Patton appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Superficially, the movie looks very good, but “superficially” doesn’t tell the whole story.
The folks behind this transfer scrubbed the picture clean within an inch of its life. This meant a total lack of grain and a shiny, artificial appearance to much of the movie.
This became evident during the movie’s iconic opening sequence. When Patton stepped in front of the flag, Scott looked superimposed, like he’d been digitally inserted on a fake backdrop. The image almost took on a cartoony look at times and lacked the film-like feel it should’ve boasted.
Which was a shame, as other aspects of the presentation showed clear improvements. Sharpness was usually quite strong, as only minimal softness appeared. Occasional wide shots could be mildly fuzzy, but those remained rare and not a real distraction. Jaggies and shimmering presentation no issues, and edge haloes weren’t a factor. The movie also came free from source flaws and was the cleanest I’d ever seen it.
Colors looked fine. The movie came with a natural palette and seemed vivid and full. Blacks were deep and firm, while low-light shots seemed smooth. Were it not for the relentless, life-sapping use of noise reduction techniques, this could’ve been a great presentation. As it stands, the image seemed to shiny and plastic to satisfy as a good representation of the source.
On the other hand, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 was consistently pleasing for its age. The soundstage demonstrated surprising width and depth for such an old film. The stereo imaging of the front three channels appeared especially strong. Sounds were nicely placed within that area and they also panned well across the speakers. We even got a lot of accurately localized speech.
The surrounds were used sparingly but somewhat effectively. They provided a decent level of ambiance though they rarely attempted more than that. This was fine with me, especially since the front spectrum was so vivid and well-defined.
Audio quality seemed perfectly solid for a movie from 1970. Speech demonstrated a bit of edginess, but the lines were intelligible and reasonably natural. Effects also suffered from a modicum of distortion, as explosions and gunfire occasionally became a little rough. I didn’t think these issues were a real problem, though, as the elements were acceptably accurate. The score appeared pretty clean and smooth, and it featured nice dynamics. Ultimately, the sound mix of Patton was quite good for its age.
How did this Blu-ray compare to the prior 2006 DVD? Audio was a bit peppier and more full, and visuals looked superior. Even with the compromises of the excessive noise reduction, the Blu-ray appeared better defined and more vivid than the flat, dull, soft DVD. I’m not happy with the Blu-ray’s picture, but it was still better than the prior DVD.
The Blu-ray includes all of the extras from the 2006 DVD. On Disc One, we find an Introduction from Screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola. He chats about challenges related to the Patton character, his research and choices, why he was fired from the production, and how its success helped his career. This four-minute and 54-second chat acts as a decent little lead-in to the movie.
Coppola also provides an audio commentary. He gives us a running, screen-specific look at the film. First the bad news: this commentary comes with tons of dead air. This problem intensifies as the movie progresses and leaves us with an awful lot of empty spots. Coppola even acknowledges this; about 70 minutes in, he remarks that doing a commentary for a movie you didn’t direct is like being the commentator for the Rose Parade.
That’s not fair, as I’ve heard plenty of good tracks from non-directors – as well as many lousy ones from directors. At least when Coppola does speak, he usually offers decent information. Coppola discusses how he ended up on the project, why he was canned, research, inspirations, and the methods he used to organize his sources.
Coppola also goes over creating some of the flick’s most famous sequences like the opening speech, changes made by subsequent screenwriter Edmund North, and what parts of the film are real and which are invented. Coppola manages to present nice details, but the pervasiveness of the dead air makes it a tough listen.
When we head to Disc Two, we find a standard DVD that replicates the same platter from the 2006 DVD package. We start with History Through the Lens: Patton - A Rebel Revisited. This 90-minute and four-second program mixes movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We find notes from producers/former studio executives David Brown and Richard Zanuck, grandson Robert Patton, cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, aide to General Bradley Chet Hansen, military historian Col. Cole Kingseed, and WWII veteran/author Paul Fussell. We also get some archival footage, most notably a TV appearance by Charles Kuhl, one of the soldiers whose abuse by Patton was depicted in the film. We even hear from Kuhl’s dad as he reads a letter the kid sent to him about the incident.
“Rebel” examines the extremely long period it took to bring Patton’s story to the screen, adapting books about the general and dealing with the anti-war climate in the late Sixties, finding a director and casting. From there we learn about locations, issues related to recreating a war, and other production topics as well as its reception and legacy. We find out about fact versus fiction and get biographical notes about Patton as well as some about General Omar Bradley and other figures.
Those elements comprise the majority of “Rebel”, and they help distinguish it from the average “making of” program. Fans of the latter genre will get a fair amount of good information in that vein, but biography dominates “Rebel”. It examines Patton’s life within the context of the movie, though, so expect a lot of information about how the two intersect.
All of that makes it very compelling. I like the look at omissions from Patton’s career such as the failed “Hamelburg Raid”, and it’s good to see events in a broader context. “Rebel” melds movie making of with standard biography to become a useful program.
For the next documentary, we get the 46-minute and 35-second Patton’s Ghost Corps. In it, we hear from veterans of Patton’s unit who were left behind when he raced to fight the Battle of the Bulge. Recorded in 2004, we hear from Sgt. Harry Francisco, PFC Myron Albert, SSGt. John Milroy, PFC Robert Porter, PFC Harry Helms, Sgt. Jack Kopetz, 1st Lt. Herndon Inge, PFC Bob Kingsbury, Sgt. Ralph Reichley, PFC Richard Kelly, Sgt. Earl Carpenter, SSGt. James Carey, PFC Harold Kane, Sgt. Angelo Brucato, PFC William Foley, Sgt. Bill Peck, PFC Russell Bryant, Sgt. Jack Weakley, Sgt. Fred Nichols, PFC Paul Hemmingway, PFC Doug Benson, 1st Lt. Howard Rives, Sgt. Bill Heinlein, Sgt. Nicholas Viglione, PFC Don Mulry, PFC Oscar McLamb, Chaplain Charles H. Manning, Sgt. Gilbert Kinyon, PFC Roland Sluder, Capt. William Hansel, PFC James Blount, Capt. Robert Cassell, Sgt. Walter Turner and PFC Harry Kirstin.
The show examines the events experienced by the soldiers. Left in a holding position, they confront a lack of supplies and a severe German winter. We learn about the Army Special Training Program (ASTP), its dismantling and what happened to its members. We follow their issues and experiences in detail.
“Corps” proves quite blunt as it explores its subject. The soldiers tell their stories in detail and don’t hide their emotions. We also get a lot of footage from the period, some of which shows graphic results of warfare. We find outspoken opinions of Patton as well as the ins and outs of the soldiers’ lives. This ends up as a gripping piece of work.
Disc Two also contains a good 49-minute and 46-second documentary called The Making of Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner. This piece effectively covers a fair amount of information about the making of the film, though the title is somewhat misleading. It makes it sound as though the program will be a biography of Schaffner, whereas it spends virtually no time discussing his life other than as it related to Patton. The piece provides modern interviews with cinematographer Fred Kroenekamp and composer Jerry Goldsmith. Their comments are combined with 1970 remarks from Schaffner, actor George C. Scott and others and are mixed in with production stills, on set "behind the scenes" footage, and finished film clips.
Overall it's a solid though too brief documentary. A film of this scope could have used more time than 50 minutes, but for what we get, it's well presented. Much valuable information about the film's creation is depicted and it maintains a generally entertaining pace.
Under “Still Galleries”, we get two elements. Production Still Gallery Accompanied By Jerry Goldsmith’s Complete Musical Score runs 36 minutes and 20 seconds. Is it just me, or does it seem surprising that the score for a nearly three-hour movie takes up so little time? I guess that's because Goldsmith repeats so many motifs.
Next comes a Behind the Scenes Gallery Accompanied by Audio Essay on the Historical Patton. It lasts 53 minutes and 15 seconds as it presents notes from Patton historian Charles M. Province, the founder of the Patton Historical Society. Province's remarks are quite interesting and informative. He adds a lot of data that isn't covered by the film in that he tells us about Patton's life prior to WWII. Province also clarifies some of the events that are depicted in the film and tells us what really happened, though this doesn't happen much; it seems that the movie was pretty accurate.
While I'm sure he worked from notes, it doesn't appear that Province is just reading his comments, which adds a nicely informal quality to his statements. The track offers some solid perspective on the "historical" Patton and whets one's appetite for a full biography.
The disc concludes with the movie’s original theatrical trailer. It also opens with a preview for Jumper.
Compared to the original 1999 DVD, the Blu-ray set loses four radio ads from the prior disc as well as some alternate Goldsmith musical cues. Also absent are the newsreel clips of the real Patton that appeared on the first widescreen laserdisc release (but not the 1997 reissue). I have no idea why these fascinating clips still don't make the cut.
As it stands, Patton is one of the all-time great films, one that fully deserves its continued level of respect. It tells its tale well and benefits from many positive elements. The Blu-ray offers good audio and supplements but the image suffers from too much noise reduction and comes with a shiny, artificial look. That’s too bad; Patton remains a terrific movie that deserves better treatment than it receives here.
To rate this film visit the Cinema Classics Collection review of PATTON