Braveheart: Sapphire Series

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Aug 31, 2009
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Braveheart: Sapphire Series

Director

Mel Gibson

Release Date(s)

1995 (September 1, 2009)

Studio(s)

Icon Productions/Ladd Co. (Paramount)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B+

Braveheart: Sapphire Series (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

“I shall tell you of William Wallace. Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes...”

And so begins Mel Gibson’s epic Braveheart, a story of love, tragedy, revenge and bravery, as the sons of 13th Century Scotland rally against English tyranny.

William Wallace (Gibson) is born a common highlander, the son of a lowly farmer, but he soon finds himself at the very eye of the storm. For Scotland suffers under the rule of the ruthless English king, Edward the Longshanks, and any attempt to resist his cruelty is met with the harshest punishment. When young Wallace’s father and older brother are killed in a failed bid for freedom, Wallace is taken away by his uncle Argyle, who raises and educates him. Years later, Wallace returns home seeking a peaceful life as a farmer. He finds his childhood sweetheart, Murron (Catherine McCormack), and secretly marries her, hoping to start a family. But in so doing, he’s already broken the law. Longshanks, in a bid to strengthen his control in Scotland, has given his lords there the right of “Prima Nocta” – the right to sleep with any new bride on their wedding night. Wallace’s defiance leads the local English lord to last out. In a rage, Wallace responds by leading a revolt that wipes out the English presence in his village entirely. When Longshanks attempts to crush this uprising, the situation quickly escalates. Soon, Wallace finds himself the leader of a massive rebellion determined to free Scotland from the English forever or die trying.

Braveheart become the Best Picture of 1995, sweeping the Academy Awards that year with a total of 10 nominations and 5 Oscar wins. The film’s epic story has drawn comparisons to David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, but it lacks the latter film’s visual mastery and polish. But what Braveheart does right, it does very, very well. The storytelling is emotionally honest, exciting and even funny at times. It draws you in – every loss of these characters becomes your own, every victory a personal one. The film is unquestionably violent, but you never actually see as much violence as you think you do. Most of the carnage is suggested by quick cuts and skillful editing. The supporting cast simply shines, including Patrick McGoohan as the deliciously evil Longshanks, Brendan Gleeson as Wallace’s childhood friend, Hamish, and Sophie Marceau as the Princess of Wales. Tie it all together with a stirring score by composer James Horner – in my opinion his best work to date – and you’ve got a great film experience.

The video quality of Braveheart on Blu-ray is... in a word... breathtaking. The colors are lush and accurate. Contrast is spot-on perfect. And the detail visible in the image is just wonderful. The quick flit of arrows, the glint of individual links of chainmail armor, the subtle textures of leather and cloth... it’s all just delightful. By the time Wallace and his men ride onto the field of battle at Stirling, and you see the crumbled blues of the war paint on their faces, you will be absolutely won over by this presentation. I’ve simply never seen the film looking this good before. Not once, even in theatres. It’s just perfectly nuanced and natural looking – absolutely first-rate for a catalog title of this relatively recent vintage. The Dolby TrueHD audio quality is a near-match to the video, with a very smooth and natural soundfield that impresses as much in quiet, atmospheric moments as it does in the midst of battle. If you’re a fan, the A/V presentation quality of Braveheart on Blu-ray is just completely pleasing – so much so that you’re likely have a strong emotional response to the quality as you watch. And that’s exactly as it should be.

My only complaint about Braveheart on Blu-ray is that it doesn’t include everything that was available on the previous DVDs in terms of special features. While much of bonus material from the previous DVD Special Collector’s Edition has carried over (including the commentary with Gibson, the two trailers and the Tales of William Wallace and A Writer’s Journey featurettes), the photo montage, archival interviews and the hour-long Alba gu Brath! The Making of Braveheart documentary are all missing. Also missing from the very original DVD release is the 27-minute Mel Gibson’s Braveheart: A Filmmaker’s Passion featurette. So if you want all the available content, you need to keep both previous DVDs. Now, I would really like to have seen it all carry over, and the fact that stuff is missing keeps these extras from earning the highest marks. To be fair, though, the reason this material was left off, is that there’s a new 3-part HD documentary included on the Blu-ray, the hour-long Braveheart: A Look Back, that treads much of the same ground.

What you do get on the Blu-ray is very good – all of it wrapped in elegant and tasteful animated menus with music and images from the film. As I said, you get the commentary, the Tales of William Wallace and A Writer’s Journey featurettes from previous editions. The new Braveheart: A Look Back documentary is excellent, featuring not only lots of archive video footage shot on set, but also lots of new interviews with members of the cast and crew, including Gibson. It’s well done, and very entertaining from start to finish. There’s also a 30-minute HD featurette called Smithfield: Medieval Killing Fields on a real historical location important in the film. Something else new that’s very cool is the interactive Dimensional Battlefields of the Scottish Rebellion, which lets you look at the real historical battles as they played out at Falkirk Bridge and Bannockburn. Chess-like icons show you where the various military forces were positioned, and narration and animation reveals the tactics, moves and the results. It’s pretty cool – cool enough, in fact, that I wish there was more. All of the above, save the commentary, is on Disc Two. Finally, Disc One offers a special Braveheart Timelines interactive mode, that examines the real historical events, the film’s production and the fictional events seen in the film. Each timeline is illustrated with text, photos and video, including film clips and other archival video. It’s pretty cool and is worth checking out.

Braveheart has earned a place in my Top Ten favorites list, and so I was very eager to get my hands on the Blu-ray. I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, this is one of those Blu-rays that will likely be thrilling you with its near reference A/V quality for a long time. Absolutely don’t miss it.

- Bill Hunt

 

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