Release Date(s)2000 (May 22, 2018)
Studio(s)Centropolis Entertainment/Mutual Film Company/Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review is by Florian Kummert, edited from a look at the original 2000 DVD release. The 4K and disc-based portions are by Bill Hunt.]
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 in Universal Soldier, or reptilian oppression in the critical maligned Godzilla. It even pops up in his older, less interesting films such as Joey and Moon 44.
The Patriot (a sort of a Revolutionary War prequel to ID4), is in many ways a good old-fashioned Emmerich flick, but it adds some newer, darker layers to his previous work. Though the film’s running time of two and a half hours isn’t really justified, The Patriot is a rousing and 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. Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin, a widower with seven children. His wife died during the birth of their 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. You see, Benjamin is a man with a past. He fought in the French and Indian War and learned more about the raw animal in himself than he ever wanted to know. Benjamin is an excellent fighter, full of berserker rage – and boy, does he get a chance to display that in this movie. But first, he must overcome his fear of his own inner demons.
When the call goes out for the American colonists to fight against the British red-coated army, Benjamin initially refuses to fight and urges further negotiations with the Crown. “I’m a parent,” he tells his friend. “I haven’t got the luxury of principles.” He’ll be forced to adopt some very soon. In this film, the British army does not conduct gentlemanly warfare. To create a simpler good guys/bad guys scenario, Emmerich and screenwriter Robert Rodat (who also wrote Saving Private Ryan) turned the red coats into sadistic ultra-meanies. It’s in no way historically accurate, but it’s all in the spirit of Hollywood summer fare. In making this choice, the filmmakers found 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. It is Tavington who ultimately sets Benjamin off and that’s a big mistake.
Almost single-handedly, Benjamin wipes out entire British battalions and it’s in scenes like this, when his bloodlust become visible, that the film shows its darker side. Benjamin also builds 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). This movie’s battle scenes never achieve the visual and emotional power of Braveheart, but they do add a lot of energy and convey the rawness and cruelty of 18th century warfare. Unfortunately, Emmerich falls back on stone-age clichés in other parts of the film, such as the token black guy who is finally accepted by the white soldiers. Otherwise, there’s some fine comic relief, great performances by Gibson, Heath Ledger (impressive as Benjamin’s oldest son Gabriel), and Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Odo, seen here as a battle-proven priest), and beautiful cinematography by Caleb Deschanel that’s not to be missed.
The Patriot was photographed on film in Super 35 format using Panavision cameras and lenses. It’s been scanned in full native 4K, given a high dynamic range color grade in HDR10, and is presented here on Ultra HD at the 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The resulting image falls short of reference quality for this format as a whole, given the film’s origin and vintage, but there can be no absolutely doubt that this is a gorgeous presentation of this particular film. The Patriot has never looked better than it does here. Some shots have a softer look than others for a variety of reasons; they may be optically soft as photographed, or soft in the nature of optical titles or dissolves, and the digital visual effects of the time were not of especially high resolution. But at nearly all other times, the image is crisp without appearing edgy and there’s remarkable detail, with lovely and refined texturing, visible in faces, hair, uniform fabrics, and in the film’s lush farm and forest landscapes. On this score alone, the 4K image puts the previous Blu-ray to shame. There’s a steady wash of moderate grain in the image, a little more that in some other films in 4K, but it’s never excessive and is unsurprising given the film’s Super 35 process. Shadows are deeper than ever before, with some truly dark blacks, though the use of practical atmospherics (think fog and smoke) often tempers them a hair – this is done for artistic reasons, of course, and is the intended look. Brights and highlights are luminous and often eye-reactive, particularly muzzle flashes during night battles. And the wider gamut afforded by HDR10 results in colors that are at once more lush and more natural than in any previous home video presentation. This is a beautiful transfer and a highly cinematic one at that. It should be noted that Sony’s UHD release includes only the 164-minute Theatrical Cut of the film in native 4K (the 174-minute Extended Cut is included on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc).
Audio on the 4K disc is offered in a new English Dolby Atmos mix that also improves upon the previous Blu-ray’s uncompressed LPCM mix, though the difference isn’t quite as pronounced as the image. The soundstage is big and wide up front, with tremendous fullness and clarity, while the surround and height channel extension is smooth and complete. You truly feel like you’re immersed in a hemisphere of sound that extends up and around you. The mix impresses in a number of ways, not the least of which is its sheer spaciousness. Even in quiet moments, subtle sound cues waft in from all around and above – insects, farm animals, the soft whisper of wind, the flicker of fire, a burning building. When the mix flexes its muscle, there’s no shortage of bombast in the film’s battle set pieces, where cannon blasts are robust, and the crack-report of gunfire is sharp, all with remarkable depth of positioning. Dialogue is clean and natural sounding. John Williams’ score is rich, with excellent fidelity. It’s a fine mix that matches the visual experience well indeed. Additional audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles available in English, English SDH, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Czech, Danish, Ditch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.
Sony’s 4K disc itself includes a few special features to go with the Theatrical Cut of the film, all carried over from the original DVD release. They include the following (note that the video features are upscaled from the original SD):
- Audio commentary with director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin
- The Art of War (9:45)
- The True Patriots (9:57)
- Visual Effects Featurette (9:20)
- Deleted Scenes (6 scenes, 13:01 in all, with optional commentary)
- Conceptual Art to Film Comparisons (4:48)
- Photo Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer (2:39)
The package also includes a Blu-ray Disc containing the Extended Cut of the film in 1080p HD. It has The Art of War and The True Patriots featurettes too, but that’s the extent of its bonus content. You also get a Movies Anywhere digital code on a paper insert in the case.
The Patriot isn’t for everyone, and some will be turned off by its length and its depiction of sometimes vicious violence. But others will love the film’s dramatic and emotional enthusiasm, the cinematography, and another strong Mel Gibson performance. Better still, Sony’s 4K Ultra HD release presents the Theatrical Cut in its very best possible light. If you’re a fan, the disc is highly recommended.
THEATRICAL CUT (4K): B-
EXTENDED CUT (BD): B
- Florian Kummert and Bill Hunt