The true life story of a doctor with an unorthodox bedside manner is superbly captured in this comedy drama starring Robin Williams as Hunter "Patch" Adams. The downtrodden man voluntarily commits himself to a mental institution after nearly committing suicide, but while there realizes his life isn’t all that bad compared to some of his fellow patients. After helping a roommate overcome a debilitating phobia, Patch discovers that he has a knack for helping people in need – and soon leaves the institution in order to follow a new career as a physician.
Although the oldest one in his class, the brilliant doctor-to-be clicks with some of the other medical students who he cajoles into helping him lighten the mental state of even the most seriously ill cases. The problem is, his professors don’t feel that infectious laughter and a lively personality are good traits in their hospital staff and threaten to stall his scholastic progress. So what’s a good medical student to do? Sneak yourself in… and if all else fails, open your own facility!
In an unusual move sure to confuse buyers, Universal has released Patch Adams in three separate editions at the same time. First, there’s a $30 "plain Jane" pan-and-scan edition that includes naught but a theatrical trailer and production notes. I almost purchased this version until I noticed another package with a $35 price tag and gold banding across the top – the proverbial "Collector’s Edition," which includes an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen film transfer along with numerous extras that I’ll cover later. Finally, there’s a DTS-audio version that includes the same widescreen transfer as the deluxe pressing but (due to space constraints) nothing else.
The quality of the anamorphic edition is very good with rich, deep colors. There is very little evidence of dirt, lint, grain or chroma noise, producing a very pleasing image with fantastic detail and clarity. Minor vertical aliasing affected one or two scenes with sharply contrasting vertical lines. Save for three minutes of an outdoors scene in chapter 10 when the background flashes between bright and dark, black levels are calibrated perfectly.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.0 for both English and French languages, sans a dedicated subwoofer track. The sound mix is very good with a clear, prominent dialogue track that did not suffer from any background hiss. Though drama-comedies have little use for surround sound, the split channels were used adequately for general ambiance and musical score. English captioning is provided.
The extra features begin with an informative commentary starring director Tom Shadyac. His dialogue is presented on both of the stereo channels, while the original soundtrack can be heard at a moderate level on the left channel alone. The bonuses continue with a 17-minute original documentary titled The Medicinal Value of Laughter, which delves into the science behind the movie. Divided into six chapters (the insert lists seven), it features interviews with cast members and the "real" Patch Adams and includes behind-the-scenes footage. It’s even captioned. An unadvertised bonus appears when you press "Marc Shaiman’s musical score" before you start the documentary: a hidden soundtrack with 21 minutes of uninterrupted music from the movie is played. But the icing on the cake is a five minute long outtakes reel with memorable goof-ups.
Page two of "Bonus Materials" (in case you missed the little arrow) contains text production notes, cast and crew biographies and filmographies. Under the director’s entry you’ll find the theatrical trailers for Liar Liar and The Nutty Professor. The original theatrical trailer is presented in full screen video and stereo sound. Rounding out the disc are animated interactive menus featuring full-motion previews for each of the 18 chapters. All told, the disc contains 7.7 gigabytes of data.
Though I don’t agree with the two-tier pricing structure Universal has taken with this release, this Collector’s Edition is well produced with useful extras and a great transfer making it worthy of inclusion in your DVD library.
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on August 25, 1999.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
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