The English Patient (Collector's Edition DVD)
Directed by Anthony Minghella
The English Patient is a masterful epic of romance, art, music, history, and war.
A Novel Idea
Infused with the passion of its makers, The English Patient is a multi-layered drama that works on many levels. It's an unabashed romance, it's an erotic drama, and it's also a good old-fashioned adventure of archaeology and foreign cultures set in the 1930s.
Because a large portion of the film takes place in the desert and because it has the scope and feel of an epic, The English Patient is oftentimes referenced in the same sentence as Lawrence of Arabia, the king of all desert movies. Their stories, though, are polar opposites. The English Patient is a story of love and its many flavors. Lawrence of Arabia has only shadowy references to the emotion in its full-blown account of war and the rise of an aloof mapmaker to master strategist.
Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient is that rare case of a book being transformed into something more – and, arguably, something better – on the silver screen. While the book does have its loyal fans, it is itself a curiosity, a poetic work many deemed un-filmable.
All You Need Is Love
Full of its own artistic flourishes, The English Patient uses graceful, clever transitions as it moves between the characters' past and present circumstances. On the itinerary are the varied kinds of love and the different emotional destinations to which they can take you.
First and foremost, there's the all-consuming and dangerous carnal love, as played out by Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes, Schindler's List) and Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas, Mission: Impossible). There's also the equally self-destructive obsessive love between Katharine and her possessive husband, Geoffrey (Colin Firth, Girl with a Pearl Earring).
At the other end of the spectrum, though, there's the sweetness of youthful, courtly love felt between Hana (Juliette Binoche, Chocolat) and Kip Singh (Naveen Andrews, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love). An even more innocent take on love lies between Hana's nursing duties and her patient, the badly burned Laszlo.
Along the way, the love felt among friends, the love felt among soldiers, and even the love felt between men can all be found within The English Patient's tapestry.
Finally, and on a broader scale, there's the romance the desert holds over mankind. The skyline, the colors of the sand, the paintings on cave walls, and the music of the native tribes all play a part in the seduction.
Anthony Minghella is a self-described dramatist, a man without a traditional background in film. Having previously directed only two much smaller movies, Mr. Wonderful and Truly Madly Deeply, it's exciting to see how his passion for the project combined with filmmaking's top talents created this modern-day masterpiece.
The new 2-disc Miramax Collector's Series edition finally offers a thorough look at the making of the film, a veritable celebration of the talent and quasi-serendipity that culminated in the film's release. This new DVD relegates the original, bare bones DVD, released during the format's infancy, to the obsolete bin.
While the presentation and organization of the supplements is in spots sloppy, the content is excellent.
Disc One features two running commentaries. One, with director Anthony Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz, and novelist Michael Ondaatje, was recorded for the 1997 Criterion laserdisc. The other, with a solo Minghella, was recorded last year, during post-production on Cold Mountain and eight years since Minghella had last seen The English Patient.
Both tracks are worthwhile. Across the two commentaries, Minghella pulls off the neat feat of talking for more than five hours about the movie and only occasionally repeating himself. As with Terry Gilliam's commentaries, listening to Minghella is akin to taking a course in filmmaking from the comfort of your sofa.
Disc Two spends nearly 3 ½ hours dissecting the English patient and the rest of the cast and crew via a slew of documentaries and interviews.
Most notable of the supplements is the section entitled Master Class with Director Anthony Minghella - Deleted Scenes. It's a rather pretentious title for Minghella's introduction of a few of the scenes that didn't make the final cut, along with his explanations as to why they were removed. While this section was also on the Criterion LaserDisc, the DVD will be able to reach a far greater audience and the scenes are actually quite good.
Next up, the documentary entitled Black and White to Colour: The Making of The English Patient, made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, offers plenty of filmmaking insight in addition to the standard behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. The documentary also incorporates footage cut from the final film and not included in the previously mentioned deleted scenes segment.
The DVD also includes a brief segment on the real Count Almasy. It's a good segment that provides more historical heft to the man Ondaatje used as a springboard for creating the tapestry that is The English Patient.
The bulk of the remaining supplements are rather awkwardly presented collections of interview segments. A section on Ondaatje is broken down into several separate interview snippets, but there's no "play all" option, making it somewhat tedious to hear all the author has to say.
The same criticism can be made of the DVD's collection of conversations with the principals (Minghella, Zaentz, Ondaatje (again), and editor Walter Murch). The information contained in the conversations is great, but the choppy presentation could have easily been made much smoother.
Among the tidbits of interest are Minghella's comments on the accolades the film received and how such a reception could never be duplicated, not even with an extended cut of the film. Granted that the film's initial release was a case of the right movie at the right time, an extended cut would nonetheless certainly be an interesting film to see, based on the deleted scenes shown in the supplemental segments.
Also on board are individual segments on Zaentz, still photographer Phil Bray, production designer Stuart Craig, and still more chatter in a section entitled From Novel to Screenplay – Interviews with Cast and Crew.
Finally, the complete text of reviews by Roger Ebert, Peter Travers, and David Thomson are included simply to reaffirm the film's greatness.
Picture and Sound
The film (in widescreen 1.85:1 enhanced for 16x9 televisions) is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. The picture is, naturally, a vast improvement over the older disc's transfer, but it does suffer from some artifacts. It is harder to find fault with the sound, however, which effectively recreates the sweep, mystery, and swoon of the theatrical experience.
Also available are Spanish, French, and English subtitles.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.