Roland Emmerich’s 2000 Revolutionary War epic The Patriot has a lot in common with his blockbusters Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow: it’s corny, melodramatic and shamelessly manipulative. Fortunately, this film does also share one other common trait with the German director’s 1996 alien invasion flick (but not his laughable 2004 global warming drama): it’s an entertaining, uplifting popcorn flick that delivers the goods.
The Patriot is the story of a South Carolina plantation owner named Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson). Martin is a hero from the French and Indian War who has seen more than his fair share of battles and blood and wishes to stay out of the current war between the American colonies and England. His headstrong son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), has other ideas: when Martin and his family head to Charleston to participate in the state’s assembly on whether South Carolina should join the fight, he signs up despite his father’s protests.
Soon enough, British commander Lord Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) takes Charleston and the war advances through South Carolina, right up to the Martin plantation. When Martin and his family offer care to both British and American soldiers (including a wounded Gabriel) following a battle near their home, their diplomatic gesture brings with it grave consequences. A vicious Colonel by the name of Tavington (Jason Isaacs) brands the family as traitors for harboring rebel soldiers, arrests Gabriel, orders the plantation burnt to the ground and nonchalantly murders one of Benjamin’s youngest children. This, of course, sets Martin off. After rescuing Gabriel, Benjamin soon finds himself fighting the Revolutionary War alongside his son on two fronts: for freedom from England and for revenge.
Emmerich doesn’t miss a chance to tug at our emotional heartstrings: the kids are precocious; the bad guys are irredeemably evil and the heroes, noble. In an effort to build up sympathy for Martin en route to his big showdown with Tavington, we get the occasional”and expected”bad things happen to Benjamin, his family and his fellow patriots. And since we are stuck in the New Dark Ages, I mean, the Age of Political Correctness, we also have a modern-day twist on the slavery issue (it’s pretty easy to see why Spike Lee was so pissed off about this film back in 2000). Emmerich deserves a fair amount of blame for this viewer manipulation, but Robert Rodat (who also wrote Saving Private Ryan)’s screenplay is also a culprit in this, a rather straightforward revenge tale in historical clothing (think Braveheart by way of Death Wish).
Yet, for all its predictability and manipulation and historical inaccuracy (okay, since they got the fact that America and England were involved in the Revolutionary War, I guess you can say this film is slightly on the ball historically), the movie works as a decent piece of entertainment. The action scenes are handled well and Emmerich, with the assist of Caleb Deschanel’s beautiful cinematography and John Williams” excellent music score, does keep things rolling along at a good pace, keeping one’s attention for the film’s nearly three-hour running time.
As was the case with Independence Day, the cast helps a great deal to help raise the material to a higher level. Gibson makes for a believable family man and reluctant hero, while Isaacs does a nice job playing the bad guy without going too far over the top and Ledger, Wilkinson and Tcheky Kayro (as a French solider who fights alongside Martin) are also solid in their supporting roles. Chris Cooper makes the most of his small role as Colonel Burwell, even if he comes off as a bit underused.
This edition of The Patriot is the Unrated Extended Cut, which restores approximately eleven minutes of previously deleted footage back into the film. A majority of it comes in the first part of the film, a scene extension here, an extra few seconds there. It doesn’t really add up to much and to be honest, the film was just fine in its theatrical version. In fact, I am pretty sure that Emmerich and company had nothing to do with this Extended Cut. This smells like nothing more than a movie studio trying to pull a fast one on consumers in order to milk the movie’s cash cow one more time, a practice that Sony has pulled far too many times in the past few years (Wild Things, Spider-Man 2 and Black Hawk Down are other culprits).
Now that the standard-definition market for The Patriot has run dry, Sony has now moved its pricey 2000 historical epic to the high definition Blu-ray Disc format. Overall, the results are good, but not as great as they could have been.
For the most part, I think the picture transfer on the Blu-ray is excellent. The 1080p/AVC-MPEG 4 encode does a terrific job capturing the beauty of Deschanel’s Oscar-nominated widescreen cinematography. As one would expect, the colors are rich, contrast levels are solid and detail is spot on. I remember the movie being a bit on the grainy side when I saw it in the theater seven years ago (good ol” Super 35), and that is faithfully replicated on this release.
So why do I say that the transfer is excellent “for the most part?” The answer is simple: the “restored” footage. Since the scenes were cut by Emmerich in post-production, they were never given the fine polish that the rest of the film apparently received. They look darker and less detailed than other scenes, and the added resolution from the Blu-ray format only makes that more apparent (did no one at Sony notice this?). So overall, the video transfer is 95% great, 5% average at best.
One area I have few complaints about is the audio. The English 5.1 and uncompressed PCM 5.1 tracks are both immersive and impressive, as one would expect from a big-budget wartime epic. Plenty of sound effects and swells of music for the left and right fronts and surrounds are matched by a clean center channel for the dialogue and backed by some serious bass. As with other recent Sony Blu-ray titles (such as Casino Royale), the Dolby Digital 5.1 track gets the job done, but seems to have been purposely recorded a bit louder than usual (then again, it could just be the compressed channels of audio). The PCM, on the other hand, has a wider, smoother and more effective feel to it, and is the preferred choice for playback.
When originally released seven years ago, the movie had a decent selection of extras to offer: audio commentary, deleted scenes and a handful of production mini-documentaries. The Blu-ray drops the audio commentary, deleted scenes (a given since they are now part of the film), and all but two of the other supplements. What we are left with is the working definition of “filler.”
True Patriots and The Art of War (both run approximately ten minutes apiece) are quick glimpses into the production of the film, both filled with brief snippets of cast and crew interviews. You learn little about the movie or anything historical in these shorts, which are the type one would normally see on local television when a program ran short and they needed to fill up some airtime. Both shorts are 4×3 full-screen and presented in standard-definition 480p. The quality on both is passable.
It’s easy to pick apart The Patriot as a movie, but at the same time it is just as easy to get wrapped up in it. If you can overlook its flaws, the movie makes for a decent night’s entertainment. Sony has delivered a presentation that looks good, sounds great, but blows an opportunity to deliver some quality supplements regarding the Revolutionary War. If you’re a fan of the film or are looking for a new release to show off your home theater with, I recommend you pick this up.
– Shawn Fitzgerald