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Anthony Minghella
Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Kristin Scott Thomas, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth
Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje

In memory, love lives forever.

Box Office:
Budget $27 million.
Opening weekend $278,349 on 10 screens.
Domestic gross $78.651 million.
Rated R for sexuality, some violence and language.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Cinematography; Best Score-Gabriel Yared; Best Supporting Actress-Juliette Binoche; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Sound.
Nominated for Best Actor-Ralph Fiennes; Best Actress-Kristin Scott Thomas; Best Screenplay.

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1

Runtime: 162 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 6/29/2004

Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Minghella
• Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Minghella, Producer Saul Zaentz, and Author Michael Ondaatje
Disc Two
• “Master Class with Anthony Minghella - Deleted Scenes”
• “A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy”
• “The Formidable Saul Zaentz - Producer”
• “About Michael Ondaatjie - Novelist”
• “The Work of Stuart Craig - Production Designer”
• “The Eye of Phil Bray - Still Photographer”
• “From Novel to Screenplay” Featurette
• Filmmaker Conversations
• “The Making of The English Patient Documentary
• Reviews of The English Patient
• Sneak Peeks

Score soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The English Patient: Collector's Series (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 25, 2004)

As a favor to my then-girlfriend, I saw The English Patient during its theatrical run. Man, it's a miracle the relationship survived that debacle. Did you ever see that Seinfeld where Elaine is forced to see The English Patient? By the end of the second screening she's reduced to screaming, "Stop telling your boring stories about the desert and die already!" That, my friends, was me, except I felt that way the first time.

Did my impressions change upon subsequent viewings? No. (Caution: my discussion includes more than a few potential spoilers, so skip ahead to the DVD-specific elements if you want to avoid these.)

Set during the late part of World War II, Patient introduces us to a French Canadian nurse named Hana (Juliette Binoche) whose friends and lovers all have the annoying tendency of getting killed. Fairly despondent, she decides to stay with a mysterious unnamed dude referred to as “the English patient” (Ralph Fiennes). His plane crashed in the desert. Badly burned, he seems to remember little about his past, which inspires some suspicions that he’s a German spy.

As he nears death, he doesn’t take the many movements well, which is why Hana chooses to hole up in an abandoned monastery with him and care for him until he dies. Apparently he remembers something about his past, as we launch into flashbacks and learn he’s Hungarian Count Laszlo de Almasy, a mapmaker prior to the War. He goes to work in the North African desert with Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) and his wife Katharine (Kristen Scott Thomas). Despite his cynical and world-weary attitude, Almasy immediately seems intrigued by the more exuberant and vivacious Katharine.

Essentially the rest of the movie follows their slow-developing romance, as we see what happens to them and how Almasy ends up in his current state. In the meantime, we check out how Hana tends to her mystery patient and also moves on, which includes a burgeoning romance with Indian explosives expert Lt. Kip Singh (Naveen Andrews). That side of things also introduces David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), a mysterious dude who has a suspicious interest in Almasy and knows of the Count’s past.

What problems persist with Patient? For one, it's just too damned long and too damned boring. Every once in a while something happens, but for the most part everyone just sits around and gabs about their dull problems. I found the characters to be wholly uncompelling, so why would I want to listen to uninteresting people for more than two and a half hours?

I never truly bought into the whole premise of the film. Here you have Almasy, a generally bitter, pragmatic, and unlikable chap. He has his life and world-view turned upside-down by the lovely Katharine, apparently the greatest siren ever to enter the desert. Almasy immediately falls for her and becomes happy and cheerful. By the end of the film, both he and her husband essentially kill themselves because they can't have her.

Unfortunately, the film never provides us with any coherent reason why these guys are so nuts about Katharine. She's pretty, and she seems reasonably intelligent and articulate, but that's about it. Almasy betrays friends and allies because of his love for her, but I never found it plausible that he would do so.

The film may have had more time to explore the rationale behind Almasy's emotions if the completely extraneous and uninteresting subplot that involves nurse Hana and her life been omitted. Essentially, Hana is an expository character; her presence is required to give the events that lead Almasy to tell his boring stories about the desert a reason to occur. Why? Why couldn't the story simply focus on Almasy and leave out her contrived romance and other personal affairs? Though Almasy's affairs held little interest for me, I cared even less about Hana; I found no reason for the scenes that included her to exist.

I also strongly objected to the hypocrisy of this and other films that address marital infidelity. At the risk of sounding sexist, I propose this: ask any woman who liked The English Patient why they liked it, and invariably the answer comes back, "It was soooo romantic!!!" Let me see if I have this straight: woman cheats on devoted mate - Katharine's husband is always portrayed as a good and extremely devoted guy - which immediately results in despair for all involved and ultimately ends with the death of all three. That's romantic?

What I find hypocritical here and with other films in which a wife cheats on a husband - The Bridges of Madison County springs to mind - is how gloriously these affairs are portrayed. When the woman cheats, it's always some fantastically romantic dalliance that makes the women in the audience swoon. When the man cheats, however, he's invariably a superficial cad who has to pay (First Wives Club, anyone?) Yes, I'm sure that there are some exceptions to this rule, but I believe it's largely on the money, and I find it to be extremely distasteful.

I also thought that The English Patient manipulated the audience's emotions as calculatedly as any cheesy horror film. This tendency was most evident in the scenes that featured Hana. Here we have a woman who loses her fiancé' and her best friend within the first minutes of the film; both of them got blowed-up. As the film progresses, she finds a new love: a guy whose job it is to disarm bombs! Good choice, baby! Needless to say, this romance sets up many scenes in which the filmmakers threaten to explode the new boyfriend (who never does go "boom"). Friday the 13th was more subtle than this.

I will admit that The English Patient has some things going for it. Overall, it's a competently made film that possesses a fair amount of style. Excepting the crude way it toys with the emotions of the audience, it tells its story reasonably well; I just have severe problems with the story itself. John Seale's cinematography has been justly celebrated; the film looks great, and despite the tedious nature of the story, the film moves at a reasonable pace.

As a whole, the acting is pretty good. As he proved in Schindler’s List, Fiennes knows how to play cold, heartless bastards, and he proves effective here. (His sobbing scenes are another matter, however.) Kristin Scott Thomas does an acceptable job, although I thought she seemed vaguely tipsy in most of her scenes. (Maybe that's why everyone loved her so - she was a good source of cheap booze.) Most of the supporting roles also come across just fine.

Most of them, which means there is at least one exception. That exception is Juliette Binoche; how she won an Academy Award for that performance is beyond me. Her acting rarely transcends the level of wooden, stiff, and unnatural. She expresses little emotion other than the periods during which she breaks down into tears; those scenes aren't stiff - they're just ridiculous. I can't recall the last time I saw more absurd-looking tears on screen. If you'll forgive me another Seinfeld reference, I see Binoche's histrionics and remember the episode in which George pretends to sob to get Susan to postpone their wedding. The difference is that George was much more convincing.

Chalk up The English Patient as one of the weaker Best Picture winners. Lovely to look at but otherwise insipid and manipulative, the movie pushes too many buttons without anything more to engage the viewer.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio A- (DTS) B+ (DD)/ Bonus A

The English Patient appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the movie mainly looked good, but some moderate issues caused a few problems.

For the most part, sharpness appeared positive. A few wider shots demonstrated mild softness, but those concerns remained minor. Instead, the majority of the flick presented a concise and well defined image. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but some light edge enhancement seemed apparent at times.

Print flaws created inconsistent problems. Much of the time passed without any noticeable flaws, though the movie was a bit grainier than I expected. However, occasionally I saw moderate defects. They seemed to come in batches, as bouts of specks, grit and blotches popped up at times.

Since much of Patient took place in the desert, I didn’t expect a broad palette, but the colors looked well delineated nonetheless. The movie replicated the sandy hues nicely, and examples of more vivid hues came across as lively and tight. Black levels also seemed deep and firm, while low-light shots depicted clear, smooth images. Without the print flaws and occasional edge enhancement, this transfer could have made it to “A” level, but they lowered my grade to a “B”.

On the other hand, the audio of The English Patient seemed more consistently satisfying. The DVD offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I found the DTS one to appear stronger. I’ll first discuss my impressions of the Dolby mix and then get into the ways I felt the DTS one improved upon it.

For the Dolby track, the soundfield seemed fairly broad and engaging. The movie presented nicely delineated stereo music and also created a good sense of environment. Much of the movie stayed with a fairly limited soundscape, which made sense given its chatty romantic tone. Those scenes displayed a solid feeling of environment and added a reasonable number of small touches to make them more believable.

The surrounds mainly bolstered those elements, though they came to life more eagerly during louder sequences. Various war scenes came across as pretty bold and engaging, as did the sandstorm. These used all five channels well and created a vivid and vibrant sense of atmosphere.

Audio quality seemed fine. Speech always appeared natural and distinctive, and I noticed no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Music was warm and rich and showed good range. Both score and songs were lively and bright. Effects also sounded clean and accurate. No distortion occurred, and they presented nice dynamics. Bass response seemed tight and firm.

All of that sounded impressive, but the DTS mix improved upon the various elements in a minor way. The soundfield came across as more active and immersive. Audio quality appeared richer and more dynamic. The differences weren’t extreme, but the DTS version generally came across as livelier and more involving, which knocked my grade up to an “A-“ from the “B+” I gave to the Dolby version.

How did this DVD’s picture and audio differ from those on the original DVD released back in 1998? Both discs featured identical Dolby Digital soundtracks, but as I already mentioned, the DTS version improved upon them. The new disc presented superior visuals as well. Although the old transfer looked somewhat cleaner, the new one appeared sharper and livelier. The original disc came across as flat and hazy at times, but those issues don’t affect the new one. Except for the increased level of source flaws, the new picture transfer for Patient seemed totally superior to the old one.

In addition to the new anamorphic transfer and the DTS soundtrack, this “Miramax Collector’s Edition” of The English Patient adds scads of supplements absent from the prior release; that one came with absolutely no extras. For the CE, we find two audio commentaries on DVD One. The first presents a newly-recorded piece with director Anthony Minghella, who offers a running, screen-specific chat. Recorded during post-production for Cold Mountain, Minghella proves to be a lively and informative participant.

The director covers many appropriate topics. He gets into the adaptation of the original work, casting and working with the actors, choosing locations and various logistical issues, themes and character issues, the score, and more than a few other subjects. Minghella provides a thorough look at the film’s challenges and gives us a fine discussion of the work that went into making the flick.

For the second commentary, we get a group track ported over from the 1997 Criterion laserdisc. This one includes remarks from Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz, and author Michael Ondaatje, all of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. The commentary mostly covers the same subjects heard in Minghella’s solo track. It gets into issues with the adaptation and comparisons with the book a bit more, and a few other new tidbits like some casting subjects show up as well. However, it largely covers the same territory. Minghella heavily dominates, as the other two men rarely add any material. On its own, it seems like a good track, though it suffers from a few too many gaps. If you only want to listen to one piece, I’d recommend Minghella’s solo commentary.

Next we head to DVD Two, where we start with About Michael Ondaatje, a collection of five featurettes. These last between two minutes, 26 seconds and seven minutes, 45 seconds for a total of 21 minutes, 55 seconds of material. These include comments from the author, Minghella, McClelland and Stewart editorial director Ellen Seligman, Alfred A. Knopf & Vintage Books published Louise Dennys, Vintage Books editor-in-chief Marty Asher, how he became a writer and his development, his success, adapting Patient, developing the story, reinventing history, and research. Ondaatje also reads an excerpt from the novel.

This collection makes me wish Ondaatje played a bigger part in the commentary. The information offers some nice background for the novel and gives us many good notes about its creation. “About” provides a solid little set of short featurettes.

”Interviews with cast and crew” appear in From Novel to Screenplay, a seven-minute and 11-second piece. It presents remarks from Minghella, Ondaatje, Louise Dennys, Zaentz, Ellen Seligman, Marty Asher, and actors Willem Dafoe, Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. They discuss challenges with the adaptation and the novel’s details. Too many movie clips and too much praise for the author pop up here, which make this an unremarkable featurette that doesn’t expand much on what we heard from the prior series of segments.

For a quick look at the producer, we get The Formidable Saul Zaentz. In this 119-second snippet, we hear about the producer from Minghella, Fiennes, Ondaatje, Juliette Binoche, and Naveen Andrews. (Sloppily, the featurette refers to the actor as “Ralph Fines”!) They tell us how wonderful Zaentz is. This seems like a puffy piece without much merit.

A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy goes for eight minutes, 18 seconds as it includes comments from UC-Santa Barbara history Professor Robert Collins and David Hall of the Royal Geographic Society. They get into facts about the historical predecessor to the movie’s lead. It’s cool to hear the ways the film paralleled reality and what the actual man did.

Split into four subheadings, Filmmaker Conversations gives us chats with Minghella, Ondaatje, Zaentz, and editor Walter Murch. The area breaks down into 27 featurettes, each of which runs between 40 seconds and 11 minutes, 59 seconds for a total of 90 minutes, 52 seconds of material. The programs cover far too many topics for me to reiterate all - or most - here, but a fair amount of useful information appears.

Since we’d already heard so much from the director, producer, and author, one might think the well was dry. However, these clips manage to present new notes that prove engaging. Among the best elements, Minghella offers a detailed exploration of his collaboration with co-workers, while Zaentz provides a good tale about how Sean Connery almost ended up in Patient. Ondaatje elaborates more about challenges with the adaptation of the novel. Murch is the new participant, and he goes over nuts and bolts subjects like his approach to editing, working with Minghella, and dealing with Patient. Not too much redundant tidbits appear here, and this conglomeration of information adds to our understanding of the flick’s creation.

More crew notes show up in the next two featurettes. We get The Work of Stuart Craig - Production Designer (three minutes, 57 seconds) and The Eyes of Phil Bray - Still Photographer (2:50). These include comments from Craig and Bray, respectively, as they cover their efforts on Patient. Due to the brevity of the programs, we don’t learn a ton, but they offer short and decent synopses of the various work. The Bray piece is the more interesting of the two simply because we rarely get much insight into the work of an on-set photographer; we see their shots all the time but don’t often hear how they achieve them.

Next we locate a program called Master Class with Anthony Minghella - Deleted Scenes. It lasts 19 minutes, 58 seconds as he presents cut sequences and gives us some comments about them. We don’t see many distinctive scenes in between Minghella’s remarks. Instead, the director chats about excised material and demonstrates the impact their removal has on other elements, as we find comments about re-editing as well as additional lost shots. This is an unusual format but it works fairly well, as we see unused snippets and learn a lot about them. None of the sequences seems terribly compelling, but the package succeeds.

After this we find a 52-minute and 58-second CBC Documentary entitled Making of The English Patient. This mixes movie snippets, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Minghella, Zaentz, Ondaatje, Fiennes, Thomas, Binoche, Dafoe, Craig, Naveen Andrews, director of photography John Seale, and choreographer Carolyn Choa.

Not much of the information provided seems unique to this program, which doesn’t come as a surprise; after the reams of prior interviews, there’s not much left to cover. However, the revelation here stems from the footage recorded during the production. We get many interesting shots from the set that help elaborate on the making of the movie. They alone make the program worth a look.

For some text materials, we go to Reviews of The English Patient. We see articles by Roger Ebert, Peter Travers, and David Thomson. All love the film, so although they provide some interesting perspectives, I wish we’d heard a little dissent.

Disc Two opens with ads for Miramax’s 25th anniversary as well as Cold Mountain. Those promos also appear in the Sneak Peeks domain along with pieces for My Voyage to Italy, The Human Stain, People I Know, and The Barbarian Invasions.

One of the dullest and most plodding Oscar winners in memory, The English Patient deserves few of the accolades poured upon it. A flat effort, it fails to engage the viewer beyond its attractive visuals. The DVD presents erratic but generally positive picture quality with very strong audio and an excellent and vast collection of extras. While I dislike the movie too much to offer a general thumb’s up, this set definitely will appeal to fans of the flick. In addition, those with the old DVD will want to upgrade to this one, as it seems superior to the prior disc in every way.

To rate this film visit the original review of THE ENGLISH PATIENT