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Reviews » 4K UHD Reviews » Braveheart (4K UHD)
Braveheart (4K UHD)
Paramount // R // May 15, 2018 // Region 0
List Price: $25.79 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted June 12, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Film:




For roughly a decade and change after its initial release, Braveheart expanded outside the boundaries of its historical epic niche and into the annals of popular culture. Images of characters sporting half-painted blue faces became a staple in spoofs, cartoons, and other general TV shows, while more sincere references to William Wallace's multiple proclamations about "FREEDOM!" throughout the film slipped into inspirational speeches of all sorts. This was during a rebirth for the subgenre of blockbuster historical epics, which endured such saturation during that period that both viewers and the Hollywood machine became exhausted by one after another, which led to the classic subgenre being mostly shelved until audiences seem like they're ready for it again; as of now, the desire for superhero films has filled that "more, more, more" void. What separates this one from its contemporaries can be found in Mel Gibson's craftsmanship and fierce charisma in the lead role, along with the riveting story itself of pursuing a severance from royal authoritative rule, resulting in a triumph that's more than just the inherent grandeur and wrought emotion of its peers.

Braveheart depicts the struggles of freedom fighter William Wallace (Mel Gibson) during 13th century Scotland. At first, with William as a boy, we grow to embrace the Wallace family in its infancy. As the younger of two boys under their father alone, Wallace must stick around and tend to the family farm while his father and brother ride off to battle for their land. When he looks towards the horizon the day after while doing his chores to see the weathered Scots without his father and brother, he knows what's happened without being told. Strategic choices were made for the casting at this point in the film, ones that light a poetic fire underneath the story from its start. James Robinson delivers a gentle, evocative performance as the young William, projecting subdued strength underneath his sullen demeanor. He connects brilliantly with young Murron, a girl who silently brings him an impromptu gift at his family's funeral, proving to be the last moments of innocence for Wallace as his uncle, Argyle (Brian Cox), trots in following the funeral to whisk William away to a life of hardened education and training.

At this point, Braveheart begins to grow into the kind of dramatic endeavor that speaks to movie lovers of all stripes. Galloping across the beautiful Scottish countryside amidst beautifully expansive cinematography from director of photography John Toll, Wallace returns to his home many years later. He begins to fix up his house, interacts with some of his family's old acquaintances, and rediscovers his young Murron (Catherine McCormick). Rapid romance doesn't sit terribly well with me with most films, but the instinctual progressions between William and Murron comes across with such warmth and candor that it overcomes those concerns. Plus, it's in every way affected by the absorbing performance from McCormack, giving us welcome reason to see where Wallace's anger will come from. She's the catalyst for the film's spirit: while the story's other objectives begin to move into place, attention falls upon how the pair of 'em build their bond as tradition, family ambition, and rebelliousness entwine into tender romance.

Scotland is under oppressive control by the English under the mustache-twirling King Edward the Long Shanks. Patrick McGoohan offers an oddly provoking and unctuous performance as the King, with ample reasoning to despise him without sensing much of his strength. Through his whims and decrees, he invokes chaos and suppressed tyranny from corner to corner along his boundaries, and from the loins of their master, his henchmen carry the same offensive clout at the lower levels through his kingdom. During a ramshackle attempt from these guards to violate Murron in the main town, William provokes an act of retaliatory aggression with the local English troops. In response, she falls victim to the English repugnance, and with an impassioned man like Wallace, that kind of act would undoubtedly lead to more than just a few choice words with the lord. Thus, the gears of war and revolt begin to turn.

Braveheart tugs at the heartstrings and dazzles the senses with evocative images through its quaint beginnings, then grows absorbingly coarse as the epic tragedy gains momentum through its spirit of independence and chivalric resolve. William's vigor grows into a smoldering blend of vengeance and strife for Scotland's freedom from this oppression, and the viewer can see him become a physical embodiment of Scotland itself, living and breathing purely for their sovereignty and nothing else … and one effortlessly empathizes with him. His following soldiers, meticulously portrayed by a host of strong character actors led by Brendan Gleeson as Wallace's childhood friend and David O'Hara as the crazy Irish fighter, unabashedly support him, both out of respect and out of his writhing sympathy for Murron. Gibson's ruggedly charismatic performance as Wallace keeps him appearing famished and desperate - but never with wavering force.

As Gibson's film thunders forward with its haunting pipe-laden score and beautifully soiled cinematography, it becomes obvious why Braveheart's tale of burgeoning freedom continues to work as well as it does, unleashing something expressive with every cinematic maneuver it pulls off. The film's epic narrative and kilt-stained visual grandeur triumphs through a poignant level of interwoven, meaningful components, forming into a brutal, tragic, and altogether breathtaking piece of work … and that's even before the film's grandiose battles. Famous for its "freedom speech" before a showdown with the English, Braveheart offers a lot of suspenseful brutality, with plenty of severed limbs and blood splattered along the emerald lawns. Yet, it's within the context aside the brutality that these battles are elevated from acts of flailing viciousness to intriguing stratagems, where, amid backstabs and trickery through the struggles between the English and the Scots, the clanking of swords becomes much more rewarding and engrossing.

Alongside the narrative of tragic love and the ensuing pursuit for liberty, Braveheart also offers glimpses behind closed doors at the inner conflicts within the English camp. The former French Princess of Wales, portrayed with incredible charisma by Sophie Marceau, struggles to build a relationship with her potentially gay husband, the Prince of England. She yearns for her own freedom from the reigns of different kinds of English oppression and, in connections with William Wallace, delivers one of the few glimmers of purity and beauty through her aid towards the Scots. While full of layers and complications, Gibson brings all this to the table as straightforward, coherent, yet volatile drama until politics complicate the final act, involving Robert the Bruce (Angus McFayden) and his family's lineage. Through this, the pace methodically downshifts to a slower tempo, built for reflection while deliberately suppressing the ferocity. Braveheart never loses its grip on the vigor established at its beginning, though, merely providing a breather leading up to a gut wrenching and evocative finale that, yeah, never fails squeeze a tear out of these eyes.


The 4K Blu-ray:




There isn't too much exciting about the aesthetics of this 4K UltraHD presentation of Braveheart: it sports the exact same profile artwork as the previous two releases, only adorned with the thick black-and-silver bar across the top, and the outer slipcase duplicates the front and back artwork. The 4K disc itself sports black artwork with the film's title, while the standard Blu-rays that make up Disc Two and Disc Three arrive with Paramount's common blue-topped presentation. No "series" labels or anything like that, just the prior artwork mildly tweaked for a new package. A Digital Copy slip has also been included.


Video and Audio:

The first standard-definition DVD presentation of Braveheart was released almost twenty years before this 4K UltraHD presentation, which has taken Mel Gibson's film through many stages of home-video perspectives, from the desire for more vivid colors to the pursuit for authenticity. The cinematography's palette endured changes alongside that, most notably resulting in overly green shades and other colors being impacted by that skewing, which were brought much more under control with Paramount's Sapphire Series package on the Blu-ray front … though by today's standards, with almost a year of refinement under its belt and other visual treatments used for reference, it's not quite the five-star jawdropper that it once was. Galloping onto this new format, Braveheart once again arrives in an earthy, verdant 2.35:1 framed transfer, but the near-decade of format refinement and fine-tuning of viewpoints have drastically impacted the way this film now looks. Which is, to say, stunning.

Those with desires for strong Scottish greens as well as the film's slightly muted intentions will both find plenty of satisfaction in this 2160p transfer. Grass, tress, and other foliage certainly has a strong presence, but this new 4K scan keeps that under even more control than the prior Blu-ray, yielding bold yet contained greens throughout. The warmth of dirt and grime remains, but the coolness of the Scottish atmosphere asserts a crisp, more authentically dim appearance, giving skin tones more pinkish hues and metal its cleaner neutral shades. In tandem with the HDR functionality, contrast levels remain properly dark while emphasizing the inherent brighter elements of scenes, though the darkness of the image -- especially during nighttime moments -- do swallow up a few details seen in prior presentations. This might seem obvious, but the most profound jump in quality can be seen in fine detail: contours around bodies are cleaner, textures in stone and wood are vastly more discernible, and elements of skin surfaces and the costume/makeup work have tremendous, authentic pop. Beyond faint reservations with the heaviness of the contrast, Braveheart's lunge into 4K results in a substantial, outstanding advance. And that deer sequence I've talked about before? Sublimely natural.

Ever since the original DVD presentation and regardless of debates over the color timing, Braveheart has always sported an immensely satisfying audio presentation, all for a film with few moments of subtlety between scenes of warfare and intense drama accompanied by the rich Scottish scoring. The Dolby Atmos track doesn't really add much in the clarity department since the tracks have always been razor sharp yet aware of the track's era of recording, sporting fierce blade clanking, flesh piercing, thumping of arrows and crackling of fire. It's in the enhanced breadth of the object-based sound objectives that this presentation stands above, and that's due in large part to how it embraces those nuances underneath the loudness and crafts an immersive atmosphere. Subtle things like the rustling of grass from footsteps moves across directions of the stage with effortless naturality, while bodily impacts and galloping horse hooves carefully sprawl out across the channels, both the physical impact and their echoes throughout the atmosphere. The music remains brilliantly full yet conscientious of details, and while the vintage of the track suppresses a few instances of dialogue, for the most part it's immensely satisfying at the center channel. Just about perfect.


Special Features:

No new extras have been crafted for Braveheart, but that shouldn't be too surprising considering the extensiveness of the material found on prior editions, which are limited to the two Blu-ray discs also included with this release. The only special feature that can be played on the 4K disc itself is the Audio Commentary with Mel Gibson that has accompanied several prior releases, which I've previously described as: "an informative, laid-back track that gives a decent amount of humorous insight ... when giant pauses aren't filling the speakers. Gibson can be very well-spoken and amiable, and that still comes through in his sparse comments and speckles of curiosity on this track." The rest of the extras -- from the hour-long Braveheart: A Look Back to the Randall Wallace piece A Writer's Journey and the history-vs.-film examinations of Tales of William Wallace -- appear just as they did in the Sapphire Series release, and can be more thoroughly read-about in my review, here: Braveheart -- Sapphire Series (Blu-ray).


Final Thoughts:

Years and repeat viewings can take a toll on one's impressions on a film, potentially weakening sensations about its emotional poignancy, execution of warfare, or thematic integrity. The intensity, expressiveness, and bittersweet historical tenor of Braveheart hasn't lost any of its oomph, though, still packing a powerful punch with its telling of Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace as he avenges the woman he loves and fights for the independence of his country. Mel Gibson's direction yields breathtaking filmmaking for both its engagement of the senses and the spectacle of its drama, crafting a bold historical epic that has raw tones and tempos that remain poignant some two decades after its rise to popularity. Paramount's 4K UltraHD presentation is a dazzler, refining the audiovisual properties to near impeccable degrees, and repeats the extras on the included Blu-ray discs. Very Highly Recommended.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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