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Braveheart: Special Collector's Edition DVD Review

Braveheart (1995) movie poster - click to buy Braveheart

Theatrical Release: May 24, 1995 / Running Time: 177 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Mel Gibson / Writer: Randall Wallace

Cast: Mel Gibson (William Wallace), Sophie Marceau (Princess Isabelle), Patrick McGoohan (Longshanks - King Edward I), Catherine McCormack (Murron), Angus Macfayden (Robert the Bruce), Brendan Gleeson (Hamish), David O'Hara (Stephen), Ian Bannen (The Leper), James Robinson (Young William), Sean Lawlor (Malcolm Wallace), Sandy Nelson (John Wallace), James Cosmo (Campbell), Sean McGinley (MacClannough), Brian Cox (Argyle Wallace), Peter Hanly (Prince Edward)

Buy Braveheart from Amazon.com: Special Collector's Edition DVD Sapphire Series Blu-ray Disc


By Aaron Wallace

The star of Mad Max and the Lethal Weapon series, Mel Gibson was an unlikely candidate for one of modern cinema's most significant auteurs, yet with just three major films to his directorial credit, that is exactly what he has become. That's largely thanks to 2004's The Passion of the Christ, a controversial work that garnered more attention and debate within the United States than any movie in recent history and shattered box office records along the way. In 2006, he followed it up with the less sensational but more critically acclaimed Apocalypto. Neither would likely have ever come about if not for Gibson's first triumph as a director, Braveheart. The 1995 film, in which Mel also starred, made only $75 million domestically, a modest sum even then, barely turning a profit.
Worldwide, though, it took in more than $210 million, earned critics' praise, and went on to receive ten Oscar nominations and five wins, including the prize for Best Picture and, for Gibson, Best Director.

Since then, Braveheart has earned widespread acceptance and performed well on home video. The film associated Mel Gibson with the violent historical epic, a genre he has repeatedly returned to and mastered as both actor and director. It has also made the story of Scottish hero William Wallace known to a vast audience that won't soon forget it.

Braveheart begins as a love story. William Wallace (Gibson) returns to English-occupied Scotland in hopes of settling down, proposing marriage to a childhood acquaintance, Murron (Catherine McCormack), and trying to win approval from her parents. His nearing happiness is thwarted when the king of England, "Longshanks" Edward I (Patrick McGoohan) issues a decree giving English nobles sexual rights over newlywed Scottish women. William and Murron are forced to marry in secret but the English aren't deterred and when William defends his bride by beating advancing soldiers, he becomes an enemy of the state.

William Wallace (Mel Gibson) surveys the formidable odds against him while contemplating FREEDOM! Murron (Catherine McCormack) sets her eyes on the returning William Wallace.

Enraged by the death of his wife, Wallace goes on the advance against English troops, quickly forming an armed rebellion that sets fire to English bases and sends word to the king that Scotland will be captive no more. Eager to quash the rebellion but preoccupied by his efforts to expand his empire to France, Longshanks leaves his son (Peter Hanly) and newfound daughter-in-law (Sophie Marceau) to deal with Wallace, who proves himself a capable leader and warrior in a series of gruesome battles with the English, despite the considerable odds against him.

As is often the case with historical films, Braveheart is as much fiction as it is fact. The factual discrepancies have been well documented by historians, as have those plot points which could have actually happened but most likely did not. A film first and history lesson second, though, Braveheart manages to keep within a reasonable realm of veracity while refusing to suffer from a rigid application of fact.

With an excellent script by Randall Wallace, Braveheart is a convincing, involving, and inspiring tale. It loses some of the emotional pull it could have carried by rushing too quickly from William's position as grieving widower to his position as crusader for freedom. It doesn't necessarily follow that a man whose wife is killed by the English will lead his countrymen to rebel against the English. The film makes that assumption, though, and while it's fair to say that the protagonist is effectively portrayed as the kind of hero who would make that leap, the character's journey from individual actor to national actor isn't really developed on-screen.

The evil king Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) takes a firm hand to his passive son, Prince Edward (Peter Hanly). Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau) bids her father-in-law a bitter farewell.

Braveheart is nevertheless affective, particularly in its haunting ending. As responsible for this as the script is Gibson's masterful performance in the lead role. He portrays William Wallace with youthful vigor and selfless valor, filling the bill for a proper epic hero. The cast of relative unknowns (then, at least) surrounding the star is no less excellent. Together, they create a wholly believable atmosphere, enhanced by costuming, beautiful scenery, and James Horner's wonderful score.

Gibson's greatest success with Braveheart is, however, as director. Magnificently shot, the movie knows just when to pull back, move in close, or cut.
The numerous battle scenes stay personal, though often horrifically gory. Turning away before crossing a line to excess, sensitivity and sensibility are constantly on display. The battles here aren't the displays of hectic camerawork and mass confusion that they are in so many other action movies. When warriors aren't being beheaded or impaled, impressive cinematography is on display, ensuring that the film remains visually satisfying throughout.

Though not quite a masterpiece, Mel Gibson's Braveheart is a memorable film that marked an impressive effort for the director, helming here for only the second time. Given its success and popularity, it's a bit surprising that the movie's first re-release to DVD comes in 2007. The first release on the format was a much-awaited but somewhat low key disc issued in 2000. That's been upgraded to a two-disc Special Collector's Edition from Paramount, complete with a new restoration and bonus features, all profiled below.

Buy Braveheart: Special Collector's Edition on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French,)
Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired,
French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 18, 2007
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Black Keepcase with Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also Released on Sapphire Series Blu-ray

VIDEO and AUDIO

The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 displays. The Special Collector's Edition offers a new, digitally remastered transfer. Without the original disc, I can't say much in the way of comparison between the two, but those who own both generally seem to report considerable improvement in the new transfer and the screencaps I have seen confirm that.
The picture on this new DVD isn't quite perfect but it is rather good. It's evident that this isn't a brand new film, with slight grain and softness creeping up on occasion. Overall, however, the transfer is a solid one, showing deep but appropriately contrasted color and minimal problems. Even on a large display, I was pleased with the video.

The movie is given a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround soundtrack which, like the video, is less than perfect but still pretty good. It's most lacking in the bass department, where it has something to offer but not as much as one would like. Channel separation, however, is excellent, with dialogue emanating from the front and score and effects in full force in the rear speakers. When battle breaks out, the sound of clashing armor fills the air. While dialogue could be louder, the bass could be bolder, and the audio could be more vibrant all around, the surround sound experience that the DVD provides is satisfactory enough.

Screenwriter Randall Wallace talks about his own Scottish heritage and the writing of Braveheart in "A Writer's Journey." Mel Gibson and editor Steven Rosenblum work feverishly towards a final cut in "Alba Gu Brath!: The Making of Braveheart." One of many artist renderings of what the real William Wallace might have looked at that are seen in "Tales of William Wallace."

BONUS FEATURES

Disc One's lone bonus feature is a feature-length audio commentary by Mel Gibson, apparently carried over from the previous DVD release. For someone who both starred in and directed the movie, Gibson doesn't have a lot to say. There are extensive periods of silence and when he is talking, it's low-pitched and not always easy to hear. When the battle scenes arrive, the track grows moderately less reticent. An A-list actor like Gibson might not have been expected to sit down for a commentary, so it's nice that he did. The track would have been much better, though, if someone else had been paired with him to spice things up.

Disc Two offers a number of featurettes, the first of which is "A Writer's Journey" (21:29). In it, screenwriter Randall Wallace talks about his descendancy from the real William Wallace (something he and this reviewer have in common), the trip he took to Scotland that inspired him to tell this story, and the decisions he made in crafting the script. It's the rare DVD that spends so much time with a screenwriter one-on-one and this interesting interview is among the set's better offerings.

"Alba Gu Brath!: The Making of Braveheart" (49:49) is a new making-of documentary that acts more like a production diary. Though a new interview with Mel Gibson is featured throughout, most of the time is spent on the set or in the editing room with the director and his editor, Steven Rosenblum. Various 1995 interviews are repeatedly relied on as well. While the glimpses into the production are interesting and the interviews all relevant, it's unfortunate that a more comprehensive documentary with more recently produced material wasn't produced.

"Tales of William Wallace" (29:58) is a featurette on the hero's life as it is actually believed to have transpired. Informative, fair, and reasonably comprehensive for its runtime, this is an enjoyable piece that should be mandatory collateral viewing for anyone who sees Braveheart.

Patrick McGoohan, perhaps scarier when out of character than as Braveheart's evil King Edward I, gives an on-set interview, one of several cast conversations found on the new Special Collector's Edition DVD. Mel Gibson directs Catherine McCormack, as seen in this black and white still, part of the photo montage featured on the Braveheart: Special Collector's Edition DVD. Like all the menus on the new Braveheart DVD, the 16x9 main menu is very classy looking.

"Archival Interviews with the Cast of Braveheart" is exactly what it sounds like. The interviews (14:34 in all), which come from the set during the 1994 filming, are seven in number: James Robinson (Young William), Catherine McCormack (Murron), James Cosmo (Campbell) and Brendan Gleeson (Hamish) together, David O'Hara (Stephen), Angus MacFadyen (Robert the Bruce), Patrick McGoohan (Longshanks) and Peter Hanly (Prince Edward) together, and Sophie Marceau (Princess Isabelle).
The interviews are nice to hear but don't contain much more than the "My character is..." lines that are typically heard in publicity pieces. Reflective interviews, rather than archival ones, would have been much better.

"Photo Montage" (6:30) zooms in and out on a series of mixed-color and black & white photographs from the production of the film. As the pictures rotate, a bit of James Horner's score plays. While it seems like an easy way for the studio to pad the number of bonus features, it's still better to have it included than not.

Finally, there are two theatrical trailers (1:35, 2:50) on the disc, which are always fun to watch. These are especially good, even by today's standards, so it's great that Paramount carried them over from the previous release. The two trailers, the commentary track, and a short documentary ironically entitled "A Filmmaker's Passion" is all that the previous DVD release offered. That documentary has been dropped in favor of the newer and longer one on this set. Everything else on the Special Collector's Edition is exclusive to this new release.

The discs, which are silver and nondescript in typical Paramount style, are housed in a black keepcase that features nice-looking cover art and a cardboard slipcover that repeats that cover art. The 16x9 main menu is the same on both discs, a minimally animated but classy-looking screen that features a selection from the score. The sub-menus are also nicely designed but are silent and still.

William Wallace talks politics with Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfadyen), the man who would be king. William Wallace: Scottish warrior or UNC Tar Heels fan? You decide. Donning his famous blue face paint, Wallace commands his troops to hold as the English soldiers surge against them.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though hampered by a hasty transition from love story to a tale of patriotism, Braveheart is a very good movie that you've likely seen by now. Easily overcoming its weaknesses with an excellent cast, score, script, and director, it's surely a title that you'll want to be a part of your DVD collection. Paramount's new Special Collector's Edition offers a remastered transfer and a slate of new bonus features. The former is worth more than the latter, as only a couple of the extras show much effort on the studio's part. Still, even without the abundance of older material that is recycled here, the featurettes on the screenwriter and the real William Wallace are alone enough to warrant considering the new edition. The set's value is increased by an audio/video presentation that falls short of perfection but pleases on the whole. Taking all that into account along with the movie itself, the DVD easily earns a recommendation in spite of its flaws.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Mel Gibson: Apocalypto | Mel Gibson's Other 1995 Film: Pocahontas: 10th Anniversary Edition
New to DVD: Zodiac: 2-Disc Director's Cut Eastern Promises Stardust
Paramount's Special Collector's Editions: Chinatown Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary John Grisham's The Rainmaker

Featuring The Cast of Braveheart:
Patrick McGoohan: The Three Lives of Thomasina Treasure Planet | Brendan Gleeson: The Village
Catherine McCormack: 28 Weeks Later Renaissance | David O'Hara: Oliver Twist (1997)
James Cosmo: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe | Brian Cox: Iron Will

1995 in Film: Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition Crimson Tide: Unrated Extended Edition A Goofy Movie The Big Green

The United Kingdom:
The Queen Greyfriars Bobby Dear Frankie Gargoyles: The Complete First Season
King Arthur: Director's Cut - Extended Unrated Version | The Tudors: The Complete First Season

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Reviewed January 3, 2008.



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