The Movie (movie review written in 2000):
Easily one of the most anticipated DVD releases out there, Paramount has finally brought "Braveheart" to the table, and the DVD is a feast for fans of the film, who will enjoy the work that they've done to make it look as good as possible. But of course, more on that later in the review.
As for the movie, "Braveheart" is certainly a fantastic film and more than that, both a great display of acting and directing talent from Mel Gibson. Not only has Gibson entertained audiences with films like "Lethal Weapon", but it's truly impressive here how well he directs this epic-length tale of battle. He stars as William Wallace, a commoner who decides to fight for Scottish freedom from the English, who are lead by King Edward I(Patrick McGoohan).
"Braveheart" is most frequently known for its amazing battle sequences, and this is an element worthy of much praise. As he comments in the commentary track on this DVD, a main goal of Gibson's was to keep the battle scenes from becoming murky, and he does so here quite successfully, with these scenes never suffering from any traffic problems; we get a clear sense of what's going on and who's where.
Not all of the details are known about Gibson's character, but the details that he has added in feel respectably honest and true; no specific detail takes the viewer out of the movie. Gibson's portrayal of Wallace is particularly solid, as well. He plays the character as a serious leader, but is not above letting a couple of doses of slight humor enter into a scene once or twice. There's something about Gibson's personality that always makes him Mel Gibson, never quite sinking into a character, but he gets closest here to really becoming the role.
Some of the supporting cast are kind of thinly detailed, but the performers do the best they can with what they're given. Also fairing well are McGoohan and Sophie Marceau, as the princess. It's sort of fascinating to watch Marceau's graceful presence here, and to see her now appearing on cable in the recent David Spade comedy flop "Lost and Found". I'd never realized that "Braveheart" didn't do that well in theaters; it only made $3m more than it's 72 million budget. I think it's a film that gained an audience after the inital theatrical release, and still seems to be gaining strength as time goes on. Still, with a few minimal faults, "Braveheart" still is quite entertaining and is paced quite well, with its nearly three hour running time flying by quickly.
VIDEO: "Braveheart" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen again here, and the results are exceptional. The original DVD presentation was pretty good, although this new 2007 edition does improve upon the original release. Sharpness and detail, while excellent the first time around, are even somewhat better here, as fine details are more apparent. The picture also maintains a smoother look, and no print flaws are seen this time around. No edge enhancement or artifacting were spotted, and colors looked rich and well-saturated throughout.
SOUND: "Braveheart" was, if I'm not mistaken, nominated for best sound at the Oscars in 1996, and for good reason. Although much of the film is not exactly as agressive as some action movies, the sound creates a convincing and enveloping environment. Even in the quieter moments, the fantastic James Horner score comes into the scene, and it's warm, rich quality makes it a particularly pleasing inclusion when it arrives.
Surrounds are used very realistically to create an environment; their use is never overdone, but I never felt it was lacking, either. In many of the less intense sequences, they offer some ambient sounds and background details. Sound effects are very clear and natural, as well. The element that I still was most impressed with was the James Horner score, which rises up with a clarity and strength that's fairly stunning; this is a very well-recorded and beautiful score that adds to the film greatly.
Bass is also appropriately deep and thunderous at times, especially during the more intense action scenes. Last, but not least, dialogue is very clean and clear, always easily heard.
EXTRAS: Commentary: This is a commentary by actor/director Mel Gibson. A few things before I talk more about the commentary; let me just say that I appreciate that Gibson has done a commentary track; It's his first commentary track as well, so the pauses on occasion can easily be forgiven. I think that maybe it would have been nice if Gibson had been paired with another member of the cast or crew to open up the discussion and have less pauses, but my overall opinion on this commentary is still good. It presents both sides of the story, and offers opinions from Gibson the director and Gibson the actor.
The tone is relaxed, and Gibson is able to chat about both the history of the story and also the experience of having to act and direct in the film. His chatting about some of the bigger sequences is fascinating to listen to as he talks about the amount of extras and planning and materials that had to be brought together to achieve these kind of sequences. Also, how to keep the bigger battle scenes organized provides some very interesting comments about the preparation involved. Overall, the track is a little difficult to stay with due to all the pauses of silence, but Gibson is informative when he does speak. This is the same commentary as on the prior release.
"Alba Gu Brath!" is the biggest of the new extras included on the second disc. Clocking in at about 50 minutes, the documentary opens with Gibson discussing his initial introduction to the script, which he liked, but eventually ended up passing on. Still, the story stuck with him and a couple of years later, he decided to not only act in it, but take the helm as director after acting out pretty much the entire movie for his assistant. As the discussion of the production begins, we learn about Gibson's fears of trying to helm such a big movie (he talks about calling Eastwood for advice), as well as some chat about working with some of the great behind-the-camera talents that worked on the film. The documentary also discusses working with the massive cast of extras, editing, scoring, the producers, directing, the genre, how the film has become more popular on DVD and more. Overall, this is a very interesting and informative piece.
"A Writer's Journey" is a 24-minute look at screenwriter Randall Wallace's exploration of his ancestry and his development of the script. We also learn about his first meeting with Gibson and the rather stunning fact that he didn't research on the subject until after writing the script. Overall, this is a marvelous look at the writing process and offers a lot of good insights. "Tales of William Wallace" is a 29-minute doc looking at the history and background behind the film.
Rounding out the DVD are archive interviews, trailers and a photo gallery.
Final Thoughts: This new edition of "Braveheart" provides a noticable upgrade in video quality and some very good new supplemental featurettes. Recommended.
The Film A