Braveheart appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While much of the transfer impressed, some inconsistencies occurred.
Sharpness appeared very good most of the time. I noticed a few minor instances of softness, but those failed to distract. The vast majority of the flick offered solid clarity. Moiré effects and jagged edges failed to appear, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Unfortunately, source flaws became a little more problematic. While not dominant, I noticed sporadic examples of small specks.
Colors looked strong, with tones that were lush, rich and realistic. Braveheart wasn't the most colorful movie in the world; anything set in the occasionally gloomy realm of Scotland wouldn’t make sense as a Technicolor extravaganza. Nonetheless, it actually offered a surprising range of hues, mainly manifested in the various costumes. We saw some very attractive reds, blues, yellows, and oranges through the different clothes, and the Blu-ray made them appear terrific.
Black levels seemed deep and they remained appropriately heavy without presenting any excessive thickness that would render nuances invisible. As I already alluded during my discussion of sharpness, shadow detail appeared very clean and smooth, as I witnessed no loss of clarity in any of the many low-light situations; they all come through well. The occasional light softness and the print defects made this a “B”, but it still was satisfying.
I also liked the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Braveheart. The soundfield favored the forward channels in that the majority of the specific information came from those speakers and the three front speakers seemed quite 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 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 nicely complemented the on-screen action.
Audio quality appeared positive as well. Dialogue always seemed natural and crisp, with no signs of edginess or any problems with intelligibility. Effects were extremely bright and clear, and they always appeared realistic without any distortion; some of the battle scenes really 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 fine range, and much of the film treated me to deep and rich bass.
Overall, Braveheart sounded very good and just narrowly missed an “A”-level grade.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the Special Edition DVD? I thought the Blu-ray’s lossless audio packed a little bit more punch than the DVD’s Dolby Digital track, but you shouldn’t expect a massive improvement. In terms of visuals, even with the signs of mild softness, the Blu-ray was clearly tighter and better defined than the DVD. Colors and blacks were also more impressive. Unfortunately, I don’t remember source flaws from the DVD, whereas they were obvious here. The Blu-ray’s the superior presentation, nonetheless.
The Blu-ray includes most of the extras from the prior SE and adds some new components. I’ll mark Blu-ray exclusives with special blue print.
On Disc One, we get 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.
Disc One also provides Braveheart Timelines. If you enter this feature, you can follow three chronologies. “Production Timeline” goes along with the development of the film, “Fiction Timeline” tracks various made-up events in the film, and “History Timeline” discusses the actual real-life elements. This feature didn’t run very efficiently on my Blu-ray player, so I found it clunky and difficult to explore. Nonetheless, I liked the concept, and my problems may be related to my specific machine; you should definitely give it a look on yours and hope that you fare better than I did.
With that we head to Disc Two and its components. Battlefields of the Scottish Rebellion provides an interactive map that focuses on four Scottish locations. “Stirling” and “Glasgow” just show us text blurbs about their events, but “Bannockburn” and “Falkirk” allow us to “enter the battlefield”.
That means a few different elements. We get more text about the battles, but we also see chess-like computer representations of the conflicts. In addition, we locate a few soundbites from Scottish Arms and Armour author Fergus Cannan. The interface is a little clunky, but “Battlefields” nonetheless offers a moderately cool way to check out the film’s big fights.
Next comes Braveheart: A Look Back. Split into three parts, the program fills a total of one hour, 23 seconds with notes from Gibson, producers Bruce Davey and Stephen McEveety, cinematographer John Toll, editor Steven Rosenblum, production designer Tom Sanders, makeup artist Lois Burwell, screenwriter Randall Wallace and actors Brendan Gleeson, David O’Hara, James Cosmo, Sophie Marceau, and Patrick McGoohan (from 1994). The show looks at visual and production design, sets and locations, cast, characters and performances, editing and cinematography, Gibson’s work as director, makeup, shooting action scenes, and the movie’s reception.
Though it lacks much focus, “Back” compensates with a nice array of details. It covers a good variety of areas and does so with a mix of behind the scenes elements and interviews. I’d like something a little more logical and concise – this one really jumps around a lot – but at least “Back” provides an interesting retrospective.
Smithfield: Medieval Killing Fields goes for 25 minutes, 19 seconds. It features Wallace, historians/authors Liza Picard and Lucy Moore, St. Bartholomew the Great rector Rev. Dr. Martin Dudley, and City of London guide/lecturer Leonard Phillips. “Fields” offers notes about Smithfield, the London location where William Wallace’s execution took place. We find useful details in this compelling little show. Plus, Moore is gorgeous – I could watch her read the phone book!
For the 29-minute and 59-second Tales of William Wallace, we discover comments from Gibson, Davey, Randall Wallace, McEveety, O’Hara, McGoohan, producer Alan Ladd, actors Catherine McCormack and Angus McFadyen, and armorer Simon Atherton. “Tales” attempts to separate fact from myth as it explores what we know about the historical William Wallace. It’s good to learn more about the reality behind the film, and “Tales” provides a reasonably interesting take on its subject.
Next comes a featurette called A Writer’s Journey. The 21-minute and 30-second piece provides remarks from writer Randall Wallace. He discusses his pursuit of family history and how this led him to learn about William Wallace. The writer also chats about the development of the project and his script, research, themes and influences, and various issues that came through the writing process.
Wallace provides a simply terrific look at his work. He offers a mix of fascinating insights such as the fact he didn’t do research until after he wrote the script. He gives us a nice examination of his work and what he wanted to do with the screenplay, and Wallace helps make this a strong featurette.
The set finishes with two trailers. What does it drop from the SE DVD? “Look Back” replaces a separate documentary called “Alba Gu Brath”, and we totally lose some “Archival Interviews” and a photo gallery. I don’t understand why the package fails to include some of the earlier components, but these don’t turn into massive omissions.
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 Blu-ray provides generally good picture, solid audio, and an interesting complement of supplements. The Blu-ray doesn’t dazzle, but it serves the movie well.
To rate this film visit the original review of BRAVEHEART