Updated: Feb 21, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) The Continental soldiers and the South Carolina militia celebrate a victory over the British. (2) Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin, a composite of three South Carolina militia leaders.
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2000, R for war violence; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Commentary with director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin on the 4K
DIRECTOR ROLAND Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin, the blockbuster team behind “Independence Day” and “Stargate,” were stuck without a movie after their disastrous “Godzilla” (1998). The one scheduled hit a major roadblock.
When a script from Robert Rodat, who had just received an Oscar nomination for “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), miraculously became available for a read, they Immediately saw the similarities between the emotional Revolutionary War epic and “Private Ryan”: Both set fictional and factual characters within a historical backdrop.
Benjamin Martin visits the grave site of his wife Elizabeth.
“The Patriot” surrounds pacifist farmer Benjamin Martin, a South Carolina widower with seven children and a veteran of the French and Indian War, “who battles the sins of his past, with fears they will return to visit him,” says Emmerich during the commentary.
Mel Gibson was drawn to the project to play Martin. “He responded to the personal and spiritual story and moral conflict,” says Devlin.
Rodat says Martin is a composite of three South Carolina militia leaders: Brigadier Gen. Thomas Sumter, Capt. Andrew Pickens and Brigadier Gen. Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion, who led surprise attacks against the British.
Some academics criticized the fabrication, including Professor Sean Busick, an American history at Athens State University in Alabama, who said in an article for Smithsonian.com that “one of the silliest things the movie did was make Marion into an 18th century Rambo.”
After my initial viewing back in the summer of 2000, I had my own nagging questions. Emmerich and Devlin cleared at least one of them in their commentary.
Critics felt the Utopian harmony between Martin and his “workers” was not authentic. “We made the decision to show Martin, who had made the moral decision not to be a slave owner when it wasn’t politically correct,” said Devlin.
But the other problem – every American speaks in 21st-century cadence – isn’t addressed. Check Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” or Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” to get an idea of period speech patterns.
Still, overall, “The Patriot” is an authentic, $100 million flag-waver with marvelous photography by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, John Williams’ sweeping score and a booming sound, all of which received Oscar nominations.
The battle scenes are a rough watch. “It’s the feeling of a couple thousand men playing Russian roulette” with muskets, cannonballs and bayonets, Emmerich says in the featurette “The Art of War.”
British actor Jason Isaacs, who plays the brutal Col. William Tavington, calls the warfare “terrifying – the formality, marching in a line, firing … then having to reload when someone’s standing 30 yards away firing at you.”
More than 1,000 extras and 70 horses were used at a single time on the field. “Everything was big, huge, enormous,” says stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell.
Five featurettes are carried over from earlier editions onto the 4K, a first for Sony. One focuses on the impact of cannonballs on the human body. “Without sound and music, people starting screaming during the dailies,” says Emmerich.
“The Continentals, the Patriots, were fighting for a reason,” says the late Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight"), who plays Martin’s oldest son, Gabriel. “They had passion, fire in their bellies. They had a reason to win.”
In the featurette “The True Patriots,” Rex Ellis, a historian at the Smithsonian, says the Americans, not the British, experienced the largest number of casualties. When the filmmakers visited the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., Devlin got access to a uniform from the war.
“I was holding it, I noticed in the collar there was sweat stains,” he says. “That was the sweat to fight the war to win our country.”
The film opens in 1776, as the Declaration of Independence is about to be signed, “Things look very, very dark for the Patriots,” says Rodat. The British have taken Camden, S.C., and it looked like Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis was going to move north and link up with Lieutenant-Gen. Henry Clinton and annihilate Gen. George Washington and his troops. The South Carolina militia makes an enormous sacrifice of keeping Cornwallis and his troops from moving.
A convincing supporting cast includes Chris Cooper as Col. Harry Burwell, Tchéky Karyo as French officer Jean Villeneuve, who is loosely based on Lafayette, Tom Wilkinson as Cornwallis and Joely Richardson as Charlotte Selton, Martin’s sister-in-law.
The 4K mastering of “The Patriot” is superb, with exceptionally fine detail evident from the natural film grain scanned from the original 35mm camera negative in 4K (2.39:1 aspect ratio) from the Super 35 format.
The HDR toning provides deep, deep blacks from the candlelit interiors and shafts of light to a number of night scenes without losing detail. The colors are rich and saturated and wonderfully composed, and Deschanel’s warm tones infuse a South Carolina barrier island, home to a Gullah village of escaped slaves and freedmen, with life. The digital effects shots adding soldiers and horses are seamless.
For inspiration, Deschanel and Emmerich spent hours watching John Ford’s “The Searchers,” with its Technicolor palette of warm colors composed against the spacious landscape.
The 4K includes the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which expands the soundstage to your height speakers during the big battle scenes. The ambient sound effects are clear and the dialogue is direct from the center. Williams’ orchestrated themes blend with Gullah folk tunes.
Susan (Skye McCole Bartusiak) finally speaks to her father.
There’s one scene that still gets me every time. It’s when Martin’s 6-year-old daughter finally speaks to him after being silent for months. She tries to convince him not to go back to the front lines:
“Papa! Papa, don’t I’ll say anything! I’ll say anything you want, tell me what you want me to say and I’ll say it … Papa, please don’t go.”
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
The Martin family farm is being rebuilt.