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. This disc represented the second DVD release of The Patriot. The original DVD came out about 19 months prior to this one and crammed an audio commentary and a lot of video extras onto its single platter. Despite all of that material - and the long running time of the feature itself - The Patriot provided a very satisfying visual and auditory experience.
However, apparently the good folks at Columbia-Tristar (CTS) thought they could improve upon this presentation. As such, The Patriot - as well as some other films - has been reissued as part of their “Superbit” collection. According to the booklet that accompanied some other Superbit DVDs, this line offers “the highest standard for picture and sound available on DVD” with “higher bit rate for better picture resolution than standard DVD”.
Those are some lofty goals - would the DVDs reach them? After all, The Patriot already looked solid. As with many other Superbit DVDs, The Patriot seemed a little stronger in some areas, but it failed to provide a tremendously improved image.
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 I also noticed no signficant signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed minimal. I detected a couple of speckles and maybe one or two instances of black grit but that was most of it. Surprisingly, the Superbit picture seemed a little grainier than the original DVD; perhaps the extra fire-power afforded by the additional space helped reveal flaws that were obscured on the other disc. The grain never seemed heavy, but it was visible at times.
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 showed them well. All in all, the image seemed fantastic.
Did the Superbit edition top the old one? Yes, but only in small ways. The picture looked slightly tighter and better-defined across the board. It took on a smoother quality in general. However, most of the original’s problems related to the minor print flaws, and they remained here. As such, the DVDs earned the same grades because they showed the same problems. Nonetheless, The Patriot remained a very good visual presentation.
Even better were the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks 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 fight 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 original DVD only included the Dolby Digital mix; the DTS track is unique to this new disc. Did I hear any differences? Actually, the DTS version did seem slightly superior. It packed a better low-end punch, and the soundfield appeared a little better integrated, with more cleanly blended audio. I preferred the DTS track, but I didn’t feel the differences were significant enough to warrant a variation in grade between the two; they remained very similar.
The Patriot comes as part of CTS’s new “Superbit Deluxe” line. The first few waves of Superbit titles totally omitted any supplements, which was the main complaint against them. The Deluxe discs offer an attempt for DVD fans to have their cake and eat it too, as they provide the same space-optimization behind all SB packages along with some supplements.
However, don’t expect a perfect world, for the Deluxe version of The Patriot still omits some extras from the original disc. I’ll get to those later; first I’ll cover what we do find on the new release, all of which reside on DVD Two.
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 of material. 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, 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. Visual effects supervisor Stuart Robertson narrates all of them. Overall, the coverage of the effects is fairly superficial, but this segment provides a decent look at the topics.
Updated note: my review for the original DVD only mentioned the two segments I just listed. However, a perusal of the Superbit Deluxe version shows that it includes three additional demonstrations. We find “Presto! It’s 1776”, “Ocean City? No Problem”, and “Getting More Bang For Your Boat”. The segments work the same as the prior two. Are these new to the Superbit Deluxe DVD? It doesn’t look that way. They all appear on a second page within the “Interactive Visual Effects Featurette” section, and I’d guess I just missed the icon that indicated the second page existed. I checked other reviews, and those mentioned five segments in this section. Apparently, I’m not perfect - who knew?
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.
Finally, we get a few Talent Files. The DVD offers 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.
So what does the Superbit Deluxe edition of The Patriot omit from the original? In addition to some production notes from the DVD’s booklet, we lose an audio commentary from director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin. That sounds like a bad thing, but for those of us who actually listened to the track, we don’t miss it too much. The commentary included a few interesting points, but it lacked much depth and it suffered from the insanely inarticulate ways of Emmerich. Taken from my original review, please enjoy this statement that demonstrates Emmerich’s speech patterns:
"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." You try to sit through almost three hours of that!
Of course, other DVDs will lose more useful commentaries, which makes this new line less than optimal. Audio commentaries are my favorite form of supplement, so their omission is a general negative for me. Nonetheless, the “Superbit Deluxe” line is a step in the right direction. The new release of The Partiot doesn’t eliminate all of the concerns I had about prior Superbit discs, but at least it packages most of the original DVD’s extras. The movie itself seems decent but unspectacular. The filmmakers lack the depth to make it truly memorable, but it packs some good sequences, and the DVD works well. Despite a few flaws, it combines very good visual quality and excellent sound with a fairly positive roster of compelling extras.
The Patriot is a tough recommendation to make, and not simply because I didn’t particularly like the movie. For those who might enjoy it, the question becomes which DVD to get: the original or the Superbit Deluxe one. While both provided excellent picture and sound, the Superbit one did slightly surpass the old release in both areas. However, the single-disc version provided the potentially superior collection of supplements since it provided an audio commentary. Normally that would be enough to sway me toward the original disc, since I love audio commentaries. But since the track heard on The Patriot isn’t very good, I think the Superbit Deluxe offering is the way to go. It doesn’t provide huge audio and video improvements, but they’re there, and the loss of the commentary doesn’t seem like much of a negative in this case. I don’t think I’d encourage owners of the original disc to repurchase this one, but fans new to the DVD will probably be happiest with the Superbit Deluxe version.