The Patriot

The Patriot (2000)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper
Extras: Featurettes

After visiting the horror genre in the early stages of his career, and then going into space, science fiction and even kaiju, for the first time, director Roland Emmerich has ventured into the period pieces in 2000, creating the sweeping historic action-adventure "The Patriot." Strangely, a lot of people dismiss "The Patriot" as a poorly conceived take on American history, but frankly to me it remains a most fascinating story about one of the most important moments in American history, 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, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is presenting the extended cut of "The Patriot" in high definition also, including some of the extras from the DVD release.

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 merit. 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.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents "The Patriot" in a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer on this Blu-Ray Disc that is presented in full 1080p glory. Coming from a pristine print, the transfer is incredibly vivid and free of any defects or blemishes. 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 in this high definition presentation, down to the imperfections in people's skins or the seams of their wonderful costumes. In the wide shots of the landscape you see the leaves of grass blowing in the wind while it is easily possible to count the individual leaves on the trees. Moreover, the colors in this transfer are magnificently vibrant and rich, much more so than on the DVD version I found. The result is a stunning presentation that is orich in color and detail that it is a sight to see. 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 gloomiest of indoor scenes have a natural level of shadow definition that is beautiful to behold. Unlike the DVD version, this presentation is mostly free of edge-enhancement and creates a much more film-like and balanced look as a result.

"The Patriot" comes with an uncompressed 5.1 channel PCM audio track as well as Dolby Digital counterparts in various languages. From the first moment you will be engaged in this rich presentation that makes very active use of the full 5.1 set-up and since it is an uncompressed master-quality audio track you won't notice any shortcomings as every bit of detail and spatial integration is perfectly intact.
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 Blu-Ray Disc, featuring great dynamics and a wide frequency response, especially in its uncompressed version.

Given the film's considerable length of 174 minutes and its presentation quality, it is not very surprising that only a few extras are included. Sadly the commentary track that was part of the DVD has been omitted, but two of the featurettes can be found here. "The Art Of War" 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.

In "The True Patriots" we get to take 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.

"The Patriot" leaves a great and memorable impression, not only because it is an outstanding film but also because it is one of those films you have to see in high definition to take in its full scope and glory as the screen is awash in detail and color.
Upon viewing it 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 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.