The English Patient (1996)

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Released 13-Jun-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-Egypt
Menu Audio
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-The Talented Mr. Ripley, Chocolat
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 155:07
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (92:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Anthony Minghella
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Ralph Fiennes
Juliette Binoche
Willem Dafoe
Kristin Scott Thomas
Naveen Andrews
Colin Firth
Julian Wadham
Jurgen Prochnow
Case C-Button-Version 2
RPI $34.95 Music Gabriel Yared


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The English Patient won numerous awards when it was released in 1996 - nine Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Music and Best Sound), two Golden Globes (Best Film and Best Original Score), and six BAFTA awards (including Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Supporting Actress). Although it has been available as a Region 1 DVD since 1998, Region 4 fans of this film have had to wait until now. So, is the wait worthwhile and is the film still worth watching five years later?

    Well, all I can say after watching it is that I don't think you will be disappointed either in the quality of the film or the quality of the transfer on DVD. The film is as moving and as powerful as I recalled it to be, and the screenplay by Anthony Minghella is a masterpiece in its poetic imagery, subtlety, scintillating wit and cohesiveness - the last trait all the more surprising given the rather disjointed nature of the novel (by Michael Ondaatje) on which it is based. Anthony reduces the multiple storylines of the novel into two intertwining and connected stories - each one of which would have been worthy of a great film in its own right.

    The first story is set in the 1930s just prior to World War II, and it is about a grand and ultimately destructive adulterous love affair between Count Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) - a Hungarian pilot engaged in mapping the Sahara Desert as part of a Royal Geographic Society expedition - and Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) - the wife of another member of the expedition. The first half of the film is the delicious build-up to the affair, and the latter half of the film explores the dramatic consequences of the affair. Colin Firth ("Mr. Darcy" of the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice) plays a cameo role as Katharine's husband Geoffrey.

    The second story is a more gentle one, set in the 1940s in the final days of World War II, about a shell-shocked and heart-broken Canadian nurse called Hana (Juliette Binoche) caring for an "English" patient who has been burnt horribly in a fiery plane crash after being shot down. The patient has been badly disfigured and is in constant pain. He can't or won't remember his past, even his name. Realizing that he has not long to live, Hana decides to devote her attention to making his last days as comfortable as possible in a crumbling Italian villa. Soon she is joined by various "guests" - a strange man called Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) who is determined to uncover the patient's past, and two bomb disposal officers Kip (Naveen Andrews) and Hardy (Kevin Whately).

    The first story is mainly told as a series of flashbacks from the wandering thoughts of the dying patient, and we gradually realize the two stories are connected. By the end of the film, we learn not only the identity of the English patient but a number of other dramatic revelations as well.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Region 4 fans who have waited a long time for this title to appear on DVD will not be disappointed by the video transfer quality. Although this is not a perfect transfer, it is more than acceptable and will satisfy all but the perfectionist.

    The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16x9 enhancement. The quality of the transfer is evident right from the start, where there is a lot of subtlety and detail in the canvas or parchment or whatever it is that the brushstrokes of swimming figures are being applied to.

    The sharpness and detail in this transfer is evident from any close-up of the Herodotus book (the first of which is at the beginning of Chapter 6 at 26:21-26:26) - I can almost read the pages of the book despite it being printed in a rather small font, or at the very least be able to make out some of the words. I was slightly disappointed by the black levels in various scenes and the colour at times can appear very slightly off but I'm just being mean-spirited and picky - in truth I think most people would say there is nothing wrong with the transfer at all.

    The film source is close to perfect, apart from very minor white marks in few frames. There is the slightest hint of grain in various shots but never at a level where it starts being highlighted by the MPEG encoder. Speaking of MPEG, there are minor instances of MPEG artefacts present in the transfer, notably the Gibb's effect ringing around the opening titles and minor instances of posterization (particularly when the two planes are flying across a valley at 22:56-23:03 - look at the shadows in the valley).

    There is only one subtitle track - English for the Hard of Hearing. I must say I am very impressed by the quality of this track. Not only is every line of dialogue faithfully transcribed (including the lyrics to songs) but the track provides very detailed descriptions of non-dialogue elements of the audio (eg. "Ethereal Music Playing", "Orchestral Music swells"). The subtitles contain far more detail in terms of descriptions of auditory cues in comparison with the corresponding subtitle track on the Region 1 disc.

    This is a single sided dual layered disc (RSDL). The layer change occurs rather late in the movie, at the transition from Chapter 18 to 19 (92:44). This is very well timed to occur during a natural freeze on Caravaggio and I didn't notice it whilst watching the film and had to go specifically hunting for the layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one audio track associated with the main feature, Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kb/s, but I am extremely impressed with it. In fact, I would rate this track as being of reference quality.

    Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand. Needless to say, dialogue synchronization is not an issue on this disc.

    The audio track is mastered at a very high level (with Dialogue Normalisation set to +4 dB) - at my normal DVD volume level the track was deafeningly loud (the amplifier was threatening to clip during the explosions around 7:12-7:37) - I had to turn the volume down around 8 dB before the volume level was acceptable. People who like listening to soundtracks at very loud levels (and I know there are quite a few of you out there) will probably be grinning right now. For the rest of us, turning down the volume before playing the DVD might be advisable - don't let the rather soft opening title sequence fool you.

    A hauntingly beautiful original music score by Gabriel Yared truly heightens the emotional quality of critical scenes, making the resultant soundtrack fully immersive and enveloping at all times.

    This audio track really should be used as a case study for future film-makers on how to use all six speakers in a 5.1 track properly to really involve the audience in the film. It is a brilliant exception to the tendency for dramas to be dialogue-driven and centre-focused. The tinkling of the bells just prior to the opening credits is spread across the 5 speakers creating an enveloping effect, and at all times sound effects are correctly positioned across the soundfield exactly where you would expect them to be.

    The audio track should also please people who spent a lot of money on a subwoofer and would like to see it utilized. The deep drone of the bi-plane during 2:56-4:00 and also 20:30-21:15 (and also later on in the soundtrack whenever there is a plane) has a low frequency component so powerful that you will be able to feel it in your chest. The LFE (".1") track is quite actively utilized at various strategic points in the film.

    All in all I would rate the audio track two thumbs up!

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    One advantage of the deferred release of this title into Region 4 (apart from the fact that we get a better transfer) is the addition of features. In comparison to the bare bones Region 1 release, we do get some extras, however they are fairly limited and not very compelling. It is a real pity that we don't get the extras featured on the Criterion laserdisc, such as the audio commentary by director Anthony Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz and author Michael Ondaatje, the 24-minute making-of featurette, and a collection of deleted scenes with video commentary by director Anthony Minghella.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    The menus are 16x9 enhanced and feature a desert theme. The main menu is animated and includes audio. Sub menus are static, but many include audio.

Dolby Digital Trailer - Egypt

    Somehow, the look of this trailer kind of fits the movie, although this is not one of my favourite Dolby Digital trailers.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes (6:53)

    This is an extremely short promotional featurette featuring brief excerpts from the film with voice-over narration as well as mini-interviews with:     The featurette is presented in full frame, with film excerpts presented in pan-and-scan. The transfer quality is a touch soft, but adequate.

Theatrical Trailer (2:25)

    Rather disappointingly, this is presented in 1.33:1 (pan&scan?) and Dolby Digital 2.0. Again, the transfer is a bit on the soft side.

Trailers - The Talented Mr. Ripley (2.00), Chocolat (2.13)

    The Talented Mr. Ripley is presented in 1.85:1 with 16x9 enhancement, and Dolby Digital 2.0. Chocolat is presented in 1.33:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    These are a series of stills presenting a rather detailed set of cast & crew profiles with associated filmographies.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version misses out on:     The Region 1 version misses out on:     Direct comparison shows that the video transfer of the Region 4 version of this title is superior to the Region 1 release of this title, which was actually quite good for its time (it was released in 1998). The Region 1 release suffers from slightly more grain, which is occasionally noticeable in the dark areas and shadows of the transfer. Also, the Region 1 release is not 16x9 enhanced, and the corresponding lack of vertical resolution (compounded by the NTSC format) results in a noticeable loss of detail.

    The clear winner in this case is the Region 4 version.

Summary

    The English Patient is a deeply moving and powerful drama that won numerous awards when it was first released. It is presented on a DVD with a superb video transfer and a reference quality audio transfer. The extras, though not that compelling, are most welcome given that the Region 1 version is a bare-bones disc.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Sunday, May 27, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (203cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront left/right: B&W DM603; centre: B&W CC6S2, rear left/right: B&W DM601

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Comments (Add)
Special Edition -
162 versus 155 min -
re: 162 versus 155 min - Roger T. Ward (Some say he's afraid of the Dutch, and that he's stumped by clouds. All we know, this is his bio.)
re: 162 versus 155 min -
Excellent riposte! -
Re: Excellent riposte! -