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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/2/00

The Patriot
Special Edition - 2000 (2000) - Columbia TriStar

review by Florian Kummert and Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Patriot: Special Edition Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A

Specs and Features

164 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL single-layered (layer switch at 1:35:54, in chapter 19), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin, The Art of War featurette, True Patriots featurette, How a Patriot Loses His Head and Recruiting a Digital Army visual effects interactive featurettes, 6 deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary, talent files, theatrical trailer, teaser trailer, interactive Conceptual Art to Film Comparison, 10 production photo galleries, DVD-ROM weblinks, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English & French, Closed Captioned

Review Note: In the following text, commentary on the film is by Florian Kummert, while commentary on the DVD quality is by Bill Hunt.

"Mark my words... this war will be fought not on the frontier or some distant battlefield, but amongst us. Among our homes. Our children will learn of it with their own eyes."

You've gotta hand it to director Roland Emmerich. He easily ranks among the most patriotic American movie directors working today... despite the fact that he's German. In Independence Day, he declared that the Fourth of July was not only an American holiday, but a cause for worldwide celebration. The idea of freedom from oppression keeps reappearing in Emmerich's oeuvre, be it alien oppression in ID4 and Stargate, government oppression (read: big brother) in Universal Soldier or reptilian oppression in the critical maligned (but a personal favorite of mine) Godzilla. It even pops up in his older, less interesting films such as Joey and Moon 44. That's half the reason why I like Emmerich.

In Germany, the media tauntingly calls Roland Emmerich "little Spielberg", which is unfair. I guess they're just jealous of a German being able to settle down in Hollywood and direct popcorn movies, rather than doing the Wim Wenders thing and shooting somber, hardly digestible movies for a minuscule fan audience. Emmerich may not have the most distinctive of styles, but his movies glow with innocence, a slightly naive simplicity and a will to entertain.

His newest epic, The Patriot (a sort of a Revolutionary War prequel to ID4), is in many ways a good old-fashioned Emmerich flick. But, interestingly, it adds some newer, darker layers to his previous work. The Patriot is an entertaining tale about a man who tries to be a pacifist but, faced with cruelty and the shifting sands of war, decides to fight for freedom and democracy. The film's running time of two and a half hours isn't really justified, but still, The Patriot certainly fits in with the most entertaining and rousing action films of the past summer.

Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin, a widower with seven children (Gibson, in real life, has seven kids as well - go figure). Mom Martin died during the birth of her youngest child and, somehow traumatized by the event, the tyke hasn't talked since. On his own, Benjamin has taken care of his family well, living on a picturesque farm in South Carolina far from any trouble. Or so it seems, anyway. You see, Benjamin is a man with a past, and it's a capital one. He fought in the French and Indian War and, at a grueling encounter in a place called Fort Wilderness, he learned more about the raw animal in himself than he ever wanted to know. It would seem Benjamin is an excellent fighter, full of berserker rage - and boy, will he get a chance to display that in this movie. But first, he has to overcome his fear of his own inner demons.

As anyone with a history class in their background knows, the American colonies had this silly urge to free themselves from British rule and start their own country. So when the call goes out for the settlers to fight against the British red-coated army (which is on the way to quell the insurrection) men, young and old, will be forced to take up arms. At first, Benjamin won't fight and urges further negotiations with the Crown. When his friend asks him about his principles, Benjamin replies, "I'm a parent. I haven't got the luxury of principles." He'll be forced to adopt some very soon.

Contrary to popular belief, the British army, in this film, does not conduct gentlemanly warfare. To create a simple good guys/bad guys scenario, Emmerich and screenwriter Robert Rodat, who also wrote Saving Private Ryan, turned the red coats into a bunch of sadistic ultra-meanies. It's in no way historically accurate and the British population was not amused at all about the film... but who really cares? It's all in the spirit of summer film. By Nazi-fying the Brits, Emmerich and Rodat created an excellent villain: Colonel Tavington, played wonderfully by Jason Isaacs with a sneer and infinitely cold eyes. He's the best movie bad guy since Alan Rickman in Die Hard. Tavington may be almost a caricature - he may even behave a bit over the top. But it's a pleasure watching this man wreak havoc amongst the good-hearted militia.

It is Tavington who ultimately sets off Benjamin and that's a big mistake. As they say in American film trailers, "Now, it's personal." Almost single-handedly, Benjamin wipes out entire British battalions. In scenes like this, when Benjamin's rage and bloodlust becomes visible, the film shows a darker side to the otherwise good-natured Americans, who are mostly portrayed as great guys who deserve to win. Benjamin starts to build up a militia and doesn't mind recruiting law-breakers and thugs from seedy taverns (which continues the trend started in Independence Day, where a drunk loser saved mankind). Here too, it's the outcasts who change the course of history. The movie's battle scenes convey the rawness and cruelty of 18-century warfare. They never achieve the visual and emotional power of Braveheart, but they add a lot of energy to the film. Unfortunately, Emmerich falls back on stone-age cliches in other parts of the film, such as the token black guy who is finally accepted by the white soldiers. This somber, politically-correct jabbering just doesn't work. Otherwise, there's some fine comic relief, great performances by Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger (impressive as Benjamin's oldest son Gabriel) and Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space Nine's Odo here as a battle-proven priest) and beautiful cinematography by Caleb Deschanel that's not to be missed.

That cinematography is nicely conveyed on this DVD special edition, with a solid anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is by no means reference quality video - the print is dirtier that it probably should be and you'll notice a little bit of coarse grain and edge enhancement on occasion. But the colors are wonderfully rich and accurate and contrast is superb while retaining excellent detail. The film's audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 (a French 2.0 Surround track is also available) and it's one of the better such tracks we've heard in a while. There's excellent low frequency, which reinforces a nicely wide soundstage. Dialogue and music are clear and well mixed, and there's terrific creation of subtle ambiance, with wonderful panning and very active surround channels. The sounds of gunshots and ricochetting bullets will have your head spinning.

The extras presented on this disc are also very nice, and support the film well without becoming redundant. To start with, there's a good commentary with Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin. What these guys lack in subtlety, they more than make up for in enthusiasm. The pair discusses character development and motivation, historical accuracy, battlefield staging and the like. It's a good listen. Two excellent, 10-minute featurettes are also available on the disc. The first, The Art of War, addresses the complex effort to recreate historical battles, and features good interviews and lots of behind-the-scenes video. The second, True Patriots, examines the historical accuracy of the film. The screenwriter notes that Gibson's character is a combination of 3 or 4 real historical figures. Devlin also touches an interesting note when he recalls going to the Smithsonian and holding a real Continental army uniform from the American Revolution. He noticed sweat stains on the collar - real sweat from the soldier who wore (and probably died) wearing the uniform.

Also available on the DVD are some 10 galleries of production photographs, the film's teaser trailer and theatrical trailer, talent bios, DVD-ROM weblinks and some 6 deleted or extended scenes with optional audio commentary. There's also an interactive Storyboard to Film Comparison, where you're shown a piece of artwork depicting a scene in the film, and then, at the push of a button, you're shown the final shot from the film. Then you can move to the next such comparison. It's pretty cool. Finally, there are two "visual effects interactive" featurettes, that break down two major effects shots - one in which a soldier's head gets blown off by a cannonball and one where we see two massive armies facing off on the battlefield. For each, you see three moving "windows" of video, and you can select each in turn and view it with commentary. The effect is a good explanation of the process of digitally creating the scene. It's almost a multi-angle-style feature... without actually employing the multi-angle feature.

The Patriot isn't going to be for everyone, and many will be turned off by its length and its depiction of sometimes vicious violence. But fans will love the film's dramatic and emotional enthusiasm and Mel Gibson's performance. And if you just like good special edition DVDs, this is a nice one indeed, delivering good anamorphic video, terrific surround sound audio and a very satisfying mix of extras. This disc definitely gives you your money's worth and it's absolutely worth a spin.

Florian Kummert

Bill Hunt

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