Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Patriot: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar

In the emotionally-charged adventure The Patriot, Academy Award-winner Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin, a reluctant hero who is swept into the American Revolution when the war reaches his home and threatens his family.

A hero of the fierce French and Indian conflict, Martin had renounced fighting forever to raise his family in peace. But when the British arrive at his South Carolina home and endanger what he holds most dear, Martin takes up arms alongside his idealistic patriot son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger of 10 Things I Hate About You), and leads a brave rebel Militia into the battle against a relentless and overwhelming English army. In the process, he discovers the only way to protect his family is to fight for a young nation's freedom.

Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Chris Cooper, Adam Baldwin, Rene Auberjonois, Donal Logue, Tcheky Karyo, Tom Wilkinson
Box Office: Budget: $110 million. Opening Weekend: $22.413 million (3061 screens). Gross: $113.053 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 28 chapters; rated R; 165 min.; $27.95; street date 10/24/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary from Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin; Visual Effects Interactive Featurette; 9-minute "The Art of War" Featurette; "True Patriots" 9-minute Featurette; Conceptual Art to Film Comparison; Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary from Filmmakers; Photo Galleries; Theatrical Trailers; Talent Files; Production Notes.
Purchase: DVD | Novel - Stephen Molstad | Score soundtrack - John Williams | Poster

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/A/B+

Where have I heard this before? Mel Gibson plays a charismatic man who others want to lead a revolution against tyrannical forces. He demurs because he wants to care for his family but when the blood of his kin is shed, he becomes a lean, mean killing machine and quickly is targeted for execution by his enemies.

Nope, I'm not discussing Braveheart, though one can be forgiven for thinking about it. In The Patriot, Gibson returns to the well for another period drama in which he corrals men to fight for what's right. Instead of 13th century Scotland, however, The Patriot lands Mel in late 18th century America during the Revolutionary War.

Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a fictional warrior who made a name for himself during the French and Indian War. However, it wasn't a completely positive name, as it's clear he performed some unspeakable actions during that crusade. In any case, he wants no part of the new conflict but enters the war on the side of the Americans once his family is threatened.

And it's all fairly predictable stuff once that happens. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Patriot stems from the filmmaking team behind. Director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin were responsible for science-fiction/action flicks like Independence Day, Godzilla and Stargate. They may seem out of their element with this sort of period piece, but they handle it reasonably well. Emmerich lacks subtlety as a filmmaker but he can execute action sequences with skill and aplomb, and those parts make The Patriot reasonably exciting and entertaining through much of its running time.

Some issues occur related to that length, as The Patriot lasts nearly three hours. The seems excessive and the film feels bloated and tedious at times. There are some subplots that seem gratuitous and tacked on to the structure, such as with a bigot and a slave, or with the budding romance between Martin and his dead wife's sister (Joely Richardson). A lot of the characters come across as general stereotypes and lack much life.

Actually, few of the characters - big or small - seem well-developed, and most appear forgettable. Even Gibson's Martin is a pretty drab role; he gets a few good moments of serious bloodlust, and Gibson can play that kind of psychokiller part well. However, he does less well with the heartfelt moments. He managed these acceptably in Braveheart but is less successful here. Gibson works best when he can play an extreme, whether it be a nutbag or a generally comedic role, which is why he was so successful in the Lethal Weapon movies. He offered decent work here, but I didn't find him to be terribly charismatic or compelling.

Easily the most effective work in The Patriot comes from Jason Isaacs as nasty British Colonel Tavington. Despite the foppish costume with which he's burdened, Isaacs provides a terrifically energetic and sinister presence. The role has the possibility to become silly or campy, but Isaacs imbues Tavington with fire and menace. I won't say he single-handedly makes the movie interesting, but he adds a lot of spark to the proceedings.

As with virtually all Devlin/Emmerich films, the best parts of The Patriot involve its action sequences. Things turn somewhat to mush during the "personal" scenes, but the movie's battles and skirmishes are all well-executed and exciting. They deliver the expected bombast and adrenaline-pumping thrills and help make the less-scintillating parts of the film more palatable. The action doesn't quite reach Saving Private Ryan levels, but it gets the job done.

My only complaint would be that these segments are a bit too few and far between, and many of them seem somewhat brief. The Patriot lasts nearly three hours, so there was plenty of run for detailed battles, but these tend to be pretty quick and dirty. They work nicely when we see them, but - sicko that I am - I could have used more violent, nasty action.

In the end, The Patriot is a serviceable but unspectacular film. Ironically, it's a better-made piece than anything done by Devlin/Emmerich to date, but I like it less; for all their flaws, I thought the team's science-fiction offerings were a lot of fun. The Patriot provides some occasionally-stirring entertainment, and I like the fact we have a modern film that involves the American Revolution - we don't see that very often - but my reaction toward it remains fairly unenthusiastic.

The DVD:

The Patriot appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not free of problems, The Patriot almost always looked excellent and it presented an outstanding picture.

Sharpness appeared flawless at all times. Never did I notice any soft or murky images, as the movie always seemed crisp and detailed. Moiré effects and jagged edges provided no concerns, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV were minor. Print flaws also seemed minimal. I detected a couple of speckles and maybe one or two instances of black grit but that was all; otherwise the picture looked free of defects like grain, scratches, hairs, tears, or blotches.

The Patriot boasted a nicely naturalistic palette that came through wonderfully on this DVD. I especially cared for the colors seen in the various uniforms; we witness some excellent blues and reds in the clothes, and the green tones of the many outdoor settings also looked lovely. Black levels seemed terrifically deep and rich, and contrast was fine. Shadow detail also appeared clear and clean, with no concerns related to excessive opacity. The movie used some exquisitely warm and dappled sunlight to create solid lighting effects, and the DVD shows them well. All in all, the image seemed fantastic.

Even better was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Patriot. Prior Emmerich/Devlin films offered killer mixes, and though it's not quite as flashy as Independence Day or Godzilla, The Patriot also delivered excellent quality. The soundfield seemed extremely expansive and engaging throughout virtually the whole film, with audio placed precisely in the environment. All five channels appeared extremely active, and they also blended together smoothly and cleanly; sounds moved between speakers naturally and the entire package created a very strong soundstage.

Not surprisingly, the battle sequences stood out as the best. These provided the broadest environment and the most distinctive uses of sound. Gunfire flied around me and I felt totally involved in the war right down to the accentuated drumbeats. The track also maintained nicely effective ambiance during quieter moments, and the entire package seemed very engaging.

Audio quality also appeared excellent. Although much of the speech must have been dubbed, I never felt it sounded awkward or artificial. Dialogue came across as distinct and natural, with no problems related to intelligibility. Music sounded clear and smooth; John Williams' score was bright and bold, and I especially loved the warm but crisp tones accorded the snare drums during battles.

Of course, those segments sounded the best. The mix provided extremely clean and accurate effects that packed a solid punch. Though the track became filled with the sounds of warfare, these elements never displayed any hints of distortion or shrillness. They seemed clear and detailed and presented some deep bass as well; the low end on this DVD could be quite rich. Ultimately, The Patriot offered a tremendously fine auditory experience.

The Patriot includes a smattering of supplemental features, starting with a running audio commentary from director Emmerich and producer Devlin. Their prior track for Independence Day is often regarded as one of the worst commentaries ever regarded; critics slammed the pair for the many dead spots during the track and also because their statements were rather unengaging even when they did speak. Personally, I thought it was a listenable commentary, but I understood the points made by those who felt otherwise.

Unfortunately, this ended up as one of those "be careful what you wish for - you just might get it" situations, as Emmerich and Devlin prove much more talkative during the commentary for The Patriot. On the positive side, Devlin often seemed fairly intelligent and thoughtful. Much of the time he justifies the historical alterations and liberties they took and lets us know some basics of the actual situations; these snippets were fairly helpful. However, I enjoyed it less when he essentially just described the on-screen action and tried to embellish these accounts with some interpretation; since The Patriot isn't exactly a "deep" film, these discussions were largely unnecessary.

Nonetheless, Devlin's part of the track was fairly interesting and listenable, especially when compared to Emmerich's statements. Emmerich establishes himself as perhaps the least articulate man on the planet during this track; I've never heard the words "like", "you know", and "sort of" used so frequently! They're literally constant companions during his remarks, and they make his statements almost unintelligible; whatever points he made became lost in the morass of excessive verbiage.

Please examine the following verbatim quote and you may understand what I mean: "It's simply a fact, you know, that this happened, I mean, there was like kind of extremely young kids in the war effort and there's also like kind of this moment where like kind of you have to... you have to, where he has to, the character has to kind of like make this moral decision, now he's only kind of set on kind of like kind of trying to kind of rescue his son and, uh, he knows that he, in a way, he has to kind of do everything you know to get his son, and one kind of choice is to give his, uh, kids like guns to try to help him distract, you know, the soldiers from him while he, you know, so it's more possible for him to kind of like kind of save him."

This sentence - yes, that's only one sentence - offers a representative sample of Emmerich's remarks. I rest my case.

The Patriot features a number of video programs about the film. A nine-minute and 50-second piece called "True Patriots" provides some light history about the era with a few factoids. Mainly we hear from the filmmakers; comments appear from producers Mark Gordon and Dean Devlin, writer Robert Rodat, and costume designer Deborah Scott. To add some historical credibility, we find Rex Ellis of the Smithsonian; he tells us that the filmmakers have done everything possible to make the movie accurate. Maybe, but that doesn't make this featurette any less "puffy" and promotional. Essentially the documentary exists to convince us that The Patriot is "serious history", and while the show is mildly entertaining, it doesn't really achieve its goals.

A more general program appears as well. "The Art of War" runs for nine minutes and 40 seconds and provides an overall look at the making of the film. We hear from a mix of cast and crew, including actors Gibson, Heath Ledger, and Isaacs, director Emmerich, and stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell. The shows provides a decent view of the movie, but it doesn't give us any depth or insight. I enjoyed the parts that detailed how the battle scenes were shot, but otherwise this is a standard promotional puff piece that touts the movie but does little else.

The DVD presents seven deleted scenes. Each of these runs between 70 seconds and almost three minutes for a total of about 12 minutes and 45 seconds; since all of the clips can be viewed with or without commentary from Devlin and Emmerich, this means we get a potential of 25 and a half minutes of material. All of the deleted scenes are at least mildly interesting, but none adds a whole lot to the film. They offer some slight embellishments to a few characters, particularly the kids and Tavington, but the ultimate result is that we learn nothing particularly new about them. The commentary gives us basic details about why the segments were cut but mainly the two just discuss what we're watching.

One additional video program appears. This is the "Interactive Visual Effects Featurette". In this area, we see and hear some details about two different effects scenes from The Patriot: "How a Patriot Loses His Head" lasts two minutes and 22 seconds and covers the cannonball beheading shot, while "Recruiting a Digital Army" runs one minute and 47 seconds and looks at how the massive numbers of soldiers were created. For each scene, we can choose from three different aspects of it; the other two run in small sub-boxes in the lower half of the screen while your choice fills the upper half. All of them are narrated by visual effects supervisor Stuart Robertson. Overall, the coverage of the effects is fairly superficial, but this segment provides a decent look at the topics.

Two trailers appear on the DVD. We get the "teaser" for The Patriot as well as its full theatrical trailer. Say what you will about the films from Emmerich and Devlin, but they do create some effective publicity materials. Though neither matches up to the terrific trailers for Independence Day, both clips are good, with the teaser being the better of the two, largely because it lacks the lame voice-over narration that starts the full promo.

Another area offers ten different "Photo Galleries". Two of these address the film's hunky leads (Gibson and Ledger), while the others are more general collections of snapshots from the making of the film. Each section provides between five and 15 pictures for a total of 110. You can jump to any of the areas individually, or if you just click through any of those you pick, you'll continue to next through an infinite loop. The photos are pretty dull, frankly; most are just shots of the action depicted in the movie, and even in the "Behind the Scenes" section we don't find any fun or revealing images.

Much more interesting is "Conceptual Art to Film Comparisons", a fairly fun and creative feature. Here we find 13 different conceptual paintings done for the film. Press "play" on the screen and you'll get to see a few seconds of footage that corresponds to the art. This was a great way to present this material and it made some potentially drab information intriguing. I hope more DVDs use this style, as it works well for the subject.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Columbia-Tristar produce some of the lousiest "Talent Files" in the business. We find listings for Emmerich, Devlin, writer Rodat, and actors Gibson, Ledger, Richardson, Cooper and Isaacs. As usual, these provide only very rudimentary listings and are pretty useless.

Rounding out the DVD are some brief but fairly interesting production notes included in the booklet. These provide a few details that weren't available elsewhere and they merit a read.

By no stretch of the imagination can one consider The Patriot a great film, and it features quite a few flaws. However, I found it to offer a fairly interesting and exciting ride, and though its nearly three-hour running time makes it drag on occasion, it usually kept me pretty focused. The DVD provides absolutely terrific picture and sound plus some very nice extras. The Patriot definitely deserves at least a rental, and folks with a strong interest in either the subject or the actors may want to consider a purchase.

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