The American Society of Cinematographers

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The Duchess
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Patton (1970)
Blu-ray Edition
2.20:1 (High-Definition 1080p)
Digital Dolby 5.1
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $39.98

“I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life,” barks notorious World War II General George S. Patton Jr. (George C. Scott) when speaking about war in a scene in Patton, a drama directed by Franklin J. Schaffner that is both a sweeping war epic and an intimate biopic. Tracing U.S. skirmishes with German troops in Tunisia through battles throughout Europe to the infamous Battle of the Bulge (when Patton’s long-suffering troops stoically ripped through Germany), Schaffner’s film paints a portrait of a military legend whose grim tactics and determination polarized Americans and instilled fear in the enemy. Patton made no apologies for his brusque handling of his troops, believing that their fear of him would inspire them to excel on the battlefield. “All real Americans love the sting of battle,” he insists in one of his many speeches. Paradoxically, the authoritarian and aloof general was also a deeply spiritual man who believed in reincarnation.

When producer and former military officer Frank McCarthy and 20th Century Fox studio head Richard Zanuck brought Schaffner aboard Patton, the director set out to make the film as authentic as possible, using the real European locations and tapping cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, ASC (Billy Jack, The Towering Inferno), to help bring a sense of realism to the film. Using the Dimension 150 process — a short-lived child of the Cinerama and Todd-AO widescreen systems — Koenekamp was able to provide crisp, beautifully composed, nonanamorphic imagery on a 2.20:1 canvas that captured the scope of battle as well more intimate moments with amazing clarity. On more than 60 locations throughout Europe, Koenekamp vibrantly brought the past to life, sometimes using up to six cameras simultaneously to capture the well choreographed combat sequences. The cinematographer’s vivid work on this landmark film earned him an Academy Award nomination as well as the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award honor in 2005.

In the wake of three DVD editions (released in 2000, 2001 and 2006), 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment recently re-released Patton on the Blu-ray format. This new 1080p HD image transfer is both a revelation and a bit of a shock. While the color balance is extraordinary — with bold primaries that really jump out, and incredibly sharp detail in the highest-contrast sequences that sometimes resemble a solid 70mm film projection — the absence of grain makes the images feel artificially enhanced and occasionally look “ultraprocessed.” Some fans might find this of little concern, as the striking color and sharpness in detail are a revelation when compared to the previous DVD transfers, but others might find the clean look too distracting. The 5.1 audio track is a solid surround effort, considering the film’s age. 

Among this package’s supplements are the terrific bonus materials from the 2006 Collector’s Edition DVD, which are included in this package on a standard-def 480p DVD. This platter features three excellent documentary segments: the 90-minute “History Through the Lens,” made for A&E in 2000, features interviews with Zanuck, Koenekamp and others; the 46-minute “Patton’s Ghost Corps” is an eerie collection of remembrances from the general’s surviving troops; and the 49-minute “Making of Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” originally produced for the 1997 laserdisc, offers interviews with Zanuck, Koenekamp, lead actor Scott, Oliver Stone, composer Jerry Goldsmith and others.

In addition to the feature, the Blu-ray disc offers a brief video introduction and a feature-length commentary by screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola, who offers his insights while acknowledging how unusual it is to be the commentator on a film one didn’t direct. Rounding out the supplements are the film’s theatrical trailer and two collections of stills, one accompanied by Goldsmith’s full score, the other by an audio essay read by historian Charles Province.

The exhaustive supplements shed much light on not only the production but also the complicated, fascinating soul behind the mask of the general whose nickname was Old Blood and Guts. This fine, arresting presentation is bound to please most longtime fans of the film and will certainly garner new ones from the digital age.  

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