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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/22/00



Braveheart
1995 (2000) - Icon/Fox/Paramount (Paramount)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Braveheart Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B+

Specs and Features
177 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:43:36, at the start of chapter 13), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Mel Gibson, Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion featurette, 2 theatrical trailers, film-themed menu screens, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Closed Captioned


"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 and patriot, 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 one day 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 resistance soon becomes apparent, and as punishment, the local English lord takes his new wife's life. Overcome with grief and rage, Wallace leads the locals in a revolt, wiping out the English presence in his village entirely. When the English retaliate, the situation quickly escalates, and Wallace soon finds himself the unlikely leader of a massive rebel uprising determined to free Scotland from the English forever or die trying.

I remember the first time I saw Braveheart in the theater vividly. I'd missed the film's original late Spring run, but finally caught it during an Autumn re-release. I couldn't talk my wife into seeing it, so I went alone. "It's a guy film," she said - too violent for her taste. So I walked into the theater with no expectations, other than hoping to be entertained for a couple of hours. And the film just blew me away. It was gripping, brutal and moving. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and the ending had me in tears. I walked out thinking, "Mel Gibson directed THIS?!" I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I'd just seen the year's Best Picture. And no one was more surprised than me, because Apollo 13 had been at the top of my Oscar list for months.

Braveheart did indeed become the Best Picture of 1995, sweeping the Academy Awards that year with a total of 10 nominations and 5 Oscar wins. And it certainly deserved them. Braveheart's epic story has drawn comparisons to David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, but it lacks the latter film's visual mastery and polish. Braveheart is by no means the best film ever made - not even close. But what it 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 also holds some of the best large-scale battle scenes you'll ever see on the big screen, making other such attempts (including Ridley Scott's recent Gladiator) pale in comparison. But Gibson's talent as a director really shows itself here - 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 film's story is based on semi-real historical events, the screenplay having been written by the real Wallace's descendent, Randall Wallace. 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. By the way, my wife did finally see it. And if pushed, she'll grudgingly admit to enjoying it. "All right, all right. Yeah... l liked the hanky movie. Satisfied?" I rest my case.

We've all waited a very long time to have Braveheart on DVD, so the question is... was the wait worth it? The answer is, by and large, yes. But... well, let's start with the bad first. The anamorphic widescreen video on this disc isn't quite what I had hoped for in terms of quality. This is a new transfer of the film, but I wish Paramount had selected a better print for the task. There's a little too much dust and dirt visible. I've been doing some A/B comparisons with the earlier laserdisc version, and the laserdisc definitely looks cleaner. This new transfer for DVD also is brighter and much higher in contrast than the LD, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. The black levels and detail are wonderful, no doubt, but the brightest picture areas are a little too hot. And gone is the wonderful subtlety in shading that the laserdisc transfer exhibits. Also gone is the rich color pallet. The color timing on the DVD transfer appears colder and more harsh looking, with more muted color than the laserdisc version. You'll notice this right from the opening shots of the Scottish highlands, which appear greener and more lush on LD. I can't really say that this disc doesn't look good, because it does. But I was struck by the differences between the two transfers. It may boil down to a personal preference. If I could have the color timing and clean print of the LD transfer, and the better contrast and crispness of the DVD (along with 16x9, naturally)... well, you get the idea. If you're familiar with the laserdisc, just realize that you MAY be somewhat disappointed.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio fares a measure better. The front soundstage is nicely wide. Dialogue presentation is clean and full, and James Horner's score is rich sounding and is very well presented in the mix. There is occasional activity in the rear channels, particularly during the battle scenes, although not as much as you might expect. Strangely enough, in this respect, I again prefer the laserdisc's Dolby Digital 5.1 sound to this track - it's a little more active. The bass, however, is thunderous. When the English heavy cavalry charges the fields of Stirling, you'll feel every hoof strike the ground. Very nice.

The extras are where I was actually most impressed with this DVD, not for their quantity but their quality. To start with, there's an excellent 27-minute featurette on the making of the film entitled, Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion. It may seem that 27 minutes is too short for a film like this, but the featurette tells you everything you need to know, and includes great interviews with Gibson, Wallace and the producers and other cast members. There are some very funny moments - look for a shot of Gibson, in costume on the set, consulting a battered, leather-bound tome called A Beginner's Guide to Directing the Epic, which looks like it was printed in the 13th Century. Very funny. Gibson's passion for this film is obvious, even more so in the filmmaker's commentary on the disc. His wit is engaging and while there are a few gaps in the track, you'll have a blast watching and listening to this. It's easy to imagine that you're sitting in a dark theater, having a beer with the guy, as he tells you about his experience of making the film in quiet little asides. And really, if you could have a beer and watch a great flick with any guy, Gibson would be a perfect choice. Finally, there are two interesting theatrical trailers on the disc, both non-anamorphic but worth looking at. I would have liked a lot more, but I'm happy with's here.

Braveheart easily ranks in my list of top 10 favorites. It's definitely not for the kiddies, but this film just is what it is, and I think it works perfectly. I'm grateful to have it on DVD, but I must confess that I won't be getting rid of my laserdisc copy any time soon. And I feel pretty odd saying that, because it's the first time I've felt that way about a DVD. Still, if you're a fan of this film, just get your money out now and get in line at your local video store. Don't even question it - Gibson's commentary alone is worth the $29.99 SRP. And if you've never seen Braveheart before, there's never been a better time. So wha' er ye waiting fer?!

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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