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Braveheart (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital / Steelbook)
I am probably mistaken on my memories of Braveheart when it came out (we are talking about a quarter century back and all!), but my impression of it before it came out was that Mel Gibson had done all the Lethal Weapon movies and had done a couple of dramas here and there, but nothing on the breadth of this, where he was starring AND directing. And even after it was winning all the awards under the sun it was hard to believe for me. Then I saw it and wow, guess I was wrong!
Gibson took the script of Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers) and transformed himself into William Wallace, a Scotsman in the 13th century who helped push for independence for Scotland against the English armies and King Edward I. As a boy Wallace's family is killed and as he grows up his wife is assaulted by English troops and eventually is murdered by them, and his quest for revenge turns into a journey that becomes larger than he could have expected.
Braveheart handles the self-amazement pretty well even after a couple of decades, because Gibson is able to convey it. At times through the first half of the film it is comedic at times some of the breaks in levity. And he picks the right people as part of his confidants to play both the humor and the battles; Brendan Gleeson (Paddington 2) was big and funny and emotional and introduced himself to the world; David O'Hara was Stephen of Ireland but folks would recognize him later making a phone call in The Departed. But the common link between most in the groups is that they have moments of fallacy that make them more relatable as people and more identifiable in their cause.
And as Braveheart goes on, Wallace knows that his fight will outlive him at some point, and Gibson brings in some of the things he knows about action and about causes, and putting Wallace's ideals over the Scottish tribal elders; finding a link in Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfadyen, We Bought a Zoo), and then becoming increasingly aware of his fate the closer he got to it, and knowing that he would have an impact and that people would remember him not for his personality, but for what he fought for. Gibson handles the workload capably, and gives his actors their own moments to make for a memorable picture.
After 25 years, Braveheart remains a pretty good movie. I do not think it has aged poorly, and I do not think it has aged overly well, it has just stayed lukewarm, as time marches on, so does the film, for whatever that is worth. Solid but unspectacular, but the amount of practical scale involved in the medieval epic remains impressive, perhaps moreso given what CG continues to accomplish in the years since. It is the humanity underneath the epic that remains the most impressive thing for me.
Like Gladiator, which Paramount also re-released recently, the transfer from the previous UHD release for Braveheart (in 2018) was used here, which is an observation more than a complaint, as having not seen the past UHD, this disc looks great. Things like hair in the sunlight can pick out individual strands, textures in royal fabric is also discernible and vivid in color, mud and/or blood caked on clothes and skin is also well-detailed. Dolby Vision brings such detail to things like chain mail and weapons that it is amazing to realize the film is a quarter century old.
I was taken by the Dolby Atmos soundtrack for the film in a couple of different ways; first was that James Horner's score really shines, with drums coming through more powerful than I recall. But second, the battle sequences provide a level of immersion that I did not recall before and was impressed by. Directional effects are clean and panning is convincing that mirror this, and quieter moments of dialogue are also consistent and powerful. Stellar presentations by Paramount on these.
The extras from the 2018 release are also here, starting with Gibson's commentary track. It is an easygoing track where he does a lot of watching, but he also gets into shot breakdowns and character motivations, and the historical accuracies and contexts of a moment. It has a good amount of production recollection, and it is a fine track, but could have used another person for Mel to play off of. The ‘Braveheart Timeline' includes more historical and production information, a mix of video and stills, and adds a solid perspective to the character and the film.
From there, "Braveheart: A Look Back" (1:00:23) is a retrospective on the making of the film and working with Gibson as a director. The Scottish and Irish locations are recounted, and the cast discusses how they got their parts. Some of the stuff is dated, most was done for the Special Edition DVD back in the day. But it gets into more shot breakdowns, Mel as a director and practical joker, how equipping the Irish Army as extras was a big plus to the scale of the film, and how the film wound through awards season. It is a very good look back on the feature. "Tales of William Wallace" (29:59) looks at the figure, with cast and crew thoughts on him, and include scenes for historical illustration. They show the locations as they look now, and get into the politics and battles, and Wallace's evolution into martyrdom and how the country evolved after his death. It is a fascinating piece. "Smithfield: Medieval Killing Fields" (25:19) looks at the place where Wallace was tortured and executed, and goes over the history and details surrounding the event. "Battlefields of the Scottish Rebellion" shows us some of the locations on a map and their significance. "A Writer's Journey" (21:30) looks at Wallace's approach to writing the story and his first thoughts on meeting Gibson, and why he wanted to do it, and his pitch to him. He discusses the challenges in putting it together, along with a couple of surprises, and gets into the historical accuracy vs. dramatic liberty components of the story. Two trailers (4:35) complete the package (UHD on Disc One, Movie on Blu-ray Disc Two with some special features, rest of extras on Disc Three), along with a Digital Copy of the film that does work with iTunes.
As Warner Brothers has just begun to do steel book UHDs of catalog releases, basically the same thing I said with the Gladiator book I will say here; they only thing one would be getting when moving from the last UHD to this is the packaging, albeit nice packaging, but nevertheless. The technical presentation is super and the extras are fine, but maybe could have been a little more in-depth. On its own, it remains a must-own.