Mel Gibson has had a bit of a rollercoaster life these last couple of years. He has apparently given up on the mainstream films that have made him such a hot property over the years. His DUI arrest and subsequent anti-Semitic rant have caused many to look less favorably upon the man himself. It doesn’t help that his last two films have been less accessible and in obscure ancient languages. These films have not come without their own controversies. Still, no matter how you view Gibson or his work today, it can’t be denied that he has created one of the more compelling films of our day in Braveheart.
William Wallace (Robinson) was just a wee lad when he was introduced to the cold realities of the 13th Century world in which he lives. He is witness to the aftermath of a brutal slaughter of
Mel Gibson can be a phenomenal force when he brings passion to a role as he did here. His energy and drive are tiring at times to behold. Seldom has an actor immersed himself so much in a role. While Gibson has never had tremendous emotional range in his acting skills, he more than makes up for it through his actions. What his face can’t deliver, he will tell us through sheer force of will. When he gets started, it seems nothing could ever stop him from telling the story that needs be told. It doesn’t hurt at all that most of the elements of this film conspire together with Gibson to create a near masterpiece. The supporting cast is often lost in Gibson’s shadow. There’s never any chance that you can forget or lose track of whose story this is. Still, the cast is quite good. Patrick McGoohan isn’t used nearly enough as the hard King Longshanks. He is the perfect counter to Gibson and does so with a seemingly effortless performance. Brenden Gleeson is another underused performer, playing William’s childhood friend, and he brings a lot of heart to the table along with most of the rare comedic relief. The District’s own David O’Hara is also a very welcome element as the crazy Irish fighter who helps the Scottish so he can kill himself a few Englishmen along the way. Finally, the role of Mirran is small, but an important one. Catherine McCormick does the absolute best that she can, but the romantic angle is an awkward one, there merely to be exploited as the catalyst to William’s rage.
Braveheart is wonderfully photographed. The film makes excellent use of the stunning Scottish locations. Every moment in the film is beautifully framed with lush green fields or majestic mountains that create the perfect atmosphere. Sunlight is almost always diffused through the traditional Scottish haze, giving the picture life even in stillness. This stillness doesn’t come often, as there are plenty of epic battles. The action often comes fast and furious with nary a moment to catch your breath. The battles are incredibly realistic and leave very little to the imagination. I think horse fans will be distraught over how many horses are shown slaughtered in the famous battle. Rest assured, I’m sure no “real” horses were harmed during the film. All of this visual stimulation is accompanied by a James Horner score that manages to show its deep Celtic roots and yet remain somewhat modern and exciting.
If Braveheart suffers at all, it is in the pacing of the first 50 minutes or so. I must admit that I found myself tempted to fast forward to the beginning of the action. I understand what is being set up here, but it could have been done with far better timing. It’s almost as if that first hour is going by in slow motion. I am a huge fan of Gladiator, which I consider a superior film to Braveheart. I do acknowledge the importance of Braveheart in an evolution that makes Gladiator possible, so there is plenty of room on my video shelves for both.
Braveheart is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The new master is significantly better than the previous release. I pulled out my old disc and did some side by side comparisons. I particularly noticed a huge upgrade in the color. Greens are just absolutely beautiful in this restored print. They literally jump off the screen and demand you admire them for their own sake. Black levels are also considerably stronger, adding new levels of detail to darker scenes. I saw the least improvement in the hectic battle scenes. Things are happening at such an awfully fast clip that it is truly hard to just appreciate the print. There is still grain here, and colors are far more saturated. Blood doesn’t reproduce nearly as well as the green does. There are almost no print defects or artifacts, but there is a bit of compression problem from time to time. We’re talking a three hour film that might have been better served split as Peter Jackson did with the extended Lord Of The Rings films.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 appears almost exactly as the original release. It is, however, far louder. Side by side, you need to keep adjusting for volume. The score in either case captures most of the praise. It is fortunately delivered with the same brilliance and majesty I’m sure it demanded in theaters. After I first noticed it I was a bit amused at the rather intense squishiness of the battles. It as each blade sliced its way through torsos and limbs, it sounded like someone squeezing a wet sponge. Sounds like the ADR folks had a great time with this one. There are plenty of ambient sound moments, particularly with horses, it seems. Dialog is usually easy to understand, but there are moments of rabble rousing volume where I missed a word or two from Gibson. I was actually a little disappointed in the “Freedom Speech”. I think it should have been mixed far stronger.
There is an audio commentary with Mel Gibson, but it sounds like the same one released before. It’s nice, but Mel has a tendency to go quiet from time to time, as I imagine he’s admiring his work.
The film and commentary can be found on disc one while these features are on the second disc.
A Writer’s Journey: The discussion with writer Randall Wallace is a rather nice intimate 22 minutes. He discusses the material quite frankly. He admits to a certain “write first, research later” attitude, which makes Braveheart a nice story if not terribly accurate historically. He talks about his own family connections and of his pilgrimage to
Tales Of William Wallace: This is a 30 minute biography on the real William Wallace. It plays out very much like a Discovery or Biography Channel piece.
Photo Montage: Worth it if nothing else, but you get 6 minutes of the film’s sweet score accompanied by stills from the film and its production.
Trailers: You get two of the film’s theatrical trailers.
Finally, Braveheart should be celebrated for not being predictable. Remember the first time you saw the film? There were several moments when the film might have ended, and the audience would have felt satisfied. As in real life, you really never know when or where the story ends. When it finally does end, it feels right, even if a bit unsettling. That’s what you remember from the first time. Of course, it is entirely possible there are those out there who have never seen the film. “We’ll have to remedy that now, won’t we?”