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. From start to finish, the transfer looked great.
Sharpness appeared virtually immaculate throughout the film. Even during the widest shots, the picture remained very crisp and clear, without the slightest hints of softness. This detail was maintained in the movie's many low-light situations as well; although lots of films become hazy in dim circumstances, that didn't occur here. Moiré effects and jagged edges failed to appear, and I noticed no edge enhancement. In addition, source flaws remained absent in this fresh, clear presentation.
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 DVD made them appear terrific.
Black levels seemed very 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 wonderfully. If any problems manifested themselves here, I didn’t notice them. Instead, I thought Braveheart boasted a top-notch transfer.
I also liked the Dolby Digital 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 Braveheart Special Collector’s Edition compare to those of the original 2000 DVD? I thought both featured identical audio, but the new disc provided visual improvements. The biggest step up came from the cleanliness of the 2007 DVD, as it lacked the marks and flaws of its predecessor. It was also a little sharper than the 2000 release, but the absence of source concerns was the main reason the old disc’s “B-“ jumped to an “A” here. The 2007 disc definitely provided a substantially more attractive visual presentation.
In addition, this two-disc SCE added new supplements. I’ll note additions with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, that means the component already appeared on the 2000 DVD.
On DVD 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.
With that we head to DVD Two and a featurette called *A Writer’s Journey. The 21-minute and 29-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.
Next comes *Alba Gu Brath! The Making of Braveheart. Split into three parts, the program fills a total of 49 minutes, 59 seconds with notes from Gibson, Wallace, producers Bruce Davey and Alan Ladd, Jr., unit manager Kevin de la Noy, cinematographer John Toll, and 2nd unit director/stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers. The show looks at the project’s development from the Gibson/studio point of view, Gibson’s work as director and the challenges of doing “double duty” as an actor, editing and music, sets and locations, logistics, stunts and action scenes, and various other production concerns.
Since it leaves out a number of subjects like cast and performances, “Brath” doesn’t provide a broad examination of the film’s creation. However, it does very well within its scope. Gibson’s memories of the pressures through which he suffered offer the most compelling elements, and we also find a lot of great looks at the editing. The various elements combine to make this a compelling and more frank than usual program.
For the 29-minute and 57-second *Tales of William Wallace, we discover comments from Ladd, Gibson, Davey, Wallace, actors Catherine McCormack, Angus McFadyen, David O’Hara and Patrick MacGoohan, armorer Simon Atherton and executive producer Stephen McEveety. “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.
*Archival Interviews last a total of 14 minutes, 34 seconds. We hear from a mix of actors: James Robinson (0:47), Catherine McCormack (1:37), Brendan Gleeson and James Cosmo (2:31), David O’Hara (1:40), Angus MacFadyen (2:18), Patrick McGoohan and Peter Hanly (3:24) and Sophie Marceau (2:16). The actors talk a little about the film, their characters, performance issues and a few related subjects. Do any of them tell us information of substance? Not much. A few decent character insights occur, but mostly the participants just offer bland recaps of the story and their roles.
In addition to two theatrical trailers, we discover a *Photo Montage. It runs six minutes, 28 seconds and displays a mix of images. We see shots from the film, publicity stills, and glimpses of the set. It ends up as a decent collection, though I’m not wild about the format; I prefer the standard frame-by-frame still gallery.
Note that the SCE drops one element from the 2000 DVD: a promotional featurette called "Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion". While that program was surprisingly good, virtually all of its information appears in this set’s new components. I still think the DVD should’ve included “Passion” for archival purposes, but in terms of content, it doesn’t go missed.
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 simply terrific picture and sound plus a few nice extras.
It terms of recommendations, I’d advise all fans to snag this Special Collector’s Edition. If you don’t have the old one, this set is definitely the one to get, especially since both retail for the same price. As for fans who possess the original disc, they should snag the SCE as well. It presents notably improved picture along with some good new extras, all for a reasonable price. Paramount have given Braveheart very good treatment here.
To rate this film visit the original review of BRAVEHEART