally moving as Kip, helping to support Binoche€™s sensuality. Ralph Fiennes gives his best performance since his turn in Schindler€™s List three years earlier, here managing to transcend the nature of his hideous burn makeup to play a character full of emotional depth and deep passion. His role of Almasy is not a particularly open one that allows audiences to form a deep attachment, but Fiennes€™ restrained performance allows those viewers in enough to build a respect and liking for the man. Kristen Scott Thomas plays Katherine, a woman who€™s entrenched internal emotional conflict allows the actress to develop a performance that sucks viewers into the very heart of her character, whilst her abilities to remain subtle in her acting encourages her to refrain from overacting. Fantastic support comes in the shape of Willem Defoe and Colin Firth, who bring their usual stellar performances to the roles.

QUALITY

The overall visual quality of this release is extremely dexterous, with very little evidence of distortion, blemishing or grain throughout the entire film. Whilst the print isn€™t entirely free from all imperfections €“ moments of poorer clarity are noticeable at certain points €“ but the general quality of the transfer is very high. Remarkably improving upon previous releases, the HD quality of Bluray version of the film benefits viewers immensely. For the first time viewers are offered a crystal clear glimpse of Minghella€™s beautiful locations and camerawork. The colour tones are rich and luxurious, with the desert settings at the opening of the film bathing the screen in deep golds, vibrant burnt oranges and an overly warm palette. The rest of the film is similarly warm, with dry khakis and dusty sand tones reflecting the harsh conditions faced by the characters. The clarity of the Bluray transfer means that even the smallest of details in The English Patient are explicitly clear. The audio quality is equally impressive, with the ambient sounds and haunting original score hinting at the epic nature of the narrative. Dialogue remains clean and audible throughout the narrative, even at points where background sounds appear dominant. The film has a more subtle tone than a lot of those that have made their way on to Bluray, which is not surprising seeing that the film is so heavily reliant upon dialogue to tell its tale. All this means, however, is that once the more action based scenes do begin, the power and the impact of the sound are that little bit more noticeable and effective. The sound is well mixed and takes advantage of the full range of speakers, which helps plunge viewers into the heart of the drama.

EXTRAS

The English Patient comes with an array of special features that unfortunately have been seen previously on the Special Edition DVD release. However, despite this, they remain in-depth and informative and very much worth a watch. The following supplementary materials can be found on the disc: € Commentary with Director Anthony Minghella €“ The first of two audio commentaries, this one gives Minghella the opportunity to take a close look at the film and reveal his thoughts to viewers. Deeply interesting and thoroughly enjoyable, this is worth a listen for anybody with an unfaltering appreciation or strong love for the film. € Commentary with Director Anthony Minghella, Producer Saul Zaentz and Author Michael Ondaajte €“ The major figures behind the production offer thoughts on a range of subjects in another highly entertaining and engaging commentary that reveals much about the films production. € About Michael Ondaatje €“ Author Ondaajte€™s life and work are examined in this brief featurette that sheds further light on the source novel at the heart of the production. € From Novel to Screenplay: Interviews with Cast and Crew €“ A host of talent involved in the production converge to talk about their experiences on the production and the unique challenges of filming a book that had been deemed €˜unfilmable€™. € The Formidable Saul Zaentz €“ This amusing and informative featurette looks at producer Zaentz€™s impressive canon of work and his mark on the industry. € A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy €“ This is an intriguing piece on the inspirational figure who inspired the tale and will certainly entertain those who look for extratextual information after enjoying a film. € Filmmaker Conversations €“ These relatively brief but engaging interviews include chats with Anthony Minghella, Saul Zaentz, Michael Ondaatje and Walter Murch. Film: 4 out of 5 A solid tale of romance and drama, The English Patient won€™t appeal to all viewers, but its epic nature and intense visual beauty make it a perfect candidate for a Bluray release! Visuals: 4.5 out of 5 The clean transfer print is free from any major flaws, making this a very adept version of the film that has improved significantly upon previous releases. Audio: 4 out of 5 The high quality of the audio helps immerse viewers into the centre of the narrative, with the dialogue remaining clear and intelligible throughout (which is helpful in a film so heavily reliant upon it). Background sounds and the beautiful original score sound equally exceptional. Extras: 3.5 out of 5 Whilst nothing new is presented upon the release here, as all of the special features can be found on the Special Edition DVD disc, the range is still extensive and informative. Presentation: 3 out of 5 The iconic image of Ralph Fiennes standing in front of a burning desert sky, with a plane in the background makes the front cover here. The image represents the tone of the film, but it would have been nice to see something from the film that had been used less. The video menu is attractive, with a series of clips playing in the background, accompanied by the melodic soundtrack and an image of Fiennes and Scott Thomas in the foreground. It€™s also easy to manoeuvre around, with text and selections simple but effective. Overall: 4 out of 5 A solid film (although still not perhaps Best Picture Oscar-worthy?) has been given a proficient release, with excellent quality visuals and audio, plus enough special features to keep viewers entertained after the end credits have rolled. The English Patient is available on Blu-ray now.
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