The Patriot

The Patriot (2000)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Chris Cooper
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Photo Gallery, Concetp-to-film Comparison, Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files

After visiting the horror genre in the early stages of his career, and then going into space and science fiction, for the first time, director Roland Emmerich has recently ventured into the period pieces, creating the sweeping historic action-adventure "The Patriot." What is most fascinating about it is that this story about one of the most important moments in American history has been brought to vivid life by the most unlikely of people, so to say. A German director and an actor who grew up in Australia – Mel Gibson. Now, Columbia TriStar Home Video is presenting "The Patriot" on a Special Edition DVD that not only contains the film itself, but also offers a number of interesting supplemental features.

Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is a veteran of the Frontier Wars who has put down his weapons and his anger to raise his seven children after his wife passed away. But the times are rough and war seems once again imminent. King George of Britain is having a firm grip on the American colonies, while the colonies want their independence. Ben refuses to go to war again, after the massacres he has seen in the past, but he is unable to stop his son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) from enlisting to the army. As he had predicted, this war is waged close to home and among them, and before long Ben and his children can see the battle ranks from their own home. Helping the wounded, among which is his son Gabriel, Ben suddenly becomes the target of the British Army. Treated as a traitor, Ben even has to watch as one of his sons is killed by a brutal British officer, and is so drawn into the war against his will.

He joins the Patriots and is determined to bring freedom to his country, as well as to revenge his son’s death. Side by side with Gabriel, he recruits a small Militia of dedicated and loyal men, trains them for combat and begins taking out the British with guerilla tactics. He soon reaches mythical status and the British make it one of their top priorities to find and put an end to the Militia. When they keep failing, the British revert to brutal and inhumane tactics, and suddenly the tables seem to turn. In one huge battle General Cornwallis is finally facing off against the Patriots, hoping he could put an end to this "inept" war, as he calls it.

One thing to understand is that "The Patriot" has never tried to be historically accurate, so any criticism in that direction is without value. However, the film attempts to be authentic and I feel that it succeeds in that quite admirably. While people in the film may never have lived to fight these battles, there were others just like them, who did. "The Patriot" brings to life these characters, gives them motivation and shows us once again how inhumane wars are no matter where, when or for what cause they are fought. The film is quite gruesome and explicit at times driving this message home even further. At the same time, it makes it clear, just how important freedom was to those people, as the British oppression was barely tolerable.

Mel Gibson brings a lot of sensitivity to his part of Ben Martin and makes the perfect lead for the film. The actor has an undeniable aura of heroism and tangible humanity that is so important to achieve the dramatic impact this film tries to make. More than once our hearts break as we watch this father struggle in his fight to keep his family alive and out of harm’s way. We feel his pain as his friends and comrades die around him, and we empathize with his fury towards the British. Despite the tragedy and drama, Gibson also manages to bring in some comic moments to relieve the tension, but not once do these moments feel inappropriate or out of place. Just like in "Braveheart," Mel Gibson nails this part of a human and emotionally charged hero against his own will.

Another thing that is remarkable about "The Patriot" is that it uses a very strong personal story to shows us just how fierce the Revolutionary War was. At the same time it allows for beautiful vignettes on the side that not only enrich the story, but also show how the events have actually changed the people at the time. The term the New World is coming up a few times in the movie and the filmmakers manage nicely to show just how endless the opportunities were when America finally gained its freedom, weaving these statements in the context in a very subtle way that blends naturally with the story.

Shot on location in the Carolinas, the film offers incredibly lush visuals that make up the perfect setting for the movie. From the colored fall leaves to blooming cotton fields, the South is the perfect backdrop for this story that lends even more authenticity to the overall film. Combined with the elaborate costumes, the massive battle scenes and carefully placed special effects, "The Patriot" brings the American Revolution to life.

Columbia TriStar Home Video presents "The Patriot" in a 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer on this DVD. The print that was used to create this presentation is expectedly clean and stable, creating an image that is devoid of blemishes, scratches or other source artifacts. Highly detailed and mostly without grain, the transfer faithfully restores the magnificent images the filmmakers have created for this epic movie, and every bit of detail is nicely reproduced on this DVD. The colors are magnificently vibrant and rich, and always without oversaturation. The lush tinges of South Carolina, the cotton plantations, the forest and swamps, and of course the elaborate costumes, everything is coming to life in this presentation in its full beauty. Skin tones are naturally rendered as well, making this a wonderfully rich transfer. The blacks in the presentation are deep and solid, without losing detail, even in the darkest shadows. There is no pixel break-up evident anywhere and even the most gloomy indoor scenes have a natural level of shadow definition that is beautiful to behold. The only problems that are evident in the presentation is the use of edge-enhancement to create a slightly sharper image. Unfortunately at times the image appears overly enhanced, with unnaturally harsh edges, overly sharp contours and clearly visible ringing artifacts. Fortunately these problems are limited to selected scenes only and the majority of the 165-minute film are free of such distracting artifacts. The compression is good without noticeable <$pixelation,pixelation>, leaving the picture’s high level of detail nicely intact.

"The Patriot" comes with a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby digital> audio track, as well as a <$DS,Dolby Surround> track in French. From the first moment you will be engaged in this rich presentation that makes very active use of the full 5.1 set-up. Surrounds are used very frequently and aggressively for sound effects, creating fierce battlefield scenes with highly directional effects. At the same time, the track manages to create atmospheric swamp settings that feel alive through the use of ambient effects. With a great bass extension, the track has quite some power to offer and the thundering cannons are presented with exemplary realism in this mix.
Overall, the track has a very natural quality, adding to the realism of the film itself. With a wide frequency response, everything sounds just the way you’d expect it to. Dialogues are well-placed and perfectly integrated. Always at an understandable level, the dialogues are flawlessly recorded – ADR loops are virtually undetectable – and entirely free of distortion or sibilance.
The film features a beautiful music score by John Williams. It is one of his most elaborate pieces of recent memory and fully complements the film. Harsh at times, soft and somber at others, Williams not only manages to hit the right notes at any given time, but also expands the scope of the film, making many of the emotions more palpable, thus substantially enhancing the drama. Presented in a very wide and also directional surround mix, the score is masterfully presented on this DVD, featuring great dynamics and a wide frequency response.

Among the supplements on this disc you can find a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin. The <$commentary,commentary track> is full of valuable information and insight that makes the movie even more fascinating. Both are very at ease, talking about all kinds of aspects, ranging from the cast, to special effects, historical background, technical details as well as simple production anecdotes. Without pauses, the commentary spans the entire film and is always highly informative and entertaining.

Also part of the release are three short featurettes covering different aspects of the film. The first one is dedicated to the special effects. Taking two separate scenes from the movie, this featurette gives you access to footage in varying stages of completion, complete with an <$commentary,audio commentary> by visual effects supervisor Stuart Robertson.

The second featurette is called "The Art Of War" and takes a look at the way wars were fought during the American Revolution. Using lines of rifles that were able to mow down lines of people, these fierce moments of history are sometimes hard to envision, and while "The Patriot" makes these moments vividly present, this featurette adds additional understanding to the ferocity of these battles. With interviews by the cast and crew members, the featurette also takes a look at how these battle scenes were staged in the film.

The third featurette is called "The True Patriots" and takes a look at "The Patriot" in the context of history. Although the film is not based on true historic events, the characters depicted are drawn from real-live people who fought in the Revolutionary War. With comments by historians from the Smithsonian Institute – who also helped with the research on the film – this featurette tries to stress the authenticity of "The Patriot" – successfully so, I may add.

A photo gallery is also part of the disc that contains a large number of production stills, as well as behind-the-scenes photos from the set, and studies of the costumes and characters of the different armies and townspeople.

On the second page of the Special Features – which is somewhat hidden and accessible only through an almost invisible arrow at the top of the screen – you will find a selection of deleted scenes, a concept art to film comparison, the movie’s theatrical trailer and a selection of talent files with biographical information of cast and crew members. The deleted scenes are presented in <$PS,widescreen>, and are mostly expanding on existing moments in the film. With some of them it is hard to fathom how they would have affected the overall perception of the film but most of them are interesting to see nonetheless. There are seven scenes in total that can be viewed with their original audio track, or an optional commentary.

"The Patriot" leaves a great and memorable impression. It is rich and very well prepared, and the feature presentation is top notch on this DVD. With the added insight offered by the commentary and the featurettes, it is easy to acknowledge the drama and tragedy this war has caused, just like every other war. By giving this story the strong personal note that it has, "The Patriot" manages to bring the pain close to home without ever becoming sentimental. The film may not be a true historic recollection of events but it is in the spirit, heroic, beautiful and emotional, containing everything you would expect. I think it goes without saying that every American patriot should see this film and learn from it, especially since it is coming in such a beautiful presentation from Columbia TriStar Home Video.