Mel Gibson, Patrick McGoohan, Sophie Marceau, Brendan Gleeson, Catherine McCormack, Angus Macfadyen
Every man dies, not every man really lives.
Mel Gibson stars on both sides of the camera, playing the lead role plus directing and producing this brawling, richly detailed saga of fierce combat, tender love and the will to risk all that's precious: freedom. In an emotionally charged performance, Gibson is William Wallace, a bold Scotsman who used the steel of his blade and the fire of his intellect to rally his countrymen to liberation. Filled with sword-clanging spectacle, Braveheart is a tumultuous tapestry of history come alive, "the most sumptuous and involving historical epic since Lawrence Of Arabia." (Rod Lurie, Los Angeles Magazine)
Rated R for brutal medieval warfare.
Won for Best Pictures; Best Director; Best Cinematography; Best Makeup; Best Sound Effects Editing.
Nominated for Best Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Costume Design; Best Sound; Best Original Score-James Horner.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
Runtime: 177 min.
Release Date: 8/29/2000
• Commentary with Director/Actor Mel Gibson
• "Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Journey" Featurette
• 2 Theatrical Trailers
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Ever since DVD debuted as a home video format in early 1997, some movies were high on many peoples' "want lists". Some of these were very obvious, like Star Wars or The Godfather, but some made less sense, at least to me. Braveheart fell into the latter category.
Braveheart provides a semi-mythological telling of a true story, and that seems appropriate as the current interpretation of the film's success enters the realm of mythology. Back when Braveheart hit screens in May 1995, it wasn't a hit with audiences or critics. It did pretty mediocre business and garnered a lot of lukewarm reviews. I don't recall that lots of people disliked the movie, but it certainly didn't generate an especially immense or dedicated audience. The film came and went pretty quickly, and I - like many people - rapidly forgot it.
That attitude changed in February 1996, when Braveheart received a stunning 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Frankly, I was absolutely flabbergasted when this occurred. Granted, 1995 was a moderately slow year for movies, but for an apparent non-entity like Braveheart to take home so many nods absolutely floored me.
That shock multiplied when the awards were announced and Braveheart took home the big prize. Honestly, I still don't know how this happened. Here was a movie that few critics seemed to like and that did modest business, yet it captured the Best Picture - had we entered Bizarro World?
I've become more and more perplexed over the years as the film's legend has grown. Braveheart now has such a strong following that many people seem to believe it was a huge hit. According to IMDB, Braveheart earned about $75 million in the US. That's not exactly a runaway hit; in fact, it's relatively weak for a big-budget summertime production featuring a major star. For comparison, many regarded Mel Gibson's 2000 project, The Patriot, as a disappointment because it "only" grossed about $108 million. Even allowing for slight inflation, that still easily topped the take of Braveheart.
I don't intend all of these comments to indicate I don't like Braveheart, for I actually think it's a good movie. I just remain baffled by the legend that's grown around it; the film's generated a "buzz" that seems unrelated to its original success, or lack thereof. In any case, the buzz clearly existed, as many people were darned excited to see Braveheart on DVD. I can't say I was ever especially worked up about the prospect, but I looked forward to it and did enjoy the film on this, my third viewing of it.
Braveheart offers a somewhat-fictionalized telling of the tale of William Wallace (Gibson, who also directed the movie), a freedom fighter initially sparked by vengeance who becomes a leader and unifying force in 13th century Scotland. How far astray from the facts does the film go? That I can't say; I know little about the era, but IMDB and other sources detail "numerous historical inaccuracies". As a history buff, I acknowledge that I dislike these kinds of liberties, but I understand them and don't find them seriously problematic unless they create a serious misrepresentation of the facts, as occurred during JFK. The latter was an entertaining and technically solid film, but I loathed it because the picture so grossly distorts reality to serve its message.
I don't think Braveheart provides anywhere close to that level of problems, so I won't grouse too much about the liberties. I also place Braveheart in a different category than JFK just because so little was known about the period in which Wallace lived. Some liberties had to be taken out of necessity, and unlike the lies told by Oliver Stone, you won't think less of Braveheart when you learn how it alters facts.
The movie itself offers a rather exciting and rousing tale of daring and adventure in which we see Wallace's crusade to drive the English from Scotland. The story itself is nothing particularly new, as plenty of similar tales have been told over the years. Gibson's telling of it is also not exactly revolutionary, but the execution seems strong, especially during the terrific battle scenes. He makes these tremendously visceral and graphic, though not generally gratuitously bloody. As with Saving Private Ryan, the violence serves the story in that it lets us better appreciate the gravity of the fights; these scenes clearly offer the film's most distinguishing moments.
Outside of the battle segments, Braveheart generally comes across as a good but unexceptional historical drama. I think my main complaint with the film stems from the lack of depth displayed by its characters. With really only one exception - Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFadyen) – virtually all of the roles are quite clear-cut; the good guys are true-blue, while the villains are bad to the bone. Although he's portrayed as a somewhat Christ-like figure at times, we don't find much complexity to Wallace. I expected some sort of anxiety and emotion similar to what we saw in The Last Temptation of Christ, but similar agonizing doesn't occur.
Such a lack of depth seems especially surprising considering the origins of Wallace's crusade; after all, this was a guy spurred by a lust for revenge, but we see little sign of that spark as the quest for freedom consumes all.
The baddies are similarly one-dimensional. King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan) just needs a black hat and some mustache twirling and he'd fit right in with Snively Whiplash; the character is so all-consumingly evil that it simply seems unrealistic. In his audio commentary, Gibson even acknowledges that Edward was actually a good king, at least for England, but no positives are related in the film.
Frankly, Braveheart reminds me a lot of a more serious version of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, especially during the climax. It's a better movie than that one, but possesses a lot of the same spirit and tone. In any case, although I find Braveheart to be a flawed movie, it offers some solid entertainment and is ultimately a satisfying and moving experience. It didn't deserve to win the award as Best Picture – although unnominated, Seven and The Usual Suspects were much better films, and of the selected five,
I'd have picked Apollo 13 - but it's a strong piece nonetheless.
The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+
Braveheart appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of ups and downs left this as an unexceptional transfer.
Sharpness usually appeared good. Some light edge enhancement meant that the occasional wide shot seemed a bit soft, but those examples popped up without frequency. Most of the movie seemed concise and well-defined. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering.
Colors looked strong, with tones that were lush, rich and realistic. Given its often gloomy Scottish setting, Braveheart wasn't the most colorful movie in the world, but it actually offered a surprising range of hues, mainly manifested in the various costumes. We saw some attractive reds, blues, yellows, and oranges through the different clothes, and the DVD made them appear positive.
Black levels seemed deep and they remained appropriately heavy without presenting any excessive thickness that would render nuances invisible. Despite a few “day for night” shots, shadow detail appeared clean and smooth, as I witnessed no loss of clarity in any of the many low-light situations.
In addition to the occasional softness, one notable problem emerged: print flaws. While Braveheart wasn't rife with defects, enough occurred to cause problems. Light grain and black grit became apparent on a number of occasions, but mostly appeared during the big battle scenes. I also saw a few nicks during the film, but it lacked any significant scratches, hairs, or more intense issues. These were a distraction and became the main reason I gave the transfer a “B-“.
No such qualms affected my judgment of the movie's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield favored the forward channels in that the majority of the specific information came from those speakers and the three front speakers seemed intensely active for most of the film; that domain sounded alive and brisk with all of the movement but never appeared too busy or forced. The surrounds offered quite a lot of detail as well and they created an immersive experience throughout the movie. Although the rears generally maintained an ambient atmosphere, some good discrete usage occurred as well, and the entire package complemented the on-screen action.
Audio quality appeared solid as well. Dialogue always seemed natural and crisp, with no signs of edginess or any problems with intelligibility. Effects were bright and clear, and they always appeared realistic without any distortion; some of the battle scenes packed a solid punch. James Horner's score seemed bright and dynamic while it also sounded smooth and melodic. All aspects of the audio presented some broad range, and much of the film treated me to deep and rich bass. Overall, Braveheart sounded very good.
Braveheart tosses in a few supplemental features that start with an audio commentary from director/actor Mel Gibson. He provides a running, screen-specific chat. I really looked forward to this track but unfortunately found it to be disappointing. The biggest problem stems from all the dead air. I realize it’s tough to fill three hours, but Gibson doesn’t even come close; I doubt he speaks for more than half the movie. All of that empty space makes the piece pretty tedious at times.
In addition, some of his comments - particularly during the first half of the film - provide fairly tangential information. Many of his remarks are basic and concern locations and some bland details about the actors; he doesn't offer a lot of facts about his involvement in the film, or his experiences as a fairly-new director. After all, Braveheart was only his second directorial effort, and was quite different from his first (The Man Without A Face), so it would have been cool to hear more about his trials and tribulations in that role.
When he speaks, Gibson provides some reasonably interesting details. For example, he mentions some of the tricks he borrowed from other directors with whom he worked, and he gives us strangely compelling information about his use of varying frame rates, something you don't usually hear discussed. Gibson also does a decent job of telling us where the movie veered from historical fact. My father has griped for years about Gibson's casting of himself as Wallace, since the character clearly should have been much younger than the then-38-year-old actor; Mel sets the record straight on his reasons for doing so.
The track definitely picks up its pace when we encounter the battle scenes. Gibson becomes much more animated at those times, and these sequences are when he relates the most compelling information. He really seems interested in the subject, and he offers a fair amount of good information at those times. Gibson also fills in some nice facts during the climactic torture scene as well. Gibson’s commentary provides enough info to merit a listen, but expect a frustrating experience.
The DVD also includes a featurette called Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion. Created in 1995, his 28-minute and five-second program offers a surprisingly solid look at the making of the movie, although it clearly was meant for promotional means. It mixes movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Gibson, screenwriter Randall Wallace, producers Bruce Davey and Alan Ladd, Jr., executive producer Stephen McEveety, unit manager Kevin de la Noy, 2nd unit director Mic Rodgers, stunt coordinator Simon Crane, and actors Catherine McCormack, Sophie Marceau, Angus McFadyen, and Peter Hanly. We learn what influenced Gibson to become a director as well as his desire to make the William Wallace story. In addition, we get notes about the story and script, cast, characters and performances, directorial issues, locations and sets, shooting the action, dealing with all the extras, and stunts.
Despite its promotional origins, “Passion” proves quite informative. It provides nice glimpses of the shoot and many good details about the production. Some of these repeat from the commentary, but the greater tightness of the format makes that redundancy acceptable. While Gibson's audio commentary provided a disappointment, this program was much better than I expected. I thought this would be a five-minute puff piece, and it does occasionally delve into fluffiness. Nonetheless, it's usually pretty substantial and interesting.
Finally, we find two different theatrical trailers on the disc. The DVD's booklet offers some pictures and a basic plot description.
Despite my continued bafflement over how Braveheart became an "A"-list title, I acknowledge that it's an entertaining and well-executed movie. The film contains flaws and is far from perfect, but it does a lot right and offers a generally stimulating experience. The DVD provides generally acceptable picture, very good audio, and some decent extras. Neither movie nor DVD excel, but both prove satisfactory.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5375 Stars|| Number of Votes: 173|