English Patient" on DVD
not very special
By Jim Bray
Winner of 9 Academy Awards,
including Best Picture, Director, and Supporting Actress, The English
Patient is a long, lush film set before and during World War II. Based
on the novel by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, its a movie the
traditional Canadian media and elite like to tout as important, possibly
because it concentrates on being arty, preachy, politically correct, and
self-important rather than on telling a ripping good yarn.
Oh, there are a few nice (but
all too brief) flying scenes, the performances are all first rate (especially
the luminous Kristin Scott Thomas), and the production values are as befits
epic films, but I was left longing for the ordeal to end long before it
A typically Canadian type of
story (Im surprised it didnt debut as a CBC telefilm), this
is a war film that isnt about war, its about people and relationships.
Which isn't necessarily bad, but The English Patient makes the cardinal
mistake of so many Canadian stories: its boring! The audience has
to sit through 162 minutes that consist mostly of finding out into which
bed (and when) the female protagonists are going to land, while the storyline
of dangerous secrets and intrigue gets almost lost in the
Will Binoches nurse hop
on top of the burned patient and let his life end with a bang, will she
end up in a tryst with the mysterious Willem Dafoe, or seek solace in
the arms of the Sikh officer whose more dangerous liaisons are with enemy
bombs and mines?
Will the lady Katherine get
caught in her own dangerous liaison with Fiennes mysterious character?
If so, will she lose her husband, get shot by him, or face any sort of
consequences for her infidelity?
War is hell, alright, but here
except for a few brief moments the hell is mostly elsewhere,
unless you consider whos boffing whom to be the most hellish question
of the day.
To paraphrase a line from a
much better wartime-set movie, "The problems of three people dont
amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Yet The English Patient
concentrates almost exclusively on the hill of beans, and very little
on the crazy world.
Fair enough, I suppose, an
author can focus his pen on whatever subject he pleases and so
can a director. Unfortunately, I just couldnt get overly interested
in that hill of beans, despite the strong characters and performances.
The fact that The English Patient copped nine Oscars seems to me more
of a testament to a lousy crop of films that year than an outstanding
achievement by its makers.
the disc? Not surprisingly, the DVD release makes The
English Patient look beautiful. It's only offered in widescreen, which
suits us just fine, and the picture is as good as weve come to expect
from the format. Audio quality, too, is excellent.
Unfortunately, I had some problems
with this particular DVD, the chief one of which is that, on a format
that allows 133 minutes per side, Alliance video has bizarrely chosen
to spread the movie over two disc sides just as if it were a laserdisc.
Now, to be fair, a 162 minute movie would take three sides on LD, but
thanks to the dual layer technology used on DVD releases like "Contact,"
you can get the whole shebang on one side of the disc and make the lasers
transition from layer to layer virtually seamless.
I have no idea why Alliance
chose to split the movie over two sides, but it flies in the face of a
major reason to embrace the DVD format in the first place: its extra storage
space that makes all but the very longest movies accessible with no breaks
in the action.
The bilingual packaging (one
side English, one side French typically Canadian) trumpets that
The English Patient is a "Collectors Edition" DVD. Yet
collectors editions generally include extra stuff, like filmmakers
commentaries, extra scenes, outtakes, production information, theatrical
Not here. You get nothing;
the menu offers you the choice of English or French language, closed captioning,
and chapter stops. You dont even get substantial liner notes
and what you do get is only half as long as it could be because it has
to be duplicated in Canadas other official language and that takes
up half the space.
Sorry, Alliance. This just
doesnt cut it as a special edition DVD and its a pretty
chintzy package for a regular DVD (especially the silliness of having
to change sides!). Nice try, but no cigar.
The English Patient
From Miramax films
via Alliance Home Video
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