Braveheart (Sapphire Edition Blu-ray)
Studio: Paramount Home Video
Rated: R (for brutal medieval warfare)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; French 5.1 Dolby Digital; Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH+
Time: 177 minutes
Disc Format: 2 SS/DL BD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 1995
Blu-ray Release Date: September 2, 2009
Young William Wallace (Mel Gibson) lives with his father and brother in 13th century Scotland. They live on a farm in the country, but William’s father and brother often go off to deal with rebellion and other political business. On one such trip, William’s father does not return alive and the boy goes to live with his uncle and travel abroad. He returns to Scotland a man who simply wants to work the land, and, God willing, raise a family. When he is approached to help with the Scottish uprising against the British, he refuses not wanting the problems such activities would promote. He courts and secretly marries his childhood sweetheart, Murron (Catherine McCormack). Britain and her King Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) are trying to control the northern Scots, so he invokes prima noctes, an order that allows the British nobleman residing in Scotland to bed any bride on her wedding night. If Longshanks can’t drive them out, he’ll breed them out. Longshanks is also hampered by his fey son whose wet noodle backbone causes continual problems for his father, enough so that Longshanks utilizes his daughter-in-law, Isabelle (Sophie Marceau) to deal with Wallace.
Things go wrong when Murron is to be a victim of this order, causing William to rise up and kill several British soldiers. He is drawn into and elected leader of the revolts, starting with the stunning defeat of the British at Sterling. With this victory behind him and the prospect of possible peace getting closer, he only finds the Scottish politicians destroying the headway he and his fellow warriors have made. Wallace ups the ante against the Brits by taking York in northern England. He is set to continue his crusade but politicians hop in and out of bed with each other pushing Wallace to his final destiny and legacy.
Braveheart took the Academy Award for Best Picture that year and rightfully so. It’s an epic in every sense of the word: dramatic, sweeping story dealing with complex characters, complicated politics and warfare, and most importantly, love. Gibson’s second directorial effort shows he certainly learned how to do it from watching many of the fine directors he starred under (Richard Donner and George Miller, for starters), but he infuses such passion and scrappiness into Wallace you are equally captivated by his acting as you are by his direction. The story deals with numerous themes with all of them based in love in one form or another: the love of a wife and family, of a country, of God, of a cause, and of one’s countrymen. Gibson and screenwriter Randall Wallace craft one of the few epics to come out of the 90’s that maintains its impact as much today as it did during its initial release. I’ll even give it a little leeway on the melodrama as it supports the whole of the picture.
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.
The Blu-ray disc is encoded in the MPEG-4 AVC codec at 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The image is colorful throughout showing a good palate of colors and shading, and it maintains the lushness of the Scottish countryside with its earth tones. Black levels are excellent showing a nice amount of detail and depth. Flesh tones were rich and accurate showing very nice contrast between the actor’s faces. The picture appears to have been shot slightly soft and the transfer maintains this giving it a very good representation of what it looked like theatrically. You are able to clearly see the intricate woven patterns on the costumes, the rich detail in the sets and locations, and the various blemishes, war paint and dirt on the actor’s faces. Upon close inspection I noticed some print dirt, but it was very minor. I did not notice any edge enhancement, DNR or other processing. There really is nothing to complain about in this transfer as it so accurately represents what it looked like theatrically, making us forget this is video and remind us of just how good these transfers can look at home.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is very exciting and immersive and clearly benefits from the upgrade. The battle sequences, of course, stand out with their constant activity so well placed among the channels to put us right in the middle of it. While we’re there, we are quick to jump when the arrows or spears fly and duck as we hear the air being split by the slash of swords. Even in the quiet moments we are treated to subtle environmental effects in the surrounds while the voices remain primarily in the center channel. LFE’s are used to excellent effect adding the thunder to the horse’s hooves and the marching British infantry. Dynamic range is excellent showing smooth transitions from the highs to the lows. Panning effects blend seamlessly with one another conveying a great soundstage. The track is clean and clear and free from any distortion.
Bonus Material: all of this is in HD unless otherwise noted. Most of the special features from the previous DVD incarnations are presented in this edition. Missing is A Filmmaker’s Passion: The Making of Braveheart, but the new Braveheart: A Look Back pretty much covers what was in the other one.
Commentary by Director Mel Gibson: Gibson gives us as much historical background as he does production background. He pauses continuously throughout the commentary but tries to stay on point in the scenes he’s discussing. Not the best commentary I’ve heard, but certainly worth a listen.
Interactive Timelines: this feature allows you to see informational pop-ups about the fictional timeline, the production timeline or the historical timeline. You choose any one of them and it gives you that specific information. A lot of the production info is covered in the docs on disc two, but here you get more of a historical sense of Wallace and the period.
Battlefields of the Scottish Rebellion: this piece is set up to give you a historical summary of the four major battles. Once you choose one, a small video snippet comes up with a historian describing what occurred here. Then, it takes you to a list of events where you can choose the individual battle areas of that location and a voice over gives you information. This is a fine way to get a quick historical summary without wading through hundreds of pages of history books.
Braveheart: A Look Back (60 minutes): This piece is broken into three sections: “A Company of Equals”, “The Sound of Laughter” and “The Measure of a Film”. We get new interviews with Gibson, Randall Wallace and many members of the production team and actors. The first part deals with ramping up production, but it’s very interesting to hear how the producers and other crew heads were somewhat concerned about Gibson’s abilities until they started to see the dailies, then all was well. “The Sounds of Laughter” has the participants discussing the benefits of mistakes and improv as well as exploring the creative roots of the filmmaking process. The final part has everyone talking about how great everyone else on the project was and details the actual shoot and everyone remains very complimentary in their surprise of Gibson’s directorial talent.
Smithfield: Medieval Killing Fields (25:19): Smithfield is the place where Wallace was executed and this doc explains the historical and current significance of the place. The doc goes into some extremely gory details surrounding Wallace’s execution, so be warned!
Tales of William Wallace (in SD, 29:59): this reminds me of a History Channel special, but it gives us the story of Wallace while trying to separate the facts from the many myths. Randall Wallace, Gibson and others from the picture contribute.
A Writers Journey (21:30, in SD): Randall Wallace discusses how he was inspired to write the story, his initial meetings with Gibson and the production. A lot of what is here is spread out into the other docs, but Wallace remains engaging with this little bit of behind-the-scenes information and his approach to writing the story.
Two Theatrical Trailers.
Bonus Material: ****/*****
An epic film gets the epic treatment in Paramount’s new Sapphire Series of titles. Not only is the story great in just about every way, we get one of the best HD transfers I’ve seen coupled with a strong audio track and supplements.