Patton (1970)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Frank Latimore, Karl Michael Vogler, Siegfried Rauch
Extras: Introduction, Commentary Track, Featurettes, Still Galleries, Trailer

After more than 30 years, Franklin J. Schaffner's rousing biopic of one of America's most controversial military leaders remains a landmark film. "Patton" brings to full, colorful life the eccentric career of General George S. Patton, the World War II commander whose brilliant strategies led his men to several victories, but whose eccentric behavior brought about his own downfall. George C. Scott is electrifying in the title role, achieving the flamboyance that made Patton a prima donna, while bringing out the deeper, more spiritual side that made him a legend. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment now presents this masterpiece in a deluxe, 2-disc edition.

The film opens with one of the most striking moments in cinema history, as Patton steps out in front of a colossal American flag and speaks directly to the audience as his troops. This scene effectively lays out Patton's fanatical views of war and passionate dedication to combat. It was a daring move on the part of the filmmakers, as it could have potentially confused the audience with its avant-garde quality. The scene is so well-constructed and designed, however, that the point comes through brilliantly.
The actual story begins as General Patton is brought into North Africa to take command of the defeated Third Army. As he threateningly struts through the base for the first time, he observes the rather lax condition of the men, quickly establishing his strict protocol. When questioned by his friend and then-subordinate General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden), Patton replies, "They'll lose their fear of the Germans. I only hope to God they never lose their fear of me." This line is key in understanding the mentality behind his often radical decisions.

Patton's reputation rises as he leads the Third Army from one victory to another, catching the attention not only of his allied rival Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates), but of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler). Throughout the film, Schaffner cuts back and forth between Rommel's reactions to Patton's advancements and the main storyline. It is here that we get a lot of exposition about Patton's life and background, as the Germans discuss what kind of man they are dealing with. In a strange way, Rommel begins to develop a certain respect for him – a respect that can only be shared between military leaders.

Patton's fate changes, however, during a routine visit with his wounded troops. After awarding a Purple Heart medal to a man who has just died, Patton stumbles across a soldier suffering from shell shock. In a fit of emotion, he knocks the solder across the head with his glove, accusing him of cowardice, then threatening to shoot him. This incident (based on two historical episodes) forever changed the way Patton was treated and partially contributed to the demise of his military career.

In 1970, a film biography of a divisive general with an unabashed love for war seemed an odd venture for a major Hollywood studio to embark on. At a time when anti-war sentiments were at their peak and war films were long out of style, "Patton" managed to sweep the U.S. box office, not to mention the Academy Awards, winning seven, including Best Picture and Best Actor. Part of this success must be attributed to Francis Ford Coppola, who penned the first draft of the screenplay. Initially rejected for its decidedly odd structure, it was later resurrected and revised by Edmund North. The extensive research by both writers contributed to the remarkable authenticity of the final product.

It is almost impossible to overstate how important George C. Scott's performance is to the movie. He perfectly captures the complex nature of Patton, from his boisterous conduct on the battlefield to his Southern eloquence at the dinner table. Scott appears not to act, but to fully inhabit his role, from his profanity spewing down to the swagger of his walk. As the film ponders over Patton's devout belief in reincarnation, one begins to wonder if Scott didn't channel the spirit of the general while making this movie.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has now brought to Blu-Ray Disc the spectacular Special Edition that was previously released on DVD. Offering a high definition transfer of the movie in its original 2.20:1 widescreen aspect ratio, I swear that I did a double take when I first put in the disc. The film's opening sequence showing Patton in front of the American flag is simply mind-blowing. The image is so razor-sharp and stable that it looks as if you were looking at a static image on your computer. The colors are so rich, the edges so perfectly defined that it is hard to believe you are looking at a motion picture if it weren't for George C. Scott strutting about in front of it. It will leave you gasping.

However, this kind of stellar cleanliness in the presentation is also one the transfer's shortcomings. In order to achieve this kind of perfect look, a lot of clean-up has been performed on the transfer. You won't find a hint of film grain or dirt anywhere on this release – and I mean anywhere. It is so clean that it is unreal already. Using digital technologies the studio seems to have eliminated all grain from the transfer and while that creates a very clean image, it also has side effects. As a result skin tones look very pasty throughout the movie, as if every actor was wearing a little too much make-up, as if someone forgot to dust of the excess powder on their faces. It is kind of weird to look at Scott's craggy face, hear his throaty, bellowing voice and looking in his super-smooth, glamour-shot style face while body parts explode around him in the battlefield. I am sorry but for all the cleanliness it may have given the transfer I would have preferred the film's original grittiness and edge. Fox clearly went overboard here creating a transfer that no longer represents the original filmmakers' intentions, and while this may please the masses I do not think it is the way to treat a film.

Other than that the transfer does look fantastic with great detail throughout and strong colors that truly pop off the screen. You will see seams and details that you could never see on the DVD. I doubt you could even see them during theatrical presentations either. Contrast is wonderfully balanced with great blacks and strong highlights. There are a few minor coloration issues where shots are slightly off-colored and skin tones suddenly appear with yellow or green tinges but given the film's age and brutal length, a handful of slightly faded shots are certainly excusable.

Apart from the 5.0 Dolby Digital track that was already found on the DVD version, this release also contains a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track that makes sure every detail is coming through nicely. It is a dynamic mix with a good frequency response, especially for the sound effects. The dialogue elements sound a bit harsh at times and so does Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful score.

You will find a short introduction to the movie by Francis Ford Coppola on the release. I am not sure where they dug this one up because it looks as if someone recorded it with a 10-year old Handycam and forgot to bring a light but evidently it is always great to hear from Mr. Coppola. As such the commentary track that he contributed to the release is a godsend, filled with valuable information. For someone who wasn't on the set during production, or anywhere near the studio for that matter (he was fired), Coppola offers a wealth of information concerning both the actual movie and the real Patton's history. It is clear that he has retained the facts that he learned during his research over 40 years ago in preparation for his script.

The release contains a second disc, filled with bonus materials but – hold on to your hats here – it is actually a DVD, not a Blu-Ray disc. Yes, Fox has packaged the original second disc from the DVD Special Edition in here without any modifications. In fact, it is the exact same disc down to the 2006 copyright imprint. Clearly this is Fox's way of saving money and you'll be the judge of what to make of this. At least they do include the extras unlike some other studios that rather release bare-bones discs.

So, on this second disc, viewers are treated to three exhaustive documentaries. The first, "History Through the Lens: Patton – A Rebel Revisited," is a feature-length documentary narrated by Burt Reynolds that covers the life history of Patton and how it translated to the screen. Featuring interviews with, among others, Captain Chester Hansen (who is portrayed in the film by Stephen Young) and Robert Patton, the grandson of General Patton, this is a most enlightening feature with newsreel and behind-the-scenes footage.

For a more harrowing account of Patton's tactics, head on to "Patton's Ghost Corps." This tells the story of the Third Army soldiers who were left behind without proper equipment while Patton went off to fight in the legendary Battle of the Bulge. The survivors of this corps, now known as the "Ghost Corps," tell their horrifying stories for the first time. This documentary is in direct contrast to the robust glorification of the movie, giving a much grimmer look at the general and how his conceit resulted in the senseless deaths of several of his own men. After watching this, it is quite clear how Patton earned the nickname "Blood and Guts," something that he was both respected and vilified for. Indeed, the emotional reflections of the veterans run the gamut from adoration to outright condemnation.

The third documentary, "The Making of Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner," boasts interviews with Richard Zanuck, son of former Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck; composer Jerry Goldsmith; Oliver Stone; and audio interviews with George C. Scott and director Schaffner. Again, we have an incredible retrospective that examines the rocky history and production of the film, as well as its controversial legacy. Some see "Patton" as an anti-war film while others see it as a shameless glorification. Oliver Stone's views on the film seem almost as fanatical as Patton's views on war.

Next up we have a pair of still galleries. The Production Still Gallery, a collection of black and white photos, is accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's complete score. A Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery starts out with a series of color photos and then curiously goes back to the same black and white stills from the first gallery. This one is accompanied by a 53-minute audio essay by Charles M. Province, the founder and president of the General George S. Patton, Jr. Historical Society and author of "The Unknown Patton." This feature was originally included as an audio commentary on Fox's previous release of "Patton," and the soundtrack from the film can still be heard in the background. Obviously a great admirer of Patton, Province offers further educational, if slightly pointed, observations on the general's career.

The DVD comes to a close with a theatrical trailer. Viewers will come away from this set with more information than they probably expected to learn from a DVD, and they will be richer for it. Indeed, I was impressed by the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the features in this set and could not be more pleased.

"Patton" is a masterpiece of filmmaking, a benchmark for both biopics and war films, and an exhilarating piece of entertainment. It provides a provocative look at a figure that was hated and loved in equal measures. This Blu-Ray release, while offering a wonderful high definition picture that will surely impress you and your friends, is a mixed bag with a DVD only as the second disc and a transfer that received a little too much noise reduction. Still, I found it to be a worthy and impressive release that will find a safe place in my collection. The impressive high definition transfer alone is worth the upgrade in my opinion.