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Patton : Special Edition

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 164 mins . MA15+ . PAL


George S. Patton Jr. was one of a small band of elite military commanders. His forte was armoured land combat - a pioneer in fact, spoken in the same breath as Rommel, MacArthur and Le May. He is loved and hated by his soldiers, politicians, the public and the English. Mostly he is hated and respected by the Germans. It is hard to believe a man like this existed and was given such huge responsibility. At times he is cold hearted, sacrificing his men for glory and other times full of fire and defiant to his peers. Patton is an educated aristocrat who is not a typical military man much to the disappointment of his four and five star superiors. He speaks French, reads classical literature and is a mystic who believes in reincarnation and destiny. He is also brusque, tasteless and his humour is 'salty' much to the distaste of the press and the military establishment.

It is said that the period needed a man like this - 1943 to 1945 where the American army suffered embarrassing losses due to the technically superior and at times, just plain superior German Army.

This is a project ripe for film and it focuses on Patton's life in these few years. This is largely a ‘two man band’. George C. Scott and Karl Malden must carry this film - all the other players are largely incidental. No doubt Scott becomes Patton. However Malden is an excellent foil and perhaps unsung pattern for the modern commander - a quiet and unpretentious general who elicits none of the strong feelings of Patton. However he thinks in a very modern manner emphasising supply, support and his soldiers’ well being over glory. Malden is Omar Bradley, Patton's protege and later superior and eventual equal. Bradley too is intrigued by his friend who is so completely alien to his own personality.

It is interesting to watch a Patton who is swept up in glory and destiny face off against Bradley who is the quintessential military 'public servant'. As time progresses, the dynamic changes and teacher and student become colleagues and best friends. It is perhaps not ironic that Patton would die early and mysteriously while Bradley would live a long life and act as technical consultant on this project.

This film is complete with colourful although perhaps not 100% accurate portrayals of the English and German combatants. The English are portrayed as a bit comedic in constant edge with their 'new' American friends - like 'old money' forced to work with the gauche 'nouveau riche'. The Germans are the ones who ultimately respect Patton more than the bureaucratic and political Americans.

The script is a gem, full of bon mottes and coupled with some comedic turns that tends to lighten what is a serious biography. Scott revels in the delivery of every line, every nuance, especially the potentially offensive ones. His six minute speech at the beginning sets the tone for what sort of a brash and salty character he really is. He was nicknamed 'Blood and Guts' and that's what he sounds like. Look at the quotes I’ve chosen…

This film runs a long 2 hours 45 minutes. It is however expertly and evenly paced, there is never a lull even though the battles never reach the fever pitch of other films. Like Patton, there is a certain detachment of the commander from the battlefield. The film even feels a bit short with a rather abrupt ending. Perhaps fitting since Patton would want his biography to end as a General and not as a civilian.


Video is 2.35:1 anamorphic and of consistently high quality. Colours and contrast are very strong with distinct hues from the Oscar nominated cinematography. This is a film dominated by colours and the settings. Schaffner also directed 'Planet of the Apes (1968)' and the effective use of landscape and setting is apparent here as well. The transfer serves that well with strong depth of field and limited grain which helps render the settings very well. This is important as the film jumps from North Africa to Western Europe to Italy to England to the snow. Every setting is expertly rendered from the finely shaded sands of the African desert to the deep green foliage of Sicily. It certainly is a shame to howitzer blast such beautiful scenery. There is lack of deep primary colours due to the nature of the film, however they are particularly strong when represented such as on the six minute opening speech which is backed by the red and blue of the American flag.

There are limited instances of edge enhancement and very slight aliasing on certain repeated patterns such as medallions and some vehicles. I am surprised there are not more compression artefacts given the extended run time. Borders are strong and well defined. The tanned German tanks stand out from the sandy background (which is not what camouflage is about I'd expect!). There are limited night sequences except for one pivotal scene so black/shadow details are not a concern.

Colours are extraordinarily varied. As a war film, you expect the green olive drab of uniforms and tanks. However there are numerous varying shades of green and tan from the massive variety of armoured vehicles and uniforms from the three combatant groups; the US Armoured Cavalry, the English armour, the Afrika Corps and their control back in Berlin. There is also limited use of period black and white newsreel footage.

This film is shot in 'Dimension 150' which is a 70mm format with an enormous 150 degree field of view. It is meant to be served up on an 'Imax' style curved screen. There are some instances where the field of view is so wide that the edges seem a little bowed or even fisheyed. One standout sequence is the classic tank battle between Patton and Erwin Rommel (the 'Desert Fox') - this is shown in a wide expanse with the 'general's view' overlooking the battlefield, an obvious homage to classic battlefield sequences diverse as the American Revolution to ancient Rome.

The tanks are presented clearly as are the various smoke and flak airbursts. I felt the translucent smoke in the many battles were particular well served. I've rarely seen such a unique and all encompassing view of the battlefield. Clearly these sorts of vistas deserve the widest, largest viewing screens you can muster.

In any case, the 70mm Dimension 150 film stock presents an excess amount of resolution and colour for the relatively limited 720x576 we see here. I have a sneaking suspicion this is off a pristine archival print. This is why it looks so good.

The military historian is well served by this transfer - the variety and accuracy of the armoured vehicles is extraordinary. I'll let you wonder where they amassed such a large and rare collection of WWII era vehicles and then, blow them up!. Even the limited use of aircraft is correct with a pair of German bombers in two major scenes. The only glaring instance is the use of 50/60's era US tanks representing the US and German forces because I don't there is a single authentic WWII German tank in existence. It is fitting that one of the tanks shown in the film is actually called the 'Patton' as its official designation by the US Army (the M48 for the pedantic).


The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 at 384k/s which exceeds the fidelity of the original magnetic tracks. You would never mistake the limited musicality or weapons effects for a modern digital track. The voices however are very clear without the need to ever strain. There are limited surround and subwoofer effects with most of them seeming a bit obvious and seemingly remixed digitally. The planes show strong rear directional panning at odds with the rest of the soundtrack. Tanks and weapons do not boom although the constant sounds of war are typical of films of that era. Explosions are loud but lack the impact of a modern epic. This is an accurate depiction of the confusion of battle. The music however uses strong mid-bass with influences from other war films, medieval and even a Roman army type flavour.

Because this is a 'tank' film, you'll be hearing the constant clanking and squeaking of tank tracks and turrets. I found the audio to be commendably error free and of consistent high quality considering age.

"Pastor: General, do you read the Bible?...
Patton: Every Goddamn Day! "


The first disc has an 'audio essay' that runs for approximately 120 minutes. The essay is a treatise on Patton's life by Charles M. Provence who is the founder of the ‘General George S. Patton Jr. Historical Society'. What you will find is that the essay fills in the blanks such as his career after the war and the childhood and life of the man prior to World War II. If you're a military historian, you will find it fascinating. This is not a commentary per se; there is no insight into how the film was shot however he does give a lot of historical background on the film's battle sequences.

There are three trailers on the first disc, none all that exciting. One for 'Patton', one for 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' and one for 'Longest Day'.

The second disk is probably one of the smallest capacity discs I've seen at just 2.5 Gigabytes. It has a 49 minute documentary on the 'making of' and it's full frame and stereo. It is a very thorough analysis with luminaries such as Oliver Stone and Fox executive Richard Zanuck describing the influence of 'Patton' on contemporary film.

Also included on the secondary track is the full Goldsmith musical score - it runs 49 minutes and is 192k/s stereo. It's a very good score that complements the film very well. It's a welcome inclusion and something I wish more discs had although I realise it's not too popular with studios as it detracts from soundtrack CD sales.

All in all, a limited but high quality set of extras given the extreme run time of the film. A good comparison is another Fox title - Terrence Malick's 'The Thin Red Line' which also runs at extreme length and as such, packs in very few extras on a single disc. The second disc is necessary for such epics.


Firstly, here's a rundown of the awards it won.

Academy Award winner:

  1. Actor (Scott),
  2. Art Direction (McCleary, Parrondo; Set Decoration: Mateos, Thevenet),
  3. Directing (Schaffner),
  4. Film Editing (Fowler),
  5. Best Picture (McCarthy, Producer),
  6. Sound (Williams, Bassman),
  7. Writing (Story and Screenplay-based on factual material or material not previously published or produced) (Coppola, North).

Academy Award nominee:

  1. Cinematography (Koenekamp),
  2. Music (Original Score) (Goldsmith),
  3. Special Visual Effects (Weldon).

Clearly an impressive tally. Scott did not pick up his award due to artistic differences. This dual disc set is value. It has something for the war film fan and even more for the propeller head military historian. It is not a war film per se; you might even find the battle scenes sometimes done too artistically or even short. It is however THE biographical film and I doubt you'll ever find such an expertly delivered DVD of an almost flawless piece of cinema.

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      And I quote...
    "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country, he won it by making the other poor bastard die for his country."
    - Tony Lai
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