Braveheart
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (22nd January 2008).
The Film

Did you know that Mel Gibson was actually popular (and loved) as a star and as a director back in 1995 before his recent drunken antics? He was lavished praise and accolades for his directorial effort "Braveheart." The film became an Oscar darling of that year pinching 5 Academy Awards including the prestigious "Best Picture" award and "Best Director" award. It doesn't come as a massive surprise, after all the film has all the makings of a Hollywood epic that the industry loves so much. The scale is grand, the story is grander and based on true events it also features a fine cast and enthralls the viewer in its photography and score. But to cap it off the director is an actor and the Hollywood community loves to heap praise onto its actor/directors and have rewarded them in the past examples include Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty and Richard Attenborough have all, like Gibson, walked away with a "Best Director" statuette from the Academy. Another trend it seems, is that most of these wins were all awarded among some controversy (Both Costner and Redford pinched their awards away from Martin Scorsese who until recently was snubbed several times is the most obvious one) but Gibson's film was the clear frontrunner and it won deservedly. I wonder how things would have turned out if Terry Gilliam had said 'yes' to directing this film? (He was originally approached for the job perhaps when the film was originally set up at MGM).
"Braveheart" tells the story of William Wallace (Mel Gibson) a common Scotsman who secretly weds his one true love Murron (Catherine McCormack), when one day Wallace comes to her aid fighting off soldiers that wanted to rape her, in order to capture Wallace for his action the English Lord brutally murders Murron but this sparks a battle that eventually grows into outright rebellion against the English and a desire for freedom from the brutal King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan) also known as Longshanks who desires nothing more than to put an end to the war and kill Wallace once and for all.
The film begins with Wallace as a child being taken away by his uncle Argyle (Brian Cox), it is his uncle that teaches him to use his brain first then a blade second, and this influence led him to be the man he became. The film's script follows a natural progression from getting revenge for the murder of his wife to leading a nation of Scotsmen against the English all for the name of freedom. Although these events are based on real people there is no factual material that has survived about the real William Wallace, it is because of this that the screenwriter, Randall Wallace used creative license in many scenes and situations as well as used a 15th Century Poem entitled "The Wallace" written by a minstrel named Blind Harry to write the script. Whether the events are constructed or not the script touches on every emotion and delivers an impassionate tale, however there was one character moment I took issue with; Wallace started his fight by avenging the death of his wife, a woman he said was his only love yet in the middle of all this he sleeps with Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau) who has fallen in love with the freedom fighter. It seems so wrong that scene be in the film considering not long after when he's being tortured he finally sees his love once again grasping onto the embroidered cloth she gave him when they wed. Aside from that flaw, as an epic grandiose tale the film is near perfect (historical inaccuracies aside).
Gibson displays an expert hand at directing, considering his only other directorial effort was the much smaller scale "The Man Without A Face" (1993), then again he had years of acting experience and having been around other directors no doubt helped. Everything from the performances including Gibson's own but especially his supporting cast which includes James Cosmo, Angus Macfadyen, Brendan Gleeson and David O'Hara to name a few add memorable turns in the film. Additionally the scenery is captured by the breathtaking photography of John Toll and battle scenes can overwhelm and give the actors unparalleled space to play in.
The ultimate draw card for this film is that it has appealing qualities for both sexes, there's a romantic plotline and a grubby manly looking Gibson for the ladies and plenty of violent sword swinging action for the guys. It balances these elements quite well maintaining a flow that manages to capture interest for the near three hour duration, a rarity among films. "Braveheart" is one of those films you can watch over and over and never get tired of, its themes of freedom and how it can be attained are universal and the lengths that people will go to in order to achieve it always makes for empowering viewing.

Video

This is the second time this film has been released on DVD which for a film of this caliber is surprising (as some films have seen multiple releases on DVD), with a new release comes a new transfer as the cover boasts a "digitally re-mastered" print. The film's previous transfer was very good, although not as perfect as one would have liked and this new transfer presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen is certainly a major improvement. The film's opening shots feature a bit of grain and specks that don't open the film with a lot of confidence but soon after the image is pristine, sharpness is very good and detail is nicely displayed. Colors are striking and skin tones appear natural and while the majority of the transfer is fairly excellent I felt that a lot of interior scenes inside the castles were a bit too dark losing some shadow definition. Otherwise blacks are bold and the majority of the transfer is clean, a few specks and bits of dirt aside. It's a vast improvement over the previous release and especially looks good up-scaled to 1080i in my HD player. I only wish that Paramount would have also released this on HD DVD as well.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. This film is a rousing epic so big sound is necessary; this 5.1 mix is as aggressive and active as they come. The battle scenes erupt with a ferocity that immerses the viewer right in the middle, utilizing the full surround spectrum to create an exciting experience. When not in battle the track adds ambience to the film's many external shots of countryside, from the wind that blows through the trees to the sounds of men in the background these elements add depth to the film's soundtrack that is furthermore expanded with the film's score.

Optional subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

Paramount has released this 2-disc set along with an audio commentary, two documentaries, a featurette, archival interviews, a photo montage and some theatrical trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

The only extra on this disc is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Mel Gibson. This track was previously available on the first DVD release. Gibson is not really that chatty as there are a lot of gaps in this track as the actor-turned-director comments on various aspects of the production revealing trivia and providing some anecdotes but they are few and far between. The interesting aspects of this track had to do with the historical background on the story and the character as well as shooting the film in Ireland (mostly), he makes some comments about the cast and shooting large scale scenes that require the coordination of many cameras, stunts, extras, and getting performance from the main cast while juggling both the task of starring in the film as well as directing it. Although he provides some interesting information for viewers you can tell from the start that Gibson hasn't done many commentaries, this track would have benefited greatly with the participation of other cast or crew members.

DISC TWO:

First up on this disc we've got "A Writer's Journey" featurette that runs for 21 minutes 29 seconds, in this clip screenwriter Randall Wallace is interviewed and comments about the initial desire to learn about his ancestry which led him to discover the story of William Wallace. We follow the writing process and Gibson's interest in the script, the message of the movie and capturing the essence of the people, the challenges of writing a script were there is little to no factual material on the main character as well as themes and religious symbols among other things.

Next up is "Alba Gu Brath! The Making of Braveheart" a 3-part documentary that incorporates some older vintage footage from 1994 and 1995 as well as new interviews. The parts to this feature can be viewed as a whole with a 'play all' option or individually. The documentary covers the following:

- "Reviving a Genre" runs for 18 minutes 21 seconds, here we get a look at how the script inspired Gibson for many years after he originally passed on it and going back to it to not only act in the film but direct it. Features interviews mainly with Gibson about the process of directing the film, learning from other director's he's worked with in the past and his fascination with the entire process, also takes a look at the collaborators that helped him create his vision for the film.
- "The Heat of Battle" runs for 16 minutes 58 seconds and takes a look at how the filmmaker's shot the battle scenes, utilizing members of the Army as extras and goes through the process of costuming them, make-up, hair and weapons as we take a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of these complicated sequences. It basically shows the level of organization and scale of shooting an expansive action sequence as well as piecing it all together after it was shot.
- "Worth the Fight" runs for 14 minutes 40 seconds and looks at how Gibson wanted to tell the story in the best possible way, and having to be a little obsessed with the project to see it through. It provides the viewer a look at the challenges of being in front of and behind the camera as well as having good producers to help shepherd the production along among other things.

Next up another documentary is featured entitled "Tales of William Wallace" which runs for 29 minutes 58 seconds and takes a look at the real man and what the figure stands for and what he means to Scotland. The clip takes us through a history of the area and tries to uncover who he really was as they examine the legend.

Following that are 7 archival interviews with the cast of "Braveheart", these are promotional 'talking heads' that feature the cats talking about the character's they play and their motivations among other things, these clips can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' function and include:

- James Robinson which runs for 47 seconds.
- Catherine McCormack which runs for 1 minute 37 seconds.
- Brendan Gleeson and James Cosmo which runs for 2 minutes 35 seconds.
- David O'Hara which runs for 1 minute 40 seconds.
- Angus Macfadyen which runs for 2 minutes 18 seconds.
- Patrick McGoohan and Peter Hanly which runs for 3 minutes 24 seconds.
- Sophie Marceau which runs for 2 minutes 16 seconds.

Also featured on the disc is a photo montage which runs for 6 minutes 28 seconds and features photographs taken during the production cut together with some music from the film's score.

Rounding out the extras are a pair of theatrical trailers:

- Theatrical trailer 1 runs for 1 minute 35 seconds.
- Theatrical trailer 2 runs for 2 minutes 50 seconds.

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-cover.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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